The Political Philosophy of Confucianism

Over at Gornahoor, I’ve made a rough translation of a short essay by Okawa Shumei, which you may find here: The Political Philosophy of Confucianism

Okawa never read René Guénon and had no connections to him, but as with my earlier Gornahoor posts, things will make a lot more sense if you have read Guénon.

Posted: February 28th, 2013 | Kokoro, Tradition 3 Comments »

Norman Mikine Dezaki and the culture of critique

UPDATE: The original version of this post contained attacks and inaccurate accusations against Mr. Dezaki himself. I wrote it in a fit of anger, which I should have recognized is not the sort of feeling that is bound to produce good thoughtful essays. In the two days since I wrote it a number of things have happened.

First, I met in person with one of the netuyo rightists who attacked Mr. Dezaki. He is a very loud and rambunctious figure online, popular with Westerners and Japanese alike, but he is very shy and recalcitrant in person. Our meeting was awkward, to me at least, and he seemed embarrassed to be asked about his online activities. I was reminded that Internet mobs, no matter the legitimacy of their beliefs, are frequently unleashing feelings of anger and injustice that they repress entirely in real life, which is unhealthy. I didn’t mean to imply that I endorse this behavior.

Second, I went to an ALT conference, where I met many Westerners who did not participate in the culture of critique and were actually quite fun to be around. This was a breath of fresh air to me.

Finally, I was criticized about the rudeness and hypocrisy of this essay, both by Mr. Dezaki and others whom I was hoping it would convince.

I apologize to Mr. Dezaki for the attacks on him in the original version of this post.

The other day I got word of a storm brewing. An ALT English teacher in another prefecture, a nisei named Norman Mikine Dezaki, had made a video explaining that Japan is a “racist” nation, and encouraging his students in Okinawa to think of themselves as a marginalized class. Japan’s reactionary Internet army, which is full aware of the danger of this way of thinking, mobilized and began calling en masse for him to correct the errors in the video. I asked them for more information, but decided there was little I could do to help them — even as a fellow ALT, I’m just one among many, really.

This morning, though, I woke up to see my ALT colleagues linking to a Washington Post article, which unashamedly takes Dezaki’s side, and explaining how this is part of the proof that Japan can’t handle criticism. I was driven to write this post because my coworkers soaked up the Washington Post article without noticing its failure to interview a single critic of Dezaki. In my opinion, a thinking man cannot read that article without noticing there is something missing. If Japan cannot handle criticism, why not interview those who are handling the criticism? Do they have any points to make, or must they be denounced and analyzed from a pseudo-sociological perspective like the article does? Why is it, indeed, that the narrative of “racism” and culture critique, which has taken America by storm, is not so popular in Japan? Why would anyone dare criticize Dezaki when his message is so wholesome and can help improve Japan?

I have a friend in my village who is a perennial “returnee”. She spent 20 years in Canada and then returned to Japan. When she did, she found it difficult to adapt to Japanese culture. She has been fired from several jobs run by the old men’s league in town, and is constantly bad-mouthing the mayor’s office and the various offices in charge of tourism and promotion. She dislikes many town policies and thinks that Arita’s tourism is being run the wrong way, and I think many of her arguments are valid. I told one of my friends in town that her problem appears to be that she disrespects authority. He responded with something extremely interesting.

“It’s natural for humans to disagree. I do it all the time. But I know how to word my criticism politely and sympathetically, and make the authority agree with my cause. She doesn’t know how to do that.”

I’ve seen this guy, a rather successful and super-friendly businessman who everyone likes to have around, do this in various ways, and he is so well-connected that I feel he must have the most friends of anyone in town.

Indeed, this seems to be a great distinction between how things are done in America today