Poland’s Japan boom rooted in historical affinity: ambassador

by Takashi Kitazume

The growing popularity of things Japanese in Poland is rooted in a curiosity its people have had about Japan since the late 19th century, when Poland was a divided country ruled by neighboring powers, Polish Ambassador to Japan Maria Rodowicz said in Tokyo this week.

Rodowicz said she would like the Japanese people to know more about Poland and to be able to describe it not as just another “former communist bloc nation” from the Cold War, but as a country with a rich multicultural and multiracial history.

Twenty years after becoming a democracy, Poland today is a member of the European Union with a “new generation of 20-year-old Poles who completely don’t have a memory of any other system but the system in which they live now,” the ambassador said.

Rodowicz gave a speech titled “Multicultural character of Polish tradition — language, customs, cuisine and clothing” at Aoyama Gakuin University on Tuesday, the latest in a series of lectures by Tokyo-based ambassadors that is supported by The Japan Times and other parties.

“About 30,000 people in Poland learn Japanese in 65 local language schools, and we have Japanese-language departments at four universities in major cities,” said Rodowicz, who herself studied Japanese culture at Warsaw University and the University of Tokyo before entering the world of diplomacy.

The historical affinity the Polish people have for Japan began in the late 19th century, when Japan was embarking on modernization and Poland was being ruled over by powerful Russia, Prussia and Austria, the ambassador said.

“I think the Polish people at that time thought they had a lot to learn from Japan, as it was just about to become active in the world scene,” she said.

Rodowicz, who has written several books on Japanese culture in Polish and is an expert on noh, said she became acquainted with Japanese culture when, “by chance,” she started reading novels by Yasunari Kawabata and Junichiro Tanizaki translated into Polish and “felt something fresh” in an encounter with “poorly translated” haiku by Matsuo Basho.