Kino no Tabi 05 Work for Work’s Sake


Kino travels to a land that is so rich and developed that the machines run everything and humans have nothing to do. However, it has a peculiar resource distribution system wherein the humans have to accumulate stress from difficult tasks so as to receive proceeds from the machines’ productivity.

The tasks are all pointless, since the actual useful tasks are done better by the machines. But the value the people of the land assigns to them is that they serve as a preventive measure against indolence and laziness. I see here a ridiculous application of imagination, or a severe lack of it entirely.

kino no tabi 05 polishing the railroad tracks

Kino actually tells this story to an old railroad employee who has been shining a railroad line for the past 50 years, having received no other instructions, nor seeing the end of the line. Kino seemed to be trying to show the old man how foolish his work is, but then the old man asks him… “Where are you headed to?”

For Kino, travel is both work and calling. She associated work with something meaningful and purposeful. After all, she chose travel as an escape from a destiny of being programmed to enjoy work that she does not really look forward to.

But a traveler travels, but to what destination ultimately? Is it mere accumulation of destinations? I know of people who really love counting the stamps on their passports – official signifiers of their passage through nations. These people enjoy the idea of being, or at least being thought of, as well travelled.

But as for Kino, at this point I don’t think she knows the answer yet.

Then the show swings the galactic hammer of irony yet again.

Kino moves past the railway cleaner and runs into another railway employee with a near-identical story, but this time he’s been dismantling the railway for the last 50 years. Yes, the pointlessness index of work just went over 9000. Then further down Kino discovers newly laid tracks… by another old railway hand who’s been laying down the tracks for the last 50 years.


Work is pointless as work, but they all do so for compensation, to support a family, to gain a share of resources from the company or the state. This is the point of work, as currency for exchange. What would this mean for Kino? Where is she going?

For the mean time, she comes to a ruined country. The lone inhabitant welcomes her and tells a story of a people’s revolt against a tyrant, and how mob rule with the death penalty at its disposal led to an injustice more dangerous than the tyrant’s. 13,064 people were executed, as the death penalty was the only response to any failure to belong to a majority.

Voting itself became a life-or-death activity.

Kino no Tabi’s countries, and the eccentricities of their inhabitants are exercises of logical extremes applied to sociology. As I’ve mentioned before they somehow read as parables, or at least similar to the speculative philosophical fiction of Thomas D. Davis. In this country, humans left to self-govern practically annihilated themselves until there is only one citizen left.


That man begged Kino to become a citizen, otherwise his society will be doomed. Will be? It already is.

The view in this particular tale implies that the primary instinct of humans is to empathize, that is to side with a majority. However, the logical extreme is the acceleration of the destruction of the minority. Empathy should enable majority rule, but it should also tolerate diversity. Majority to be meaningful is to be a collection of individuals, not a hive of copies.

That said, the sad tale of this country merely accelerated the cost of being different, that is, to be in a minority and therefore lack power. It is an absurd exercise in logic, but it serves its purpose. Democracy isn’t or shouldn’t be mob rule, and diversity is a growth driver while extreme sameness leads to societal atrophy and ultimately death.

Here is Jeremy Rifkin on the Empathic Civilization:

Ultimately the dead country had a crisis of decision-making process. To swing the galactic hammer of irony, Kino and Hermes come to a fork in the road, and Kino changes her mind which way to go. The death penalty removes all possibility of learning from mistakes, removes possibility for growth, it removes possibility itself.


About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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26 Responses to Kino no Tabi 05 Work for Work’s Sake

  1. Panther says:

    Once again more demonstrating of contemporary ills gone too far, in both the pointless-ness of working too hard and the downfall of democracy carried too far. Much of what I like about this show is how it keeps portraying problems in society (dealing with sociology) and others, including the infallible stupidity of mankind.

