Kokka no Hinkaku Chapter 4: Japan - the Nation of Sensitivity and Form

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All right, class. Back to your seats. Open up your copy of Fujiwara to page 95.

The last three chapters have seen the author launching a concerted critical attack upon what he sees as Western institutions forced upon Japanese society: democracy, English, capitalism, promotion based on merit, political correctness. In Chapter 4, we finally begin to hear his arguments for the superiority of the Japanese alternatives.

His initial reasoning, however, never goes beyond pronouncements of Japanese excellence in artistic sensitivity and craft. This makes the chapter difficult to criticize or thoroughly analyze — seeing that his focus so far has been objectively judging specific institutions and systems on their merits and demerits (ironically, a rationalist pursuit). Artistic sensitivity is a harder concept to gauge, as it has no points of measurement nor defined goals.

Fujiwara sees the Japanese having a delicate sensitivity towards nature, a tendency to make normal activities (writing, drinking tea, flowers) into aesthetic exercises within long artistic traditions, a special attention to transience and the melancholy parts of life (もののあわれ), and a unique concept of hometown nostalgia. All of these are crucial to Japanese aesthetics, and inarguably, “good” things. Perhaps they are not as unique to Japan as Fujiwara would like to assert, but definitely more pronounced within the Japanese tradition when compared to other cultures. As part of this argument, Fujiwara again repeats the baffling yet well-held belief that Japan is unique in having four distinct seasons (is the American South the one other exception or am I also unique?), but we will at least give Japan credit for making this environmental phenomena a large framework for its productive output.

The author, however, is not content to just state his love of Japanese aesthetics from a personal standpoint. Fujiwara employs those with greatest authority of them all: foreigners. Right off the bat, he quotes the diary of Katherine Sansom — a British woman who lived in Japan in the late 20s — for choice quotes about the superiority of Japanese aesthetics. As much as Fujiwara loves Mt. Fuji, he is “happy” to also read a foreign woman write, “Fuji is a dream, a poem, and inspiration. My heart stopped upon seeing it for the first time in ages.” But it isn’t just Samsom: On Japan gardens, “Most of the foreigners who have stayed in Japan for a long time and written a diary give high praise to the same thing.” Later in the section about mono no aware, Fujiwara brings up Donald Keene’s expert opinion that it is “a sensitivity unique to the Japanese.”

I don’t mean to damn Fujiwara for using foreign voices, but why even trust these suspect foreigners who lack the inherent artistic sensitivity native to the Japanese populace? Westerners make an appearance later as “not getting” haiku, and India guest stars as a physical space in which haikus cannot be composed. Sure, Americans have cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., but to Americans, they just say things like “Oh, wonderful” or “Oh, beautiful” and see them as things to be viewed. According to Fujiwara, in America “there are no men of leisure who take in the beauty in deep breaths, as a reflection on our fleeting lives.”

Towards the end, Fujiwara ties Japanese aesthetics and emotions into issues of patriotism. He has his own concept of “four loves” — love of family, love of hometown, love of country, and love of human — and sees this as a progressive order with no possible leapfrogging. On this note, “If I ran into a guy from Ghana who hated Ghana, I would knock him down. If there was a Korean who did not love Korea, I would send him flying. Even if I didn’t knock him down, I would never be friends with anyone even a little like that.” In other words, everyone must love their home nations.

A lot of Japanese may believe that “patriotism” (祖国愛) led to World War II, but to Fujiwara, “It’s the total opposite. It’s those who have no love of their country who start wars.” I can definitely understand a certain twist of this logic: Those who protest their country’s actions in defense of its fundamental principles. If Bush loved America a little more, he probably would not have invaded Iraq. Fujiwara, however, thinks “nationalism” is not something the common man should get mixed up with — it is strictly an important disposition for politicians! “If politicians and bureaucrats and those people who interact with the world as representatives of Japan do not naturally embrace nationalism to a certain degree, we are in trouble.” I am not sure this makes me feel any better about Abe.

For Wednesday, read Chapter 5 and write a 200 word essay on the indigenous content of bushido.

