Japan from the inside out

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.

3 Responses to “The world beneath our feet”

  1. Bender said

    Europe? I’d say anywhere between Spain and China you will find layers and layers of history beneath your feet. I’m kind of disappointed in how Euro-centrist he sounds. I guess it’s difficult to extend one’s imagination beyond one’s cultural bounds.

    I remember arguing with Americans that Europe is not a continent. I still fail to see any significant geographical or cultural divide between so-called Europe and Asia. How different is Greece and Turkey? They both eat pizzas (or something similar to the dish) and olives, no?

  2. Tor said

    I think the Native Americans would disagree with this. They would say that their history in North America also goes back thousands of years. It is just through the white person’s eyes that there is a short history in North America.

  3. melmo said

    It’s a different kind of nostalgia, but this entry reminds me of the works of Asian romanticists.

    国破山河在 – 杜甫
    夏草や兵どもが夢の跡 – 芭蕉

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