    Another idea I associated with the three workers is just how they were just being sheep, instructed to do something and never receiving instructions again and never questioning where they were going or if what they were doing might have an end or a purpose, or perhaps, some change. Much of the working adult world nowadays follow such a trend, especially in some countries I know. No prizes for guessing which. -_-

    And, as Kino tries to head them off their working life, they then ask her where she is headed, as you pointed out. Even if given a hint of the pointless way they pursue, they are either ignorant, or choose to ignore a better path. It is very sad to see this very prevalent in the real world nowadays as well. People can look for better options, but they were never taught how to and even if shown one, they do not take it because they do not have the wisdom and the ability to see it as a better option.

    • Universal Bunny says:

      Ills gone to far? I wonder if a world can exist without ills. As Kino says: “The world is not beautiful therefore it is”.

      Let me suggest that maybe the point of “the city of one” was to highlight what democracy isn’t or rather what is insufficient for democracy: voting. Was it idiocy that drove those people to kill each other? Or was it intoxication from power? Or perhaps it was fear? When the “last man” and his wife decided to execute the third remaining person – was it really because they were idiots?

      As for the railmen, here is an alternative take which, I confess, I don’t think the authors had in mind. Priorities change with time. When the first man started – perhaps the rail track was indeed intended for renewed use. Then it was decided that since for whatever reason the road was incomplete, it would be best to pull it apart. However, it was later decided otherwise. The man a engaged in this pointless task because they never asked whether they should continue. The fault lies not with the system, but the individual. You have went this far. But from what I heard, those men find comfort and pride in the work they do. If you were to compare this to anyone’s life, don’t we all seek comfort and peace? Absurd as railmen’s situation may seem, they are a lot more happy then people in the “city of stress”.

      • Panther says:

        Ills gone to far? I wonder if a world can exist without ills.

        My implication was not this, but how the contemporary ills of society are being brought to light, perhaps in a subtly over-exaggerated sense. In a way, the show hints to us that we look at ourselves in an analogical way, albeit to an extreme, hoping that we will avoid the same extremes that are being shown to us.

        Let me suggest that maybe the point of “the city of one” was to highlight what democracy isn’t or rather what is insufficient for democracy: voting.

        You are indeed right here, and perhaps I was unclear as to my definition of what was “wrong” – it was the sad side of democracy that was being brought to light and not the idiocy of the people, except how they blindly followed one part of democracy (the voting) without seeing alternate ways. It has also been said that the downfall of democracy is its freedom of speech (in our real world).

        By the way from this comment it is obvious you do not live in a country where freedom of speech and democracy do not go hand-in-hand, where you do not see iron-handed oppression whilst operating under a veil known as “democracy”. I am talking about the truth here; you just do not experience it and thus we have a different opinion here on this matter.

        As for the railmen, here is an alternative take which, I confess, I don’t think the authors had in mind. Priorities change with time.

        As I read your comment, the more I find it is from an individualistic culture, than from a collectivistic culture (which I am from, forgive me for being presumptuous if that is not the case). You look at the individual for their faults, and yet ignore the possible effects society had on that individual while he/she was growing up and how the effects might have shaped said individual (or individuals). I agree your view is a possible one and it raises an interesting point, but I find it hard to accept given how Kino no Tabi is construed and where the author is likely to be coming from.

        But then again, the different views and the discussion that arises from them is what the author might have wanted, if unforeseen, no?

        • Universal Bunny says:

          Democracy, in political science at least, is often defined as institutionalised uncertainty. In this political system the role of voting is to support this uncertainty. The idea that voting is for “rule” is difficult because of Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem.
          Note also that you would be hard pressed to find democrat who would support “crying wolf” when there is not wolf. Freedom of speech in democracy is not the ability to say whatever one wants, but the ability to question authority and social order without fear of reprisal.
          There is no “veil known as democracy”. For the following reason: democracy is not a binary concept. It exists only in degrees. Was US a democracy after the Revolution? Was Hitler a democratically elected leader? Democracy is not absolute, it’s always relative. Thus, calling something a democracy is moot; one needs a reference.
          Thus, if what the authors wanted to portray is “democracy gone wrong”, then in my view they failed because what they presented was similar to French Reign of Terror that had little to do with democracy.

