Magazine article The Spectator

High Life: Taki

Magazine article The Spectator

High Life: Taki

Article excerpt

This is a good time to write about a nation's resilience in the face of calamity. I am referring to the stoic discipline with which the Japanese bore hardship and the death of 15,000 people in March 2011 following a nine-magnitude earthquake, the strongest ever known to have hit Japan. I can remember the TV coverage as if it were yesterday. Very young and very old Japanese formed a long orderly line for disaster supplies. There was no looting whatsoever as there had been in Los Angeles or in Mexico City, no weeping on camera so that the world would send more funds, just plucky resolve (gaman in Japanese) and ganbaru (to endure with pride).

As anyone who is familiar with Japan knows, tenacity is highly celebrated both as an individual and a collective trait. The recent outrages in Paris, and the collective dignity of the millions who marched following the murder of innocents, brought back memories of Japanese stoicism, a national trait that has served the country well, especially after the disastrous end of world war two.

Just about the time the earthquake hit Japan, my friend Peter Livanos gave me a gift that is probably the one I treasure most of all my possessions, a samurai sword of rare value and provenance, one that embodies the samurai's code of bushido , and one of the most outstanding examples of Japan's highly skilled craftsmanship. The workmanship and quality of Peter's gift far surpasses that of western Damascus and Toledo blades. His latest gift to me, for my last birthday, was an Imperial Japanese Navy admiral's flag, finished by hand, and as rare as the sword, as there were apparently only 32 officers who reached the rank of admiral between 1897 and 1945. I keep both gifts in one room, along with any medals I may have won throughout my life -- in sport, alas, not in war.

Peter Livanos is a very generous man whose father was a friend of mine and whose mother I've known since childhood. (Although rich from both sides, he is a self-made man. That really is rare, and certainly not a trait found in my family.) He and I had a good laugh during dinner about the hachimaki of a kamikaze pilot he had included with his gift. This is the cloth with the rising sun symbol that pilots wore and karate fighters still do to this day. …

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