On to Part Five: Reviving the Bushido Spirit

W. David MARX (Marxy)
August 6, 2006

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

59 Responses

  1. Adamu Says:

    I finished this book, and I am not sure how to take it. As you’ve noted, it’s a very inconsistent argument – he spends half the book taking potshots at the “formerly barbaric” West and then spends the rest of the book gushing about completely irrelevant stuff like artists and “the environment needed to create geniuses.” And he seems to be hinting at something that might make some sense when he talks about a new appreciation of Japanese values, but at almost every turn he changes the subject rather than give us some more detail on what he means.

    Another thing that bugs me is his random choices of countries for comparison – what does Ghana’s national identity have to do with Japan? Has he even met anyone from Ghana?

  2. marxy Says:

    Oh, I thought Ghana was a chocolate brand.

  3. alin Says:

    his arguement might have come across better, (i mean withstood marxy criticism better) had he stuck to national examples – it wouldn’t have affected his thesis whatsoever. but it’s well known that in extreme nihonjinron lingo other countries and people are not actually supposed to directly signify those countries and thosepeople. (just as the ‘turkish baths’ that upset the turkish government were not meant to signify turkey).

    “If I ran into a guy from Ghana who hated Ghana, I would knock him down. If there was a Korean who did not love Korea, I would send him flying. Even if I didn’t knock him down, I would never be friends with anyone even a little like that.” In other words, everyone must love their home nations.

    but see this, phrased differently is basically also the philosophy of say magazines like brutus, relax, street etc

    speaking of relax how’s this for the new issue: ‘good sleep project’ – thought it was extremely funny on more than one level. quite a good issue it is too touching from barcelona. majorca and sonar to sleeping sheep and pandas to olivier messiaen

  4. nate Says:

    The four seasons thing reminds me of the people at my highschool who believed that men had one fewer rib than women because the bible seems like it might imply that.

  5. nate Says:

    by the way, if you’ve never seen it, adam curtis’ short series for the bbc, “pandora’s box” handles post-war ghana really well. The Volta River dam and Nkrumah make for some fascinating documentin’.

  6. alin Says:

    in the 80s japanese ski manufacturers were using the arguement ‘japanese snow is different’ so foreign skis are not suitable to japanese snow to stop import of ski equipment. i used to think this was the most ridiculous example of nihonjinron , twisted towards economic profit until i realized that (the issue of the suitability of european skis to japanese snow aside) japanese snow, in most of honshu, at least is different.

  7. Momus Says:

    You told us, of Chapter 2: “I think it is a bit far-fetched to believe that ethics and morals are the sole possession of the Japanese nation.” Now you tell us: “Fujiwara again repeats the baffling yet well-held belief that Japan is unique in having four distinct seasons”.

    Now, I very much suspect that Fujiwara is not saying Japan is the only nation with ethics, or morals, or four seasons. He’d have to be a bit insane to say such a thing, and to have lived in a cave all his life. I suspect that he’s saying that Japan pays particular, and particularly Japanese, attention to its Japanese ethics and morals and seasons. Could you confirm this, or defend your original gloss, please, with some actual quotes?

  8. alin Says:

    four seasons, though technically acurate and almost always used, is actually a really bad translation of 四季 a concept which includes much more (culture) than the metereological data. (it includes 梅雨 to start with which is basically a fifth season).

    in translation it, as a rule, becomes the starting point to ridicule the nihonjinron-ist, often the averge nihonjin.

  9. alin Says:

    so what i’m suggesting is that according to context it should deserve as much attentionin translation as say wabi-sabi or moe

  10. alin Says:

    therefore no wonder fujiwara likes people like Donald Keen because he tends to pay that attention to subtle things and nuances.

    in America “there are no men of leisure who take in the beauty in deep breaths, as a reflection on our fleeting lives.”

    he obviously got carried away there. he surely knows that Henry David Thoreau was ‘japanese’.

  11. filosofem Says:

    Need someone to point out that the very word 四季 actually comes from Chinese? This myth is just so tiresome (and bascially unheard of and irrelevant outside Japan and Japanese study circles).

