Japan: A Short Cultural History

Japan: A Short Cultural History

Japan: A Short Cultural History

Japan: A Short Cultural History

Excerpt

This book was first published in 1931. In a revised edition, prepared in wartime and published in 1946, only a few changes were made. Some obvious errors were corrected; the first chapter was rewritten; and at the end of most chapters some notes were added for the benefit of students.

There were still omissions which I wished to repair and themes which I might have developed. Thus, although I paid special attention to the plastic arts I did not bring out clearly enough the important part played by aesthetic feeling in the enrichment of Japanese life. Among Japanese of all classes an instinctive awareness of beauty seems to compensate for a standard of material well-being which to Western judgment seems poor and bleak. Their habit of finding pleasure in common things, their quick appreciation of form and colour, their feeling for simple elegance, are gifts which may well be envied by us who depend so much for our pleasures upon quantity of possessions and complexity of apparatus. Such happy conditions, in which frugality is not the enemy of satisfaction, are perhaps the most distinctive feature in the cultural history of Japan. They are conditions likely to disappear, being incompatible with modern industrial society; but it is worth while to mark and learn a lesson in the art of living, even if only from the past of a people among whom there once flourished a great refinement and virtuosity, coupled with superb accomplishment in the arts and crafts.

Another shortcoming is perhaps more pardonable. I tried to chart the main intellectual currents in Japanese history, but I fear I did not succeed in showing the characteristic attitude of the Japanese towards moral and philosophical problems--their intuitive, emotional approach, and their mistrust of logic and analysis. Yet perhaps I may be excused for this failure, seeing that the quintessence of Japanese thought is to be found in Zen Buddhism or in other philosophical systems whose doctrines are by definition incommunicable by the written word and can be made clear only by some inner illumination. This is a state of things which one cannot explain but can only record, observing that it accounts for a number of religious and political beliefs that to the Western mind . . .

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