Books on the specifics of Japanese culture (as compared to those on cultural generalities) were not always as available as they are now. The concept of culture did not have the political intentions that are now so much a part of it. Books on the purported uniqueness of the Japanese “national character” (nihonjinron) had yet to begin their advance, and the rest of the world knew so little about Japan that ignorance and mystery became cultural concepts in themselves.

I remember 60 years ago when the visitor to Japan was told that sushi was a kind of raw ham and consequently quite edible; when no one but the specialist had ever heard of Zen; and when the Bunraku playwright Chikamatsu was explained as “the Shakespeare of Japan.” There were then few ways that the culturally impoverished, such as myself, could learn much, no matter how great the need.

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