    The concept of progressive four loves is also obviously derived from Confucianism — 修身齊家治國平天下, though the part about the individual (修身) is myseriously left out, with hometown thrown in between family and country probably as a filler to make it four.

    BTW, one frequent gripe Westerners have about Japanese guitars (among other things) is that their colors lack subtlety. I’m not sure if the unique artistic sensitivity of Japanese people is at work here.

  12. Mulboyne Says:

    It wasn’t the ski equipment manufacturers who came up with the “different snow” argument, it was MITI (now METI) in order to restrict imports under the guise of consumer protection. Their statement dates back to the time when the reasons for ministry rulings were beginning to come under overseas scrutiny. No-one ever brings up the ban on US modems whose components would ruled likely to blow up NTT’s networks because no-one was really reading these judgements back then.

    I can’t tell you anything about snow around the world and whether it is different in Japan but I do know that MITI didn’t believe it then and it is regarded as something of a joke by METI staffers today. There was nothing particularly nihonjinron about it because it was never a serious proposition. Some junior team members openly warned that the basis for the ruling was too absurd and wouldn’t be well-received abroad but the senior staffers had never had cause to consider whether they would face questioning overseas. Their only important constituencies up unil then had been domestic.

    We now know that it backfired badly and cause embarrassment for all parties. This meant that everyone had to get smarter coming up with arguments and you’ll note that no-one really has any good examples of crazy justifications from after this time.

  13. marxy Says:

    The title of the section on the four seasons is “四季のないのが普通.” Correct me if I am wrong, but this seems to say “Not having four seasons is normal.”

  14. nate Says:

    wait, suddenly I’m overcome with a sympathy for momus. He’s been so insulated as to have never heard the four seasons thing? Maybe if he just touched more parts of the nihonjinron elephant, he’d start to get the impression that it isn’t really the same as the cultural relativism he preaches. Maybe… there’s hope for him yet!

    (there’s no way they would eat raw fish on top of vinegared rice!)

  15. marxy Says:

    but see this, phrased differently is basically also the philosophy of say magazines like brutus, relax, street etc

    I am not sure I quite get what you are saying, but it makes me think of two things:

    1) The incompatibility of this kind of “love Japan to love the world” with the standard mode of dissent in at least UK/US, and I assume, most of Western Europe too. We all hate our leaders, and for the most part, we all dislike the majority attitudes of the country. I like the ideals of the US, but I get very frustrated and angry when these are abused or distorted for ulterior motives. Even Momus would agree with me here that the standard mode of being “political” has meant “disliking” your own country to a certain degree — whether you believe that the errors stem from the fundamental values or from the failure to uphold those values.

    2) The “world” for Fujiwara and Relax is very World Expo — some good foods, cultural quirks, beautiful landscape. Countries do not have economies or politics or politicians or armies. If the American South is fried chicken and Georgia drawls and whitewater kayaking, hey, I love the South. If you add in all the Fundamentalist Christianity, residual racism, and aggressive jingoism, I remember why I moved northwards as soon as possible. I can see people not “loving” Liberia from 1999 to 2003, but I wouldn’t knock Liberians over because of that.

  16. alin Says:

    thanks for elaborating on that.

    now, will you admit that what you are doing here is exactly what fujiwara does in his camp.

  17. alin Says:

    This myth is just so tiresome (and bascially unheard of and irrelevant outside Japan and Japanese study circles).

    dude, you’re aware that you’re giving credit to fuji-san.

  18. Momus Says:

    Yes, Nate, I have heard of the four seasons thing. I’ve written about it in entries like How delightful are the snow covers. What I’m trying to find out is whether Fujiwara is saying something like what I observe in that piece, and anyone who spends time in Japan observes sooner or later:

    “Flipping through the January edition of women’s magazine Frau I found a page of ‘calendar delights’ mapping out the whole year as a series of seasonal pleasures of this sort. In April, of course, there’s blossom-viewing. In June, for one week only, there are fireflies. Let’s watch them with delight! And in September, of course, we view the moon. I tried to imagine a British women’s magazine telling its readers about ephemeral natural delights like this. It was difficult.”

