Damian Flanagan’s thought-provoking “Linguistic ignorance can be bliss” in the Oct. 21 edition is utterly counterintuitive to those, including me, who strongly believe in the importance of mastering a foreign language as a prerequisite to understanding a country’s culture.

After having learned through Flanagan’s article of the power and influence of Pico Iyer and Donald Richie, neither of whom were linguists, I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that Japan’s postwar future was in the hands of “Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation” written by Lafcadio Hearn, who had no Japanese linguistic capability.

According to John Dower’s “Embracing Defeat,” this book had a notable influence on MacArthur’s command coming to its conclusion to preserve Emperor Hirohito (known posthumously as Emperor Showa). Even though being a turn-of the-century classic, it was initially read by Brig. Gen. Bonner F. Fellers, MacArthur’s military secretary and the chief of his psychological warfare operations. It was circulated enough to convince the OSS (predecessor of the CIA) as well “to ‘drive a wedge’ between the military leadership and the emperor.”

On the other hand, as a linguistically curious person, I still believe in language mastery as essential to a full appreciation and rich experience of a foreign culture. I believe my ongoing effort to learn English has rewarded me with a life as a full member of American society, which would have been all but impossible without it.


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.

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