Readers in Council,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Jevon Allen’s letter “Cleaning up after the natives” (November 17) exposes at least two things about Japanese culture. First, the in-group/out-group thing which might explain a lax attitude towards littering the beaches, the countryside, woods and mountains - places with which people feel responsibility in diminishing proportion to their proximity to home. The same occurs all over the world, of course, where we can say it is the work of an antisocial minority. But in Japan that minority has a more developed cultural excuse behind it, and the antisocial accusation might be a surprise.
Second is the myth of Japanese culture’s unique esthetic sense, springing from a special affinity for Nature. What affinity can one claim for Nature if, at the same time, one is disposed to foul it? The esthetic argument is a myth. It’s a lie. It’s tatemae. Louis Carlet observed on the Community page (“Tatemae a type of truth, not lie,”November 15), “Tatemae is used
when both parties - speaker and listener - know the truth so there is no need to voice it.” Thus I might imagine an unspoken conspiracy of evasion behind the suggestion of a unique Japanese esthetic. As with a white lie in English, tatemaeis what we say mostly to make it easier to live with ourselves.
Is the honne, the actual reality that Japanese hate Nature and are a nation of Nature Abusers? I wouldn’t blame them considering the havoc and peril of Nature here - volcanoes, typhoons, earthquakes and tsunamis, floods, landslides, fire, drought and the Kanno Sisters. By way of example, bonsai is an ugly thing to do to a living plant. Ikebanaand rock gardens might look beautiful, but their beauty has nothing to do with Nature. But I could be wrong.
Published on Thursday, November 24, 2011 as “The myth of an aesthetic sense.”
The paper deleted my humorous reference to the big-busted Kanno sisters. Too bad. I thought it was funny. In hindsight think I ought to have made the point that bonsai is to a measurable degree a morally ugly thing to do to a living plant.