    Now, it’s not that Britain doesn’t have four seasons in nature. It’s that Britain doesn’t have four seasons in culture in quite the way that Japan does. And to talk about why that is, you have to talk about agrarian religion — the tying of the religious calendar to various plant cultivation rituals. In the case of Japan, that involves talking about Shinto. Britain once had an agrarian religion like Japan’s, but because Christianity tolerates syncretism less than Buddhism does, in Britain this “sacred calendar” thing got erased.

    It’s this I suspect Fujiwara is saying, not that Japan is the only nation in the world with four seasons.

  19. Momus Says:

    Interestingly, the last comment on that entry of mine on the seasons is from someone who signs as “M” (Marxy?):

    “When I first moved to Japan, I had several people ask me “Does your country have four seasons?” with the regularity a Baptist community might have asked “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” I started to think that there was a conspiratioral idea held amongst the Japanese that they held a monopoly on the seasons. After you live here long enough though the question starts to make sense. There is a rhythm in Japan that has been lost in places like the US or Britain, where free-trade agreements and religion have thwarted nature.”

    But can that be Marxy, complaining about free trade agreements?

  20. marxy Says:

    M was not me.

    Fujiwara is arguing for the ACTUAL lack of climate-based seasons in non-Japanese countries. Let us hit the text. Page 105. The first sentences from the section about the four seasons.

    “I taught at a Midwestern U.S. university for three years, and the American Midwest, based on the Japanese standard, Spring and Fall only have about 1 month each. The rest is summer and fall. I was in Cambridge, England for about a year and about half the year was winter.”

    Then he talks about how hot India is.

    As I said, yes, Japan is more interested in seasonal culture than the West, but this extends into a belief that Japan is the only country to have four seasons, exactly 3 months a piece.

    The consistent climates of latitudes is culturally constructed!

  21. nate Says:

    What I meant by “four seasons thing” was that many Japanese people, from a very young age, believe that foreign countries literally do not have more than 3 seasons at most. Elementary school teachers have been surprised on occasion to learn that English even contains a word to match up with each of the four Japanese season-words.

    Like the mysterious M, I’ve been asked a million times over, most often by elementary and middle school children eager to show their knowledge of the world via their knowledge of the specialness of Japan.

    What’s most funny about the concept of 4 seasons in Japan is that were there no such world cultural standard, almost no region in the country would divide the year into four seasons based on climate.

    For example, mid to late summer = rainy season, hot season, typhoon season.

  22. nate Says:

    hey, if that’s what fujiwara is saying, fuck him! Snow falls 5 plus months out of the year here, and we’re 10 times the Nihonjin his combover, tv-smile city boy ass is.

  23. marxy Says:

    Are you saying that Japan is not just Tokyo? Or that climates correspond to latitudinal positions? Blasphemy!

  24. filosofem Says:

    dude, you’re aware that you’re giving credit to fuji-san.

    Oh? I don’t see how, but whatever, since your logic often baffles me like the four seasons thing does.

    Although it first appeared in some ancient Chinese text, the word 四季 is still very alive in both colloquial and literary usage even today. I’m willing to bet that we use it more often than the Japanese do, so obviously it’s very much in our culture as well. Hell, we even have an expression 四季分明 that means exactly “four distinct seasons”. However, we don’t apply it only to ourselves (in subtropical Taiwan we obviously can’t) but to any place that meets the criteria.

    Again, there’s a reason why the Japanese tend to lose their cultural identity within a generation or two once they emigrate, whereas traditional Chinese culture is very well preserved in Southeast Asia and some old Chinese communities in North America.

  25. marxy Says:

    I appreciate your input, filosofem.

  26. alin Says:

    filosofem: how can you miss my point. re-read what you’ve written and all you’re basically saying is how unique the japanese actually are. [which makes it seem very reasonable for people like fujiwara to do the same in terms more agreable to his position]

  27. marxy Says:

    Filosofem is not Japanese if that is how you are reading his words.

  28. alin Says:

    eh ????

  29. marxy Says:

    Apparently, the Chinese invented kanji and still use them to this day.

