Showing posts from 2021

Letters from Japan

“No man is an island entire of himself,” wrote the English poet John Donne. Not only individuals but even island nations emerge in history and arrive at an understanding of their own identity through a conversation and exchange that must include other places and other people. That national histories are often represented as autochthonous, sealed off and unmixed with any external elements, is not only a missed opportunity but an error that has led to violence, exclusion, and massacre. Japan has many ways of discussing its own uniqueness. Philosophers of the Heian court contrasted Yamato-damashii (“Japanese spirit”) with the values and qualities of other nations on the periphery of Tang China. The complicated word kokutai (“national body”), meaning both the sovereign state and the national essence of its people, centered political discourse in the wake of the 1868 revolution, acquired a mystical power through its association with the Emperor and the imperial cult, and became a germ for