The last time I wrote for webjapanese.com in in 2000 I believed that I did not have alot to offer. I did not think I had enough understanding of Japanese culture to make my column worthwhile.
However, 2 years on, I realise that my understanding of Japan, its culture and its language has moved on.
It is very easy to become enamoured with Japanese culture, particularly with the way in which the Japanese treat their own countryside. The temples, the cicadas buzzing and clicking all the time throughout the stifling summer and the low mist hanging over the mountains all create a beautiful scene for contemplation. But I write now in earnest.
Recently I have been reading ‘Dogs and Demons’ by Alex Kerr. Kerr is the only foreigner to have won the prestigious Shincho Gakugei prize in Japan – and he is concerned. Kerr grew up in Japan in Yokohama when his father worked in the American Navy – later taking degree in Japanese studies from Yale and Oxford Universities. Kerr and was lucky enough at primary school to have been taught Hiragana and Katakana.
But for Kerr in his current book, and in a famous book called ‘Lost Japan’ he argues that foreigners living and working in Japan are in love with a Japan that does not exist anymore.
For Kerr the growth of the construction industry in Japan has led to an industry that cannot stop.
Forests, rivers, whole valleys are destroyed according to Kerr as the construction department and construction industries and local town halls rush every year to use up surplus money in an effort to make sure contracts are renewed the following year.
Places such as Kyoto – Kerr lives nearby in Kameoka – for example are filled with monstrosities such as the Kyoto Station, or the Kyoto tower which was put up in the 1960’s albeit against alot of local resident resentment.
The Kyoto for Kerr that exists in the mind of the foreigner is simply not there. Kerr speaks of a foreigner who was taken on a tour of the area around Mount Fuji. The individual wanted to see the physically see the famous thirty six views of Mount Fuji by Hiokusai, The problem is that those views no longer exist.
So I am writing after two years and a return to Japan because I am beginning to see Kerr’s point. There are people desperate to preserve Japan. Kyoto for example was spared bombing at the end of world war two because the American government deemed it a place worthy of being a world place of cultural significance. Up until thirty years ago, wooden homes could still be seen in Kyoto and they were the predominant place of residence. Not any more.
Conversely, Japan as an international culture grows, linguistically and now, in football aswell. This should not be at the expense of the cultural depths that are still apparent in Japan, but you have a lot harder for them today.
Copyright @ Warren Courtney. All rights reserved.