Friday, April 20, 2007

Ein schönes Land

Abe Shinzō's "beautiful country", what does it look like?

Like this, I guess:

Nature and mankind appear to be united as in nowhere else. Everything that stems from this country is elegant and bright, not abstract-metaphysical but always tightly bound with what Nature gives.

Elegant are the landscapes with green islands or hills, elegant are the trees, elegant are the arable lands carefully constructed and carefully divided into small parcels, in particular those houses standing on the lands, and finally the people, their language, movements, clothes with all the tools they use.

...the Japanese house with very organized smooth walls, many small rooms with tatami-mats laid softly. Each small thing has meaning and significance. In addition, elegant people with picturesque smile, bow, and sitting—everything one wonders but cannot imitate. You try in vain.

Oh foreigners! You cannot eat the elegant Japanese dishes. Be satisfied with seeing them. Compared with our people, the Japanese are cheerful and carefree in their company with each other — live not in the future but at present time. Their cheer is expressed always in fine form, never noisy.
But how can so many live on so little land without internal strife?

It is proper to a Japanese tradition that one does not express one's feeling and emotion but remain calm and reserved. This is the reason why many, even the persons not mentally harmonious to each other, can live under one roof without having painful frictions and conflicts.
But does not the soul whither without struggle, without competition? Are we not beasts of the field, who must compete with tooth and claw to reach our ultimate selves? Or have not the Japanese found a better way?

For us, the whole education is directed so that the struggle for existence as an individual should be successful under the most favorable conditions. Especially in the cities, there are most advanced individualism, ruthless competition with the highest forces, and feverish work to get as much luxury and pleasure as possible. The bonds of families became loose, the influence of artistic and moral tradition in daily life relatively poor. The isolation of individuals is regarded as a necessary consequence of the struggle for existence.

As a result, we lost the cheerful light-heartedness, which can be obtained only by increasing mutual participation. The prevailing rational education— indispensable for our practical life under our relations— makes the individualism sharper, and consequently the loneliness of the individuals becomes sharper in the conscience.

It is quite different in Japan. The individual is much less solitary here than in Europe and America. The bonds of families are much tighter than ours though the laws protect them less. The force of public opinion here is stronger than ours, and takes care of the family system not becoming loose. What the education and born good heartedness of the Japanese make sure is completed by fama (rumor), printed or not printed.
The first time I ever heard this essay, I could not believe the naiveté, the horrible projection of a personal fantasy upon a nation.

I was standing at the time and thought I was going to fall.

If it had been written by a fool, it might have been bearable.

But no fool wrote it.

And because it is not the product of a foolish mind, this enthusiastic, almost adolescent trifle is ranked among the greatest of the treasures of the Meiji apologists. It is one of the Right's Ur-texts, an ultimate corroboration of the justness of their cause, the proof that the Meiji State was a thing of great beauty.

Who could have written the above?

Mr. Prime Minister, you have the honors. Did you not conclude your speech to the Diet on September 29, 2006, your first speech to the Diet after your election, with a quote from this essay?

Of course you did.

So tell us.

"Once, when Albert Einstein visited Japan, he said, 'It is my sincere wish that the Japanese people keep intact and never forget those traits which you have intrinsically possessed: humbleness and simplicity essential to an individual, pure and calm Japanese heart.' I believe it is fully possible to build a 21st century Japan, which retains the Japanese virtues which Einstein admired, and filled with charm and vitality. I believe that the Japanese people have the ability to realize this."
Albert Einstein wrote the essay.

Don't you understand? It's Einstein; it must be true!

Yes the man who in 1905 in his annus mirabilis deracinated our stolid understanding of the cosmos, who in 1932 fled Germany to escape Nazi terror and in 1939 signed his name to Leo Szilard's letter to President Roosevelt, the one that asked the President to initiate a program to develop an atomic bomb--he wrote an essay about Japan during a 1922 visit.

He had been in Japan for all of...two weeks.

And the most delicious of ironies?

The date he penned this essay was...December 7.

Albert Einstein's full essay, translated from the German by a Japanese physicist, can be found here .

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