• Tokyo


Jevon Allen’s Nov. 17 letter “Cleaning up after the natives” exposes at least two things about Japanese culture. First, the in-group/out-group thing, which might explain a lax attitude toward littering the beaches, the countryside, woods and mountains — places for which people feel responsibility in diminishing proportion to the distance of these areas from home.

The same occurs all over the world, of course, where we can say it is the work of an antisocial minority. But in Japan that minority has a more developed cultural excuse behind it, and the antisocial accusation might be a surprise.

Second is the myth of Japanese culture’s unique aesthetic sense, springing from a special affinity for Nature. What affinity can one claim for Nature if, at the same time, one is disposed to foul it? The aesthetic argument is a myth. It’s a lie.

It’s tatemae. Louis Carlet observed on the Community page Nov. 15 (“Tatemae a type of truth, not lie”) that tatemae “is used when both parties — speaker and listener — know the truth, so there is no need to voice it.” Thus I might imagine an unspoken conspiracy of evasion behind the suggestion of a unique Japanese aesthetic. As with a white lie in English, tatemae is what we say mostly to make it easier to live with ourselves.

So, is the honne the actual reality that the Japanese hate Nature and are a nation of Nature abusers? I wouldn’t blame them, considering the havoc and peril of Nature here — volcanoes, typhoons, quakes and tsunami, floods, landslides, fire and drought.

By way of example, bonsai is an ugly thing to do to a living plant. Ikebana and rock gardens might look beautiful, but their beauty has nothing to do with Nature. But I could be wrong.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

grant piper

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