  30. Chris_B Says:

    Mulboyne: Amusingly enough, NTT also claimed that DSL was “incompatible with Japanese copper lines, and possibly damaging” (paraphrase). Sigh.

    marxy: I take issue with 1) the standard mode of dissent in at least UK/US, and I assume, most of Western Europe too. We all hate our leaders, and for the most part, we all dislike the majority attitudes of the country.

    Perhaps this is a function of age or rather the seeming immaturity of political discourse in the US in the last decade, but a large number of voters I know on various sides of the spectrum could not agree with that statement.

    the standard mode of being “political” has meant “disliking” your own country to a certain degree – whether you believe that the errors stem from the fundamental values or from the failure to uphold those values.

    Again I think you paint with too broad a brush. There is quite a gap between “disliking” and “disagreeing (with)” policies or politicians. As an apocrypal set of examples, several members of my family on both sides have been “politically active” and held local and state offices, and to a man their reasons were they felt things needed to be fixed and they could do something about it. Now obviously not everyone is motivated to office by altruism, but nor is everybody motivated to political action by dislike.

    Or are you slyly presenting your views from the emotional standpoint in a Fujiwara style?

  31. alin Says:

    serious you guys often talk like it’s about 1987 or something. weird. is that an expat thing? what next, jokes about japanese men’s short penises.

    (just walked back home pass the cinemas showing 太陽 , just like yesterday and the day before, massive crowd of people of ages and backgrounds queing to get in to see a positively ambivalent film about the showa emperor – made by a russian. man, there’s a lot more interesting stuff going on , so why pick on some old fart pseudo-academic who only tells you what you already know and you can feel superior.

    Apparently, the Chinese invented kanji and still use them to this day.

    Hell, we even have an expression 四季分明 that means exactly “four distinct seasons”.

    the japanese 四季 owes as much to china as the ‘turkish baths’ i mentioned earlier owe to turkey. which is to say something. can’t be bothered to elaborate.

    do all europeans owe it to india for taking their linguistic tree.

    america should be more grateful to arabs for giving them ther numerals to use in their trades. (arabs actually invented the american economy , ok)

    Or are you slyly presenting your views from the emotional standpoint in a Fujiwara style?

    spot on chris.

  32. marxy Says:

    Allright, smart guy.

    do all europeans owe it to india for taking their linguistic tree.

    This is probably the most piss poor misusage of historical linguistics I have ever seen.

    Japanese borrowed a HUGE number of lexical items from Chinese, so much that I would guess that the number of Chinese words in the Japanese language exceeds or comes close to exceeding the number of indigenous words.

    Indo-European is a language family, not a group of languages that borrowed from each other. English – for example – did NOT borrow a lot of words from Hindi the way that Japanese borrowed from Chinese – which coincidentally is a language totally outside of its language family.

    the japanese 四季 owes as much to china as the ‘turkish baths’ i mentioned earlier owe to turkey.

    English did borrow a lot of words from French a thousand years ago. And if you told me that the English word “revolution” has nothing to do with the French word “révolution” – I would think you are completely full of shit.

    But you “can’t be bothered” to be explain why the Japanese 四季 is TOTALLY, ABSOLUTELY different than the Chinese version. I don’t speak Chinese – and I will defer to your total fluency in that language – but my guess is that they have very, very similar meanings. The Chinese guy above states as such.

    Yeah, you can’t be bothered…

    I was 9 in 1987.

  33. alin Says:

    but realy, what are you actually trying to get to ?

    assuming you’re right in everything you say what do you actually aim to achieve by tearing to shreds past, present, future?? of the place you chose to live in, and offering near nothing instead. (brown did mention we’re fighting a revolution – or you guys are fighting it coz i guess i’m with the counter-revolutionaries – really?) – i’d like to talk about kisetsu but the revolutionary agenda seems to get in the way. be it a revolution it’s pretty much a parasite revolution anyway.

    marxy read your own comment just above – (for some reason my point didn’t get across first time) . it is actually YOU who is saying japan is different and unique – different to india, china, europe.

    you guys , especially in counterpoint can surely churn up all the factual data. i feel sometimes i’m a bit more sensitive to the dynamics and politics of difference, otherness and other-ing. but then you think i’m a dickhead anyway. fair enough.

