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.