I was surprised that Alice Gordenker, in her March 18 “So, what the heck is that?” column, used a classic Nihonjinron cliche to explain why bells are popular in Japan. She quotes professor Tomiko Kojima of the National Museum of Japanese History as saying: “If you consider that most people were engaged in agriculture and fishing, you can understand how important it was to pay attention to changes in the sound of wind, for example, because that could signal critical weather changes. And our poetry is full of references to the sounds of wind, water and insects. So it’s not surprising that a sound, such as that made by bells, could be considered so powerful.”
Surely many countries have had a long period in their development during which most people were engaged in agriculture and fishing, and every culture’s poetry is full of references to the sounds of nature. That she mentions insect sounds is a sure sign that Kojima has been influenced by Nihonjinron ideas.
The belief that insect sounds, especially the chirping of cicadas, are music to Japanese ears, but only so much noise to foreigners is one of the oldest chestnuts in the Nihonjinron discourse. I don’t think that Gordenker should lend credibility to such ideas by quoting them in her column.