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We Japanese are not philosophers

Posted in japanese concepts with tags , , on November 7, 2010 by mikele

A quite poignant quote from May’s book “Atomic Sushi” (that I talked about in a previous post). The author is talking to his japanese host about the reasons for being a philosopher in modern Japan (p.148-149):

“We Japanese are not philosophers,” he conceded proudly. “We have our philosophy, of course; but we prefer not to speak about it.”

I agreed with this wholeheartedly: “You don’t need to spell out your philosophy unless your roots are endangered, unless the question of your identity becomes a conscious, live problem.”

“Like the Jews,” he said, without a trace of anti-Semitism.

“Yes. In the West we are all becoming Jews,” I replied, tongue-in-cheek.

“You are right, May-san. We Japanese do not need philosophy. We are still racially-pure. Perhaps we are the last racially-pure people.”

I found this a shocking gloss on my point, and yet the way he said it was too “innocent” to be sinister. Japan must be the only nation in the world where a blut-und-bloden – blood-and-soil – mythology is openly voiced in an inoffensive, even naive, way. People don’t seem to associate it with Nazi evil, or with names like Auschwitz.

“But if we are forced to accept more foreign influence, then we will need more philosophy,” he persisted, warming to the theme. “Foreigners will endanger our identity. Then we will import their philosophy in order to regain the identity they destroyed.” He grinned with satisfaction as he drew his conclusions: “Foreigners will try to cure the disease they cause to us. But the cure will simply lead to further disease.”