      • Yes the railway workers are happy. Ignorance can be indeed blissful.

        The story takes many liberties in plausibility to present irony. It swings a giant hammer of irony. It may not make judgments of its own, and Kino herself is a reluctant judge. But the objective to provoke thought is achieved by the use of the said heavy hammer.

        Perhaps what’s more interesting to think about is how they will react when they discover what’s happening. I like to think about a meeting between the three. Will it be as miserable as I imagine?

        I wish there was a strong indication that they will indeed meet eventually.

    • A lot of stuff to think about in your comment.

      I have admired my parents for doing what seemed to me utterly pointless work sometimes, because the fruits of which are my life and my education. I cannot not appreciate and admire this.

      On the other hand, part of me realizes that my education, at least in their view serves the purpose of “getting a job in a good company.”

      Which, is really just the hamster wheel perpetuated. I have a daughter now, and I am utterly resistant of doing pointless work.

      My work must have meaning — perhaps not for all time (I think this would be silly), but more like it has to make a difference to another. I need it to add something to another person’s life: the work itself, not the compensation that provides for my family.

      The railway employees seem to take pleasure in the activity of the work itself and I like this. But I can’t handle how all their work amounts to nothing, serves no real purpose.

      The worst part is that they are so far away from any human contact that they can’t even appreciate what their compensation affords.

      You talk about alternatives. I don’t know man. So many of people from my country dream of working in the country you won’t name. Maybe it’s just because we are poor.

  2. gaguri says:

    My favourite moment in this episode was the railtrack scene. When she asks ‘why’ and he answers pretty much ‘just because’, it seems like what he’s doing is completely pointless and has no meaning, but then he asks ‘why do you travel Kino’ and then we are left to wonder, how is Kino’s journey any different from the old man’s. After all, if you think about it, both journey has no real ultimate goal. But I think there is a difference, and that difference is highlighted by one of the key messages of this series, “have you ever questioned the world?”. I wonder how many people of these different world do, but I know Kino certainly does.

    • I do think the difference is pretty obvious.

      The series is a collection of dissonant pairs, beginning with the heading: “The Ugly and Beautiful World.”

      Each country has some form of noble or well-meaning sentiment producing a terrible result, or, a terrible act made noble by a beautiful sentiment.

      What is the good about all this? It is ugly, and it is beautiful.

      I sometimes think meaning and beauty are interchangeable ideas in this series, and the ugliness is used as a frame for the beauty to be displayed.

      • gaguri says:

        I love your expression ‘ugliness is used as a frame for the beauty to be displayed’. I only got to really get into the notion of ‘ugly yet beautiful world’ seriously in the episode where two countries stage war games to prevent all war, which is one of my favourite episodes, I’ll talk more about this when you post that up.

        • Thanks.

          Are you familiar with structuralist/post-structuralist linguistics?

          A sign (a unit of language) is made meaningful by its opposite. Here are some binary pairs:

          Up is not Down
          Right is not Wrong
          Now is not Then
          Good is not Evil

          …and so on. Thus, Beauty is precisely made meaningful as an idea by Ugliness. We cannot know the concept of what is beautiful without ugliness.

          Deconstruction as a method of criticism breaks apart these binaries, but, it stands that these are how we construct and acquire meaning.

          Kino no Tabi plays with this idea. I am tempted to read it as a deconstruction of Beauty (vs. Ugliness) in that we are permitted by the show to consider the ugliness to be what’s beautiful.

          How? It is precisely the mathematical corruption and degeneration of the country of one using a supposedly noble method of governance… from the emancipation from a dictator to mob rule run amok to the reduction of the citizenry to one, to the rejection by Kino placing our impassive protagonist in a position of responsibility (however indirect) for the death of a country (she did not plunge the knife into its bowels, but rather she twisted it): not because she is cruel, but rather she has other things to do.