  34. marxy Says:

    but realy, what are you actually trying to get to ?

    This is a cop out reply. I am not sure I can elucidate or will be forced to elucidate the entire “raison d’etre” of my blog here and now, but the point of these posts is to take apart the 2nd bestselling Japanese book of the moment (after Harry Potter – and you better believe he’s next!) and see what it actually says. If it says, “Japan is unique because we are the only nation with four seasons,” I think that is a claim worth discussing.

    and offering near nothing instead

    I offer a bunch of unwarranted, unheeded criticism that I am not particularly interested in actually directing towards those making policy decisions.

    i feel sometimes i’m a bit more sensitive to the dynamics and politics of difference, otherness and other-ing.

    Well, yeah. You and Momus agree on this point. This is a “paradigm” problem – according to Momus’ abusive use of Kuhn. We in the “unprogressed” paradigm seem to feel that you people left a lot of dirt under the rug before you zoomed into the 21st century of dogmatic relativism.

  35. Momus Says:

    Now I’m picturing you cleaning out “the dirt the relativists left under the rug” (whatever that “dirt” actually consists of — nothing more sinister than “sympathy for the other”, apparently) the way Bush said he scrubbed down the Oval Office after taking over from Clinton.

  36. Chris_B Says:

    in 1987 I was playing bass in a punk band and recording weird noise music with vocals stolen from Kafka. My politics were entirely emotional. I was in college and working 40+ hours a week. Probably drinking very heavily too.

    Oh and Alin, I’m more grateful to the Indians for giving us the number 0 than the arabs for algebra.

  37. marxy Says:

    Bush said he scrubbed down the Oval Office after taking over from Clinton.

    Oh come now. Comparing anyone who doesn’t agree with you as Bush is just as bad as Hitler these days.

  38. alin Says:

    I was 9 in 1987.

    yes i figured, that’s one thing i find kind of disturbing. in 87 i was 18 living in london so i quite remember the era.

    chris, were you born in the 60s?

  39. Mulboyne Says:

    I haven’t followed this blog through all its ruminations but, from what I have read, there are some ideas about Japan that I’ve seen which I definitely do not agree with while others views ring true.

    I don’t see where there is any problem or lack of sensitivity, though, in taking a closer look at the contents of this book. After all, one critic found fault with it saying that is was written with the assumption that no-one outside Japan would read it. Other critics have come up with similar arguments to those put forward here. You can easily see a few of them by googling for the title of the book – here’s one blog which appears early in the search results:

    http://blog.goo.ne.jp/ikedanobuo/e/2b365b2a38ca7996074020857aca73c4

    If you want to rebut Marxy’s opinions, I’m not sure that the best way to do that is to spend time defending Fujiwara’s.

  40. marxy Says:

    I am such a threat to decency that my enemies are all friends worth defending.

  41. Chris_B Says:

    Mulboyne: thats ironic, it follows the assumption that the barbarians could never read the local lingo anyways.

    alin: late 60s. Second oldest regular here that I know of.

    maxy: yes, it really is trite how Bush has become such a boogeyman for some folk. I myself look forward to the next POTUS to see how folk at both ends of the spectrum grind their hurdy gurdies to change the tune while singing the same song.

  42. alin Says:

    I am such a threat to decency that my enemies are all friends worth defending.

    yes, and you know what else, in the introduction to this entry you either took my neomarxisme-clasroom analogy, which would be fine if you gave some credit, or worse, you did a shameless pakkuri of this click-opera entry. careful not to abuse relativists’ kindness.

  43. Momus Says:

    Now, now, what’s a bit of pakura (it’s a kind of fish) between relatives?

  44. filosofem Says:

    “The Chinese guy above” actually grew up in the city with pathetically little exposure to nature and therefore doesn’t have much to say about the Chinese sense of seasons.

    the japanese 四季 owes as much to china as the ‘turkish baths’ i mentioned earlier owe to turkey.

