Welcome to Japan: the Centre of the World
Europe is the Far West, USA is the Far East
It may come as something of a shock to Americans and especially Europeans, to learn that they are not in fact at the centre of the world. As a European, on every map of the world that I have ever seen, Europe is at the centre. But, in fact, and as every Japanese schoolboy knows only too well, it is Japan which is at the centre of the world.
My teenage son, who has lived in Japan since he was six years old, pointed this out to me when he showed me the map of the world in his textbook. Sure enough, there at the centre of the world was Japan. To the west was Europe, and to the east was the USA.
There was therefore no longer any use in me telling him that he lived far away from everything, him being in the “Far East”, as in his eyes it was him who was at the centre, and me who was living far away from everything, me being in the “Far West”.
More than once in its history Japan (like the USA does today) has tried to export its imperialism to the rest of the world. Japan believed and still does, (again, like the USA does today) that its culture and values are superior to other countries.
A phrase often heard in Japan is “pure Japanese”. I have never heard anyone in the West refer to other people as being “of pure race”. Is there any such thing as a pure Englishman, Frenchman, or American? And would it matter anyway? To my mind no, but it matters very much to the Japanese. It pays to remember that Japan was physically cut-off from the rest of the world for centuries, and that there has therefore been very little mixing of races. This also explains why their culture is so unique.
In terms of their intellect also, Japanese may consider themselves superior. This is not surprising, when we look at what it takes to become proficient in their language. A schoolchild in the west has to learn one alphabet containing twenty-six letters. A Japanese schoolchild will learn this too, but will also have to learn three more, so that in fact he commands not one, but four different alphabets. Romanji (ours), plus Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Katakana alone has more than seventy-seven different symbols, Kanji has thousands. It takes a western child usually until the age of six or seven to be able to read and write proficiently. It takes a Japanese child until the age of ten or eleven.
Claim the Moral High Ground
The standard of behaviour and social conduct of Japanese is another area where they can lay claim to superiority; claim the moral high ground, so to speak. Qualities such as Honour, Honesty, Dignity, Respect and Duty, (long since disregarded in the West, to be replaced by greed, deceit and personal gratification), are still very much alive and highly valued in Japanese society. I will never forget the TV image of a Japanese politician crying profusely, and pleading for the forgiveness of his colleagues after a shameful deed had been discovered. Losing face in Japanese society is still a very serious matter, to be avoided at all costs.
Many Americans are steadfastly and enthusiastically destroying the English language, introducing “newspeak” with an alarming rapidity. One feted “author” on Hubpages.com is already advising his adoring flock to burn their Thesauruses and to use as few words as possible in whatever they write. His own writing is stuffed full of mis-spelled words, badly structured sentences which are not English, and grammatical faults. And sadly, he is one of a growing community who think that to take the trouble to express language accurately is “being picky”.
Many languages have swallowed whole, new words and phrases straight from the American imperialist machine, without any attempt to translate or find an equivalent in their own language. The French language is stuffed full of Americanisms (franglais), which are now considered “chic”. Even simple, straightforward English words such as “job, slow, stop, and start” are now in common use even though there is a perfectly good French equivalent.
The Japanese, however, have not bought into this. Of course they have the same necessity to incorporate foreign words into their language, but instead of swallowing the words whole, the Japanese have incorporated these words into their own language and culture. They have invented an entire alphabet so that any western word, past, present, or future can be written phonetically in Japanese, not English. This alphabet is katakana. Katakana is used to express foreign words only, and is yet another example of how Japan adapts to changing times, whilst simultaneously retaining its own cultural identity.
Yes, Japan is a proud nation. Having failed to colonise the rest of the world on several occasions, it remains nonetheless, proudly and steadfastly at the center of it.
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