Japan

HARD as it may be to believe, I was once a track and field star, and there is no reason to suppose that my motor reactions are slow, but I am absolutely helpless in the water. Even though I used to do exactly what the coach told me, there was never any question of my swimming. Far from it: I would instantly sink to the bottom of the pool. I persuaded myself that it was all the fault of my specific gravity, but the coach was of the opinion that it was because I analyzed to excessive lengths the movements of swimming. It may well be true that I have a mania for analysis. I enjoyed math and was even proud of my ability. But my mania for analysis caused me to reach the ironic conclusion that analysis was, in fact, harmful to a writer's work. I have long since given up my efforts in the swimming pool, but I have tried in my use of words to rely insofar as possible on images and not resort to analysis, and to write as swimmingly as I can.

That is why I had the feeling when I received the request for an analytical article on the present state of Japanese culture that I should properly decline. But, on second thought, I realized that being so fastidious was in itself analytical, so I decided to accept. But I have no intention of bearing the responsibility if this article turns out to be dogmatic and full of prejudices.

I dislike cherry blossoms. When at night I pass through the tunnel formed overhead by cherry blossoms, like clouds floating in the dark, I think they are beautiful. Yes, they are beautiful, but I dislike them all the same. Probably it is because another kind of cherry blossom exists inside the Japanese; for example, the cherry blossoms painted on the backdrops of stage sets not with zinc oxide but with a Chinese white consisting of powdered sea shells. To a foreigner these cherry blossoms are likely to be only of aesthetic interest, but to the Japanese they are a powerful symbol which functions as an inductive mechanism for the emotions. Perhaps for an American a cowboy hat might have similar effects.

Such emotions tend to get confused with sensory perceptions, but the two operate on completely different levels. The senses form a physiological system which receives, with organs used exclusively for this purpose, stimuli originating either on the outside or inside the body. The emotions, on the other hand, are something close to language. They are not exactly language, but make up a sub-language or a quasi-language which hovers like a halo around the periphery of words. The contents they transmit are also far more structured than those transmitted by the senses. It is true that, not being as systematic in their structure as language, and having been formed by spontaneous generation with the repetition of communal experiences, they suffer from the inherent weakness of not being effective except within one cultural area. But under certain circumstances this weakness can turn into strength. For example, there are the passwords used in night warfare to distinguish friends from foes. And the emotions have been used as a kind of litmus paper by inquisitors. It is rather too much of a short circuit to connect the whole of the emotions with nationalism, but the fulcrum of nationalism is always the emotions.

Unfortunately, emotional elements inevitably tend to get mixed into works of literature which have for their subject the individual segments of time we call daily life. It is often said that translations of literature only bring in an 80 percent yield of the works. Perhaps the remaining, untranslatable 20 percent are the result of the emotions mixed into the style. Fortunately, I have never once had the experience of reading a novel in translation and feeling dissatisfied because it was a translation. A superior novel is superior as a novel, an inferior novel inferior as a novel. The value of a work does not appear to be controlled especially by the amount of emotion it contains. It is worth noting that, ever since World War II, maps of the world are no longer drawn with one's own country at the center, but are depicted globally instead. It isn't necessary to make the special effort of standing on one's tiptoes for the world to impinge on one's immediate daily life. Even if one remains shut up quietly inside a room, one is in easy reach of the age, across national boundaries. To insist on the emotions at this point can only be termed an anachronism.

However, it is the special gift of inquisitors not to be in the least afraid of anachronisms. It seems clear to me, looking back over the past 10 years in the world of Japanese theater, that it has been leaning more pronouncedly each day in the direction of the emotions. This tendency is particularly conspicuous among the highly motivated middle and small theatrical companies. It is not that the glories of nationalism are formally proclaimed. On the contrary, these companies have received the support of press commentators of the New Left who praise their anti-establishment activities. But on close look one sees hanging in the background, faintly white, unmistakable cherry blossoms. The inquisitors have sent into the big theaters the anti-establishment theater people, one after another, who have been busy making the cherry blossoms bloom, and they are now enjoying their success at simultaneously daubing both anti-establishment and establishment in one color.

Just at this point America has suddenly begun to insist loudly on Japanese military expansion. The Japanese government is now making a show, like an actor performing as Hamlet with a road company, of suffering because it is caught between Japanese public opinion and the American demands. However, in their hearts the politicians are secretly delighted. This is a golden opportunity for stirring up nationalism. Sooner or later armaments will be strengthened, on the installment plan, and people in America will be deluded into supposing that Japan has accepted the American demands; but they have merely been used by the Japanese inquisitors as an excuse for putting on their formal clothes. It is impossible for one nationalism to persuade another nationalism. One of the characteristics of nationalism is a refusal to engage in dialogue. The more America shouts, the more the cherry blossoms will thrive.

I was 17 when I first became acquainted with Dostoevski and read his works with consuming excitement. That was the year that war broke out between Japan and America. I think that was when the cherry blossoms began to scatter within me. Ever since, I have never succeeded in liking cherry blossoms. No matter how beautifully the cherry blossoms have glowed in the light of the torches held up by the inquisitors, it has only been because of the intensity of the darkness around them. The cherry blossoms that have opened will scatter one day. But will they really? The torches of the atomic age may engulf the whole earth in their fires before the cherry blossoms fall. Even the ark aboard which Noah escaped the Flood will not have much of a chance amidst that hellfire. All that being aboard the ark will mean is that one gets a postponement of a couple of days in the administration of the death sentence. And there's not much chance in any case for me, who dislikes cherry blossoms, to be handed a boarding pass for the ark.

That is why I am now writing a novel which has for its theme the qualifications for boarding the ark.

Translated by Donald Keene