The Japanese Discovery of Europe: Honda Toshiaki and Other Discoverers, 1720-1798

The Japanese Discovery of Europe: Honda Toshiaki and Other Discoverers, 1720-1798

The Japanese Discovery of Europe: Honda Toshiaki and Other Discoverers, 1720-1798

The Japanese Discovery of Europe: Honda Toshiaki and Other Discoverers, 1720-1798

Excerpt

It is the temptation of any translator to exaggerate the glory and importance of his subject. Perhaps such faith is necessary if the long and often exasperating work of translation is to be accomplished. In the case of a writer of some fame, there is a less urgent compulsion to explain the justice of the translator's decision to render his works into another tongue. But in the case of a writer whose name is barely mentioned in Western books and whose works are little known in Japan, there is indeed some need to show whether the translation represents a real discovery or merely so much digging in the boneyard of a forgotten past.

Perhaps the best way to come upon the works of Honda Toshiaki (1744-1821) would be after months spent studying the essays of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Japanese philosophers of the orthodox Confucian schools. A page of any one of Honda's writings would suffice to show that with him one has entered a new age, that of modern Japan. One finds in his books a new spirit, restless, curious and receptive. There is in him the wonder at new discoveries, the delight in widening horizons. Honda took a kind of pleasure even in announcing that Japan was, after all, only a small island in a large world. To the Japanese bourgeois who had thought of Chinese civilisation as being of immemorial antiquity, he declared that Egypt's was thousands . . .

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