The reason for this post is that one of my students asked me what you would call a ronin in English and it occurred to me that the nuances and undertones that this one word would suggest to a Japanese would need a lot of explanation in English. So here is the explanation...
This week there have been graduation ceremonies as well as school entrance announcements. In the case of high school and college, the students have taken entrance exams and yesterday students were flocking to schools to see if their number had been posted for admission. Nowadays Internet is also being used to post admissions but many students prefer to make the trek to their school of choice and confirm with their own eyes that their number is up there.
But what happens if your number isn't up there?
Most students will have already taken entrance exams to less intensive high schools or colleges; private schools that cost a lot more, and will assure themselves an admission SOMEPLACE if they don't pass their school of choice's exam. These lesser schools are called "slide-stopper schools" meaning that the student won't slide off into nothing if they don't pass the other exam. This system is similar for high school as well as college entrance.
Occasionally though, especially for college bound students, they will have their heart set on a specific college or university or need to get into a specific school to pursue, for example, a medical course of study. If the student doesn't pass the entrance exam then he may decide to go ronin, which is the term for a masterless samurai.
Historically if a samurai was set apart from his lord and master or if the master had died then the samurai would be ronin, which literally means a drifting person. Nowadays it means that a would-be student has not yet been accepted into a school and he will spend the intervening time studying for the next year's entrance exams in hopes of gaining admission. It used to mean a lot of disciplined study time with only the student and his books... hoping he's studying the right stuff with no guidance from outside sources but nowadays there are preparatory schools for the sole purpose of preparing a student for next year's exams. Of course there is no guarantee that the student will pass the second time around and I have heard of students being ronin 2 or 3 times. (Someone REALLY wanted the student to become a doctor!) Imagine the cost of keeping a student in preparatory school for an extra couple of years and THEN going on to start a university education...
Of course, Takumi in his own way was ronin for a couple years himself... He did not even try to get into a Japanese college and chose to go to the States and spend two years studying English at community colleges before he applied to a state university. My Japanese friends can't comprehend not having to go through entrance exams to get into college and thus by-passing the possibility of failure, slide stopping and the ronin system.
Anyway, I'm hoping that the young graduating high school students that I know have all gotten into the college of their choice. No one really ever wants to be known as ronin.
(Picture from the Internet.)