    But this is just downright hilarious. “Turkish bath” in Japanese is like “French fries” in English. You have to be totally ignorant about linguistics to think that it can even be compared to a complete borrowing like 四季, which IMO has remained semantically intact in both Chinese and Japanese. Now if we try to break it down:

    Chinese version: 四季 = 春夏秋冬
    Japanese version: 四季 = 春夏秋冬

    100% correspondence, eh?
    Of course, you can argue that the Japanese rendering of each season has nuanced difference from its Chinese counterpart, which I’m inclined to agree, but hey, didn’t you notice that 四季 doesn’t even have a kunyomi? That is to say something. Can’t be bothered to elaborate.

    Why there’s no myth about four seasons being unique to China probably has to do with two reasons: 1) China is much more geographically diverse than Japan. 2) There’s no Chinese equivalent of Nihonjinron. If anything, it’s mostly self-deprecating stuff in modern literature much like what Michael Moore writes about America.

  45. alin Says:

    Chinese version: 四季 = 春夏秋冬
    Japanese version: 四季 = 春夏秋冬
    100% correspondence, eh?

    not realy. ‘a real japanese person’ would be good here’. now admittedly i havn’t spent any time in china but i can say for sure that shiki , particularly as generaly mentioned by nihonjinron writers doesn’t only stand for 春夏秋冬 but for the whole spectrum of subtle changes including bakushu, banshun (and all those other ozu movie titles) and more importantly one’s perception of those. (now say for example aboriginals in western australia traditionally have , i can’t recall how many, but anyway a lot more than the four , or rather two the colonizers have set , and many of them still live by those many seasons. )

    one way one can look at japan is that it often moved through time by a sort of auto-colonizing. in this sense the term 四季 is, like so many things back then and still now, just a somewhat inapropriate definition laid over something else (think of all the contemporary katakana words). if anything it’s probably certain daoist elements that finding affinity with shinto stuff have helped shape the shiki thing.

    so i don’t really think the idea of shiki is simply a myth of four seasons though many japanese people themselves might put it that way.

    i’m saying this rather lamely, it’s quite late , i personaly think this stuff is worth discussing more before making judgements but by wednesday we’ve got to get back to bushido and politics.

  46. alin Says:

    filosofem, the name of the country is on-yomi, so what does that mean

  47. Momus Says:

    by wednesday we’ve got to get back to bushido and politics.

    You’re addicted!

    But I’m sure Marxy likes you better than those free ringtone comments he gets.

  48. Slim Says:

    The most staggering disclosure of this thread is that Marxy is in his 20s. That means that though he has many interesting things to say, odds are that in 10 years time he will believe few of them himself. And then all this debate will have been for what, then? I guess, to quote one of Shibuya-kei’s honorary sons, “That’s Entertainment.”

  49. marxy Says:

    The most staggering disclosure of this thread is that Marxy is in his 20s.

    What? I am supposed to be in my 30s?

    And then all this debate will have been for what, then?

    Intellectual maturation.

  50. marxy Says:

    My final word on 四季, which is not to say it is the final word, but I am not sure where else I can go with this:

    The standard 定義, denotatitve meaning, of 四季 is “the four seasons.” There is no debate here. The concept of 梅雨 for example is NOT included in this meaning. According to Wikipedia, “四季(しき)とは、四つの季節、すなわち春・夏・秋・冬のこと。” And they add that any world location between then 30th and 50th parallel experiences four seasons. (Rock it, Chattanooga.)

    Alin is claiming there is an additional connotative meaning to 四季 that includes a “unique” cultural interest in those for seasons. Most agree that Japanese culture makes a lot of effort to match up to and use the seasonal changes, but you are claiming that Fujiwara’s statement that Japan is unique in that it has “four seasons” should not be ridiculed because he is using the word in its connotative use. In other words, he is saying, “Japan is one of the few countries with a cultural cycle corresponding to seasonal change.”

    I am not sure this connotative meaning exists within the word. Seems like you are attaching a bit of kotodama to me.

    Regardless, if he is using this connotation, why does he start the chapter actually talking about visiting other countries and those countries not having four climatic seasons? His text is based on the denotative meaning of the word.