          This is a story of repeated negation.

          Consider the symmetry of all this, and consider that this too is beautiful.

          I think there is something more to the show than simply looking for the silver lining that my line that you’ve come to appreciate implies.

          • gaguri says:

            I don’t know much of linguistics at all but I get what you’re saying, and yes, in Kino, ugliness can ‘be’ beautiful, not only to act as a frame, which I think that particular episode I was talking about demonstrates.

  3. kadian1364 says:

    The 3 railmen actually just do the work of 1: The first man who cleans the tracks and brushes off the rust does something, and the other two just negate each other’s work. Of course, whatever accomplishments made by the first man are wasted anyway because those tracks haven’t been used in at least 50 years.

    I like how this episode presents the positive and negative activity of work in equal lights. The people in the advanced city are the same as the rail workers in valuing the activity of work, the comfort of routine, the need to keep themselves busy even when there is nothing to be done. On the other hand, how many of them are actually thinking about what they do, their ultimate purpose? If one of the 3 workers had moved faster or slower than the others, they would’ve bumped into one another and nothing short of existential crisis would ensue. What happens when we look outside our bubble and possibly discover how our own occupations negate and redo the work of others, or simply accomplishes nothing at all? There’s a point where being a good worker, following instructions, and repeating actions over and over becomes dehumanizing.

    I tremendously enjoy the way Kino’s Journey utilizes irony. It’s thought provoking without spoon feeding you answers and never wasted on some minor thing.

    • Panther says:

      There’s a point where being a good worker, following instructions, and repeating actions over and over becomes dehumanizing.

      Well said kadian, not to mention this is one of the problems facing all of society and the revolving controversy of working nowadays. Dehumanization happens to all of us who work for the sake of working, and humans refuse to look outside this bubble you mention because once they do (or come in contact with “truth”), they will find that they lose their sense of purpose and meaning in life. There might be nothing more fearful than that for most – why do we continue living if we cannot find a purpose to live?

      That may be why lots continue with their current lives and specifically refuse to look for a better life despite saying they want one all the time – they are afraid that they will truly become insignificant even to themselves, instead of just being insignificant to society (which we all, except for the elites and the rich, already are). As Winston Churchill once said, “Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most times he will pick himself up and carry on.”

      • Universal Bunny says:

        When I read “work for the sake of working” I couldn’t help myself. If you have seen Honey and Clover then you would remember Hagu who worked and wanted little else. Yet at the same time, many characters genuinely envied her and I suppose quite a few viewer, myself included, envied her as well. Now of course, what railmen do is not high art of Hagu, but where do you draw the line between respecting those who enjoy work and pitying them?

    • I on the other hand, am ambivalent of its use of irony.

      I fully appreciate how it refuses to give answers.

      I also question its ability to give them in the first place.

      Instead of Kino dispassionately observing. I actually want her to get involved, judge (harshly if she must), and just like many of the people she meets get unintended results.

      I think I’d like this presentation of irony more than: Here is a country, oh we are so quirky, all is not well, SWING GIANT HAMMER OF IRONY. Bye Kino. Next episode. Are your thoughts provoked yet?

      • Universal Bunny says:

        Can you clarify what you mean by “get involved?” Do you want her to open the eyes of people she meets? Do you want her to challenge the people she meets? Or may be you want her to guide them?

  4. I’m thrilled by this dicussion guys. I’m just wrapped up in work now so I’ll respond properly later.

    I confess that your contributions give me much more value than I got from just watching the show. Thank you so much.

  5. Universal Bunny says:

    “I see here a ridiculous application of imagination” is that so? Well then, let’s make it a challenge! 🙂

    What would be your idea of distributing a limited pool of resources on a continuous basis in a manner that would accommodate people’s ambitions?

    I much invite Kadian1364 and Panther to also offer their ideas because, so far, this is the least mentioned part of the episode.

    • I don’t want to accommodate people’s ambitions. The state’s job isn’t to enable them but to provide the minimum requirements of a determined standard quality of life.

