The world beneath our feet
Posted by ampontan on Monday, May 25, 2009
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON is a classicist, military historian, scholar of ancient Greece, part-time farmer, and political commentator. He is now on his 30th trip to Europe in the past 36 years. While he doesn’t write about Japan at all (as far as I know), I was struck by this entry in his blog:
What excites one about Europe are the layers of civilization. Walk out in the Cretan countryside or in the hills above Rome, and one, either through myth, literature, or archeology, quickly grasps the land beneath one’s feet is part of a long prior story of civilization. In contrast, when I walk over my farm, I know that I experience what my mother, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-grandmother knew, and have found at times a horseshoe, or square nail, but prior to them (ca. 1870) the land was mostly just parched grass landscape in a depopulated landscape for eons, without a monumental building, road, or artifact to be found. Again, in Europe you bump into the visible past-2000 BC, AD 320, 1074, 1579, 1942-almost each second.
The same thing that excites Dr. Hanson about Europe excites me about Japan. With the exception of the BC dates, that same passage could just as easily have been written about this country with only a few minor substitutions.
He also writes:
…cite a battle, a cathedral, or a famous Roman, and the odds are that Europeans more readily begin a conversation than their American counterparts.
Of course the subjects in a Japanese discussion of history and culture would be different, but this statement is equally applicable. Mass market paperbacks about historical events centuries old are displayed just as prominently in Japanese bookstores as works of popular fiction. I stopped being surprised by the cultural knowledge of the man or woman in the Japanese street, shop, or tavern years ago.