The Corner

World

Responses to a Country

Inside Todai-ji Temple in Nara, Japan (Jay Nordlinger)

Today, we publish the second and final part of my “Japan Journal,” here. I’d like to publish some mail, received yesterday, after Part I.

A reader writes,

In another life I spent a fair amount of time in Japan on business. I love the country. . . . It always took me a couple of days to get used to the politeness with which everyone was treated — especially visitors. And I live in the Midwest!

Another reader writes,

My family lived in Japan from 1971 to 1974. . . . To this day, the good will we received from the people there amazes me. We had dropped two atom bombs on their country less than 30 years before. . . . If I had to guess, I think a great majority of the Japanese people who looked back at the war were ashamed of their country’s behavior, considering it dishonorable. I think they did their best to make amends, and my family was a recipient of great kindness.

A third reader gets at something that foreigners have observed, or sensed, about Japan for generations:

Once in Japan I stood for a moment before a stone obelisk. Situated to the side of a path through a pine forest it was hewn from a dark stone with blotches of lichen testifying to its age. It rose as tall as a man, lopsided from a narrow base and expanding towards the top a bit like the shape of Africa. It seemed to have been shaped only by nature except that its face had been smoothed flat where three large Japanese characters had been deeply incised one atop the other. Though carved, they had the same fluidity as ink on paper.

I assumed it was some kind of Buddhist prayer or grave (we were on our way to a shrine at the end of the road) and I might have asked my friend to translate and explain, but I did not want to know its (possibly) prosaic meanings. Instead I wanted to experience it simply as a thing. And here is what it said to me: “Be advised, all who look upon this without knowing anything else about us: We are a serious people. Japan is not just another country or nation. It is its own universe with its own cosmology as vast and unknowable by any one mind, let alone yours, as the universe itself.”

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