Monday, September 12, 2005

Inventing Japan - A Good Listen

I just finished listening to this book on tape called “Inventing Japan” by Ian Buruma. I listened to this book because my oldest daughter is interested in Japanese culture and I wanted to expand my knowledge of the country. The book covers a lot of history in a short time. There is no way for the uninitiated like myself to judge whether the author is fair or covers the right topics in this history. But you get the feel that he has a strong appreciation for Japan.
The author makes the case that westerners have consistently messed up their dealings with the Japanese. I don't think he would like it that say it is one of his main ideas but it is difficult no to think otherwise. But is this not this the usual case when two cultures meet? Who exactly is messing up? The guest or the host? Education about various cultural practices can help to understand a direction that could be taken. However, according to Buruma, General MacArthur knew about Japanese culture and still did not do the right things. What to do?
The author goes into detail about the Japanese ideas of freedom, loyalty and politics. There are a lot of names of people that are important to Japanese culture but were difficult for me to get a handle on. However, I am at least familiarized with them. The historical character that impressed me the most was the Buruma's description of Fukuzawa Yukichi. According to Buruma, he is more open to freedom of thought than the average Japanese of his day, but the emphasis from the Wikipedia point of view is that of a strategic thinker who wants to ensure the future of Japanese dominance. Amid all the other, he stood out the most to me.
I would definitely recommend you listen to the book. It gave me a great breadth of knowledge about Japan. It also helped me understand just a little more about how nations deals with nation. Finally, it showed me how individuals can be a positive influence in their culture and how people can intend to be a positive influence and miss it.
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