Memories of a Culture Past

Recently a long-time friend asked my wife to talk to a local minority boy who wanted to learn about Japanese culture.  The friend assured her this minority boy has a strong desire to learn and is in many ways an outstanding person who shows much promise. My wife, who has medical problems, followed my advise to reject the request for several reasons, and our friend expressed surprise at her negative response.

My main problem with the request was that my wife only knows the Japanese culture she learned from her parents, not by first-hand experience, and not the culture as it is today.

When people leave their native culture, European or Asian, that culture becomes frozen in their minds while the actual culture continues to evolve and change.  As time moves on, the current culture and the remembered culture grow further and further apart. Part of the Biblical Old Testament deals with the clash of cultures when the Jews of the Babylonian Exile returned to the culture of those who remained in the homeland for those 70 years.  (Not everyone was taken, not everyone returned, and 70 years is a long time.) Both cultures had evolved in different directions, forming different views on the nature of God, and both claimed to be the “real” culture.

We see this most obviously today in Irish and Polish culture, and especially in Japanese culture, the culture of a people whose traditional beliefs formed slowly over generations were abruptly turned upside-down when they lost a major war requiring total, unconditional surrender.

I have written about the new Japanese culture here that is in many ways the exact opposite of what it once was, but even this is only my own second-hand knowledge.

Hikikomori” is the name applied to the hoards of young Japanese men who stay in their bedrooms playing on their computers while their doting parents bring them their meals on trays. “Otaku” are men who immerse themselves in fantasy dating worlds on their computers, rather than suffering the slings and arrows of the real world. A recent government survey found 36% of Japanese men aged 16 to 19 had no interest in sex.

That’s a large chunk of the male population, but I am not qualified to evaluate the trend, and neither is my wife who is of samurai descent, but two generations away from it all.  But whatever it is, I don’t think this is what an American minority boy wants to hear.

(A second reason for my advise for my wife to disregard the request is that the boy has no skin in the game.  Let him  first read a book or two on Japanese history, or on the language, or Japanese art, then build on that with her personal observations. Kids of every type today seem to think simply wanting something—”I want to be a doctor,” or “I want to be a lawyer”—is enough, without requiring any effort on their part.)

About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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