Starting to Understand Wabi Sabi

Hello! Yookoso! I’m the newest team member to the writers on webjapanese. In time honored Japanese fashion as I am new to this business I must therefore say that I hope I do not offend anyone in the upcoming months, or appear too stupid. In short, please forgive me for my failings as I believe I am a white belt when it comes to writing about Japan, and its language.

I first became interested in Japan when a close friend of mine started studying Japanese at University. He was studying history, but he also had a minor in Japanese, so to see him learning this bizarre and unusually written language was very impressive. He lent me books by Japanese authors such as Yukio Mishima, Haruki Murakami, and Kenzaburo Oe with titles such as The Golden Pavilion, A Personal Matter and (my favourite) A Wild Sheep Chase. What I loved the most about this first step into Japanese was that Japan and its culture was different, and yet so similar to western countries. This in part led me to call this column Kabuki Trifle reflecting both the West and Japan.

Japan whilst being intensely original with things like the tea ceremony also has at its core western ideals such as fuikusshon (fiction), the name now applied to the younger generation of writers like Banana Yoshimoto. The subtle hints of the peace and harmony at the surface of Japanese culture pulled me in.

To use my column title, I understand trifle, but now I want to understand things like Kabuki more readily, and how they have become a modern “Kabuki Trifle” So reading Japanese authors left me with many burning questions. Why would anyone burn Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavilion) because of such an intense love for it? Why would anyone write a book about the Kitchen being their favourite part of a house? Simply put: because there is an intelligent simplicity (Wabi Sabi) in Japan, which has been lost in the west, and has now drawn me in. Even in translation the clear and simple style of Mishima (I am told this is what it is like to read it in the original) is not lost. The honest and passionate anger shown by Oe in A Personal Matter about having an autistic son is brutal, yet wonderfully open-minded. An English or American writer could not tackle a similar subject so well. The different way these writers looked at the world made me want to know more.

So here I am. I can now read “albeit very slowly” Hiragana, and I find Katakana a pain. But I am gradually discovering Kanji and I am finding an intelligent simplicity in them. They are easier to understand than Hiragana and are also far more beautiful than Roman script. So hopefully in the future I will be able to write fluently with Kanji as well. Anyway, I have waffled enough for now, so Kanpai until next month.

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