    If you are going to keep insisting that 四季 encompasses grand meanings that we could not possibly understand, that it is totally different than the Chinese usage, and that we are all imposing some kind of cultural imperialism by questioning this claim of “uniqueness,” I think you are going to have to come up with concrete textual examples of the word being used for its connotative meaning – not just its denotative meaning.

    And knowing you from your other post, “you can’t be bothered” to do this.

  51. r. Says:

    as i said long ago, there is no fish called “pakura”…
    it is “hakura”

  52. Momus Says:

    Nice to see you chiming in once every six months for the really substantive points, Duckworth! Actually, pakura-as-fish has become, as Heidegger would put it, a joke-in-itself.

  53. marxy Says:

    I did rip Momus off unconsciously, though. I will admit as such.

  54. Chris_B Says:

    marxy: enjoy your 20s while they last, try to avoid being ground down into the salaryman slump by your late 30s. Its a real drag to be almost 40 in Japan and doing the same caliber of work you did in the US at age 20.

  55. filosofem Says:

    filosofem, the name of the country is on-yomi, so what does that mean

    …means that the Japanese can’t decide which, Nihon or Nippon, is the official reading of the name of their country?

    According to phonetic rules, Nippon should be the correct reading, so why is Nihon more commonly used? Rumors have it that during the American occupation, the American authorities thought “Nippon” sounded too aggressive and told the Japanese to change it to the more pleasant-sounding “Nihon”. That, of course, is but one of the numerous Chinese jokes to make fun of the Japanese. (You might be interested to know how Hi no Maru came into being according to a Chinese joke.)

    Anyway, why I raised that point that 四季 has no kun-yomi is simply because I’m under the impression if a word has no kun-yomi, then most likely it’s either of Chinese origin or some kind of wasei-kango, no? (四季 certainly can’t be of the latter variety ’cause the word has been around for thousands of years.) Correct me if I’m wrong.

    But yeah, I’ve never bothered with Nihonjinron ’cause I don’t like the idea of theorization (more often just sweeping generalization) of national characters, so I can’t comment on the connotative meaning of the Japanese 四季. You seem to have read a lot of Nihonronjin and really bought into some stuff they preach. I wonder how you think of American exceptionalism and “distinct society” (as in Quebec), ’cause it seems to me that they were both conceived to serve certain socio-political agendas much like Nihonjinron.

    BTW, 梅雨 is in no way unique to Japan. We too have it Taiwan (and I hate it with a passion!) as well as some parts of mainland China — with the same kanji. But I’ll at least give some credit to the Japanese for having a kun-yomi for it.

  56. alin Says:

    filosofem aren’t both nihon and nippon on-yomi, kunyomi would be hinomoto, nichimoto or something.

    get the feeling you’re coming pretty close to some sort of latent 中華論 yourself, or if that’s too much you do seem to have a grudge.

  57. filosofem Says:

    Of course I know both Nihon and Nippon are on’yomi. I’m just curious why Nihon, which is an exception according the phonetic rules of standtard modern Japanese, has become the popular reading. (Refer to this page for a Japanese scholar’s view on this issue.) And as a lead-in to the Chinese joke, heh.

    As for forming a “latent 中華論”? That must be quite something for someone who doesn’t even like tradtional Chinese culture and aesthetics in the first place and who is going to Canada with the full intention to settle down there. I doubt if I will spend my time pondering how unique the Chinese really are in Canada.

    But yeah, I do have a grudge, for they never let me turn up the volumn (even just a little bit) when I was trying out some effect pedal at any musical instrument store in Tokyo or something…

  58. marxy Says:

    “Yamato” was the Japanese name for Japan. I am not sure of the circumstances of why they changed it. My guess is that Chinese words had the ring of civilization.

  59. lacadutadegiganti Says:

    Not to pile on or anything, but just an additional note regarding the fatuity of alin’s assertions:
    No, Arabic numerals were not invented by Arabs; they were simply transmitted by them from their original source in India.

    So give the Indians credit for that, whilst touting their linguistic achivements!