Now I’m going to talk a little bit about my Master thesis, which is one of the few things I published [“on paper” as opposed to “on the Internet”] in an obscure university journal that nobody reads.
What did I write about? Well, I wrote about this thing called nihonjin-ron (which is “Sun-Root-People Theory” 日本人論), about Japanese-ness (Japanese identity).
I’m going to talk a little about the Sun-Root-Language (= Japanese language 日本語).
I’m trying to show you how it would sound if we talked in kanji (Chinese-Characters, ideographs, 漢字) using a different reading, using English word-sounds instead of Japanese.
We have “thank you” in English. What do we have in Japanese?
We have “[there] is a Difficult-Polite-Sitting” (arigato gozaimasu 有り難う御座います)
“[It is] Difficult to Be [as I am] Politely Sitting [in your presence]”.
Thank you: You have placed a burden on me, so it is difficult to be sitting here. Arigato gozaimasu.
We could call Japanese “the Sun-Root Language” (nihongo 日本語). I’ll have to Google this and see if somebody else came up with this idea.
Later: Not really, unless you count Japanese-English dictionaries. However, Sun-Root People (i.e., the Japanese) yielded the following fragment describing Chinese experience with Japan in the 1930s:
One other creature joined this small company of a student bachelor with his two servants, a little dog so wise and graceful, so unreal, that at times it seemed as if he were one of the traditional sculptured lion-dogs come to life.
He was indeed a lion-dog, and the breed had come from Lhassa; so his forbears had been Tibetan.
Erh Niu was his enigmatic name. It meant merely “Bullock Two,” or else “Bull the Second.” […]
In time we became quite used to Japanese air-planes passing in flight over the still peaceful city, bent on more distant missions with their deadly cargoes.
At such times Hsu Jung would hug Erh Niu tight, or go over to him as he lay in his round basket, and pointing to the airplane cry:
“There are cats, CATS, within the Sun-Root People’s flying boat”
(The Japanese lived in the east, which is, of course, the quarter of origin of the sun.)
Erh Niu never failed to try to frighten them off, and this always cheered us all. For we loved our dog, and of course we knew the Chinese proverb:
“Cats shift houses (in time of adversity); dogs do not shift houses.”
Source: Kates, George N. 1952. The Years That Were Fat: Peking, 1933-1940, New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers.
Back to Japanese-ness (Sun-Root-People Theory nihonjin-ron 日本人論).
I wrote (in English) about what (Japanese people think) it means to be Japanese.
Of course, there is a lengthy theory (a “discourse”) in each country which attempts to capture the respective (real, imagined, or in-between) national character
Romanian Theory :“surviving as an island of Latin culture surrounded by Slavic societies”
Greek Theory: “fountain of democracy resisting despotism across the ages”
Native Americans: “the proud people who fought a losing battle against the Civilised Whites pushing into the Wild West”
The Japanese identity discourse has been given its current form at the Bright-Healing Time-Period (Meiji Jidai 明治時代).
The second character in mei-ji is naoru/naosu (治る / 治す). The former is intransitive while the latter is transitive, so it can be translated as “Getting better” by oneself or “Fixing” by another (knowledgeable) agent.
Therefore, Meiji was the Bright-Fixing, the Bright-Getting-Better.
Before Meiji, we had the Edo Jidai (Bay-Entrance Time-Period 江戸時代), which simply reflects the political reality of
switching the centre from the imperial capital (Kyoto Capital-Metropolis 京都) to Edo (currently known as Tokyo East-Capital 東京)
but if we consider the ruling family for most of the period, then we are talking about the Virtue-River (Tokugawa 徳川) dynasty.
This is followed by the Bright-Fixing, so there must have been some mistake. What was the mistake?
The mistake was Closing the Country (sakoku 鎖国).
When we use sakoku, we actually read our our present reality in the past:
“Country” (koku or kuni 国) at this point in history referred to what we now call “prefectures” (ken 県) or regions. That’s why we had something called hitachi no kuni (Usual-Land Country 常陸国) which is currently Ibaraki prefecture.
So there are many more meanings in Japanese than meet the eye when you see it spelled in Roman characters [the italicised words in these posts].
Why do I speak about Japan(ese) in English? Because I don’t believe that the Japanese are alone; the English (or British) are not alone; the Native Americans are not alone.
Nobody is alone in searching for the way (kyudo-shin 求道心 “Searching-the-Path-Mind).
I wrote this master thesis on Japanese identity and it was interesting to discover that there has been a
recurrence of attaching a positive or a negative value to what it means to be Japanese since the time called the “Bright-Fixing Transition-to-New” (a.k.a., the Meiji Restoration meiji-ishin 明治維新).
Japan has been one since the 1860s, when kuni (country 国) symbolising a small part of territory on the islands became koku from nihon-koku (Sun-Root Country 日本国).
The education system was unified, everybody learned standard Japanese, everything was made uniform (and lots of people were made to wear uniforms).
This was good for Japan because it was the only way that the nation could come together as one and resist the encroachment of English, or French, or Portuguese, or Russian, (and even Dutch).
At this time everybody in Western Europe, all the white people in Western Europe were trying to find new places and new people to conquer.
This was a time when many countries were ruled by white people: From Hong Kong to Madagascar to Cuba, the whole of South America (a continent!), then the whole of North America, Indonesia, Australia…
Japanese people living in the 19th century (who were aware of this trend) felt nervous and it was a normal feeling to have in these circumstances.
However, this doesn’t mean that people in Japan should abandon the search for the way (Taoism and Zen) which we had in Japan before this obsession with country started.
Let’s remember our past before Meiji. Not necessarily “We=the Japanese”, but “we=somebody in Japan” (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter):
Musashi (Warrior-Storehouse 武蔵) pointing to the Way of the Warrior or
Sen-Rikyu (a-Thousand-Benefits-of-Rest 千利休) pointing to the Way of the Tea.
Who do we (choose to) remember?