      The state however, must not get in the way, in terms of policy, of people’s ambitions — of course relative to the rights and freedoms of others.

      I see a problem when the constituents grind all they must, just to meet the minimum. If the minimum is met, by all means let them strive and compete to fulfill their ambitions.

      Will there be many unhappy citizens? Of course. There will be those who fail, and their life’s satisfaction is measured against the fulfillment of their ambitions however lofty. There would also be those who never ventured and may be regretful.

      But none of them will starve, be compromised, and lack the means to provide for their own and their dependents.

      • Universal Bunny says:

        But for the city providing minimum standard is not a problem. What they had toe invent is a way of dealing with the resources left after everyone got a bare minimum. And this is where the question arises: on what basis do you organise the distribution of resources when no one has to work?

        • By minimum standard I mean there is available work that provides for a life above the poverty line.

          Now, the surplus of resources is really a failure of imagination at an implausibly societal level. There is no flight industry, there is no travel industry. There is are no exploration ventures. These things can be invented and require material and human resources.

          Now, if the story is going to insist that people are industrious enough to do meaningless tasks no matter how boring, and yet never get bored of staying within the borders of the country, then the hammer of irony swung too hard (which it did). It chooses to remove absolutely all human potential (which exists in varying degrees everywhere else in its world) in the service of some ironic point it wants to make.

  6. Marigold Ran says:

    Most of the work in the military is meaningless in the sense that you don’t know why you’re doing it, except that your superior told you to do it. The whole point of basic training (i.e. boot camp) is to beat into the recruits the idea that following orders is a good onto itself. Some recruits can’t stand it, but others find the experience meaningful.

    The Asian method of education is similar in its lack of a Platonic ideal. The reason why you do your homework, is so you can get a good job. And the reason you get a good job, is so that your children can get a good education. And the reason why your children should get a good education, is so that they can get a good job. Circular, yes, but very pragmatic, and not a bad way of living if you’re that sort of a person. It only seems lacking if you’re the sort of a person who believes in some sort of “higher and more meaningful state of existence,” i.e. a Platonic ideal.

    But Plato-ism is a Western concept. The search for meaning is another very Western concept.

    • There is a point to the meaningless tasks in the military. The point is to break down one’s individuality to a level where the soldiers act like a cohesive unit. The unit becomes more effective, and increases the chance of survival in combat overall.

      The pointlessness only extends to the meaning of the marching maneeuvers and what not for the next few hours, days, or so.

      As for your Western/Eastern dichotomizing of meaning, I disagree completely.

      The point of ascetism in the various Asian belief systems is to rid oneself of impurities, desires, unnecessary things. The unnecessary is what is meaningless. The only meaningful thing is the way, the path, the freedom, etc.

      The point is to reach Nirvana, to be one with Atman, to return as a Boddhisatva to render service to the unenlightened, to become a god, to be reincarnated under better circumstances, whatever.

      There is still a moral value system, where some actions mean good, others mean evil. Almost always, the path of the good is meaningful. The suffering one encounters in life are challenges one can get meaning from. So on and so on.

      Purpose, meaning, goals, it is a part of the human condition, the human machinery. We can’t help it. We make meanings of all experiences — and decisions based on those meanings, even if only in the service of survival and preservation. To lose all meaning is supremely threatening.

      • Edward says:

        I don’t believe ascentism was that effective in ridding my family’s beliefs about formal education to good job to life routinal structure. Though what you mentioned there seemed to resemble Buddhism or Taoism.

        I’m not sure about the idea of breaking an individual’s mindset to unify it into a group to promote survival. Although conformity perhaps was an sociologically evolutionary useful mechanism to get rid of foreigners who would trouble or do harm to their tribes.

        • It isn’t just foreigners, but in-group bullies… when a member becomes too dominant that it threatens survival of the community, the members cooperate against the singular threat.

          I believe groupthink and herd mentality plays out similarly.

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