Eurasia Newsletter

bringing the minds of Asia, Canada and Europe together

Month: September, 2017

Two views of Japan

In opinion essays in the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung two views of Japan have emerged in recent years which it is interesting to contrast.

Florian Coulmas, a well-known German Japanologist, says that Japan looks good on the surface, but that under the surface people have lost faith in the system and are becoming more and more individualistic – devil take the hindmost.

He points out that Japanese politicians and the people at large do not grasp the issue of immigration at all. Everyone knows the population is declining but no-one wants to consider the obvious solution. The Japanese think they can remain isolated and not take new people on board. This is, of course, an old, old theme in Japanese history and culture: “we take the best of innovation from the rest of the world, but all those people stay at home”.

Urs Schöttli, who was long the NZZ’s Asia correspondent, finds that people in the West have been announcing the decline of Japan, whereas every time you go there you see that everything works and the Japanese have a tremendous discipline which is really showing the West how things should be done. He thinks Japan can still remain an economic powerhouse that guarantees an excellent standard of living and quality of life for its citizens.

Meanwhile the Japanese, who years ago were regarded with apprehension in the West, have now been overtaken as bugbears by the Chinese. It is at last permissible to feel sorry for them.




Listening as work

The young Rimbaud said in a famous letter: “Je est un autre”, that is, “I am (or is) somebody else”. He was referring to the realms of the unconscious which are still part of the self, even though we may not be aware of them.  In the same letter, he went on to say: “J’assiste à l’éclosion de ma pensée : je la regarde, je l’écoute…” that is, “I watch the opening up of my thought – I look at it, I listen to it.”

Rimbaud thus affirms the plurality of the self and consciousness, but this opens up the possibility of “s’écouter” – a reflexive verb, here meaning to listen to that Other which is oneself. It sounds like work. And it is. In Rimbaud’s case, it is the work of the visonary poet.

Listening to the Other is a term that can also be used for listening to other cultures. This too means “work”. Especially if the culture in question is profoundly different from your own, you will have to listen very hard in order to understand what is being said. Now, you will only do this if you think that the speaker from the other culture is an individual identity like yourself who is worth listening to, worth taking trouble over. You have to recognize this Other as an “I”.

So whereas Rimbaud broke new ground by saying “Je est un Autre”, we need to break further new ground by affirming that “l’Autre est un Je”.