[The American Years]

Saturday, March 10, 2007

True Legends of Japan. Part I.

Maybe you know of this one. I think I mentioned it here when we went to Hiroshima.

Sadako and the 1000 paper cranes. It's the true story of a 12 year old girl in Hiroshima who was 3 years old when the bomb was dropped. She develops leukemia and is very sick. She decides that if she can fold 1000 origami paper cranes she will be cured, as the crane is a symbol of long life.

She dies after finishing somewhere around 600 cranes. Her classmated decide to finish the paper cranes for her.

Now in front of all the monuments in Hiroshima's peace park there are strings and strings of paper cranes brought by children and adults alike.

A couple of photos.

Why do I bring it up now? Because it's time for ...

True Legends of Japan. Part II. The Legend of Hachko

There was a professor in Tokyo in the 1920's, who owned a dog. Every day he took the train from the Shibuya area to Tokyo University. His dog Hachko would walk down to the station every afternoon to meet the professor when he returned.

One day the professor died while he was at the university. Of course the dog came down to the station that day, but the professor didn't show up. The dog continued to come down to the station every afternoon, to await his master who was never coming. The dog, Hachko, was adopted by the locals near the station, and became a beloved and admired pet. Now at Shibuya station (one of the busiest in Tokyo) there is a small statue of Hachko. One of the train station exits is "Hatchko Exit", and other symbols of loyal dogs are all around the station (including a mosaic of dogs sniffing each other's oshiri).

Pictures. (Yes, for all the hype about Hachko, it's a pretty small statue.

These two legends, featuring overwhelming loyaly in the face of reason both resonate with the Japanese. What are the American legends? Paul Bunyon? Daniel Boone? Woodsy Owl? I'm sure there are some worthwhile legends in America as well. I am very taken with the Japanese ones.

If I may generalize. The Japanese have a stronger sense of honor. Of not standing out (as in 'Don't Break the Set'), and of putting the collective good ahead of their personal good. I think of them as being a lot like the Amish, but with better cell phones.


Speaking of the Amish and the Japanese. A little tale to reinforce my theory of their similarities. (Okay it's more of a hypothesis. I'm hoping it can be upgraded to a postulate at some point, but I'll need to establish some numerical constants for the equations first. After all, what was Plank's constant before Plank came along? Just a dumb number, that's what.)

The story a few months back about the person who went crazy and shot up an Amish area, killing a bunch of kids made big news over here. Stories of the perils of the American society pass editorial gates easily over here. Any story which reinforces the common beliefs about the violence or general stupidity of Americans is sure fire to get on the news. I have no problem with that. All news organizations of all countries do the same.

But this story was different. The aspect which made big news, and which people personally asked Kathleen about was that the Amish community almost immediately set up a trust fund for the children of the killer, who also died that day. (By suicide of some other force, I don't recall.)

The idea of giving to support the children of the person who killed your children was astounding to the Japanese. Forfeiting revenge in order to give of ones self. I think it struck the same part of their heart that Sadako and Hachko do. Extraordinary loyalty in the face of all reason. I think of it as a hallmark of the Japanese character.

But I swear if some grad student pinches my idea for comparing Japanese to the Amish, I will open up such a can of whup-oshiri on them....

My other big idea (and more of a moneymaker) is to craft a tour of Amish country for the Japanese. They had never heard of the Amish, and were very interested that there are real Americans really living that way. They are not just dressing up in costumes and speaking funny for the tourist busses that come through. They are the real thing. Japanese would dig it.

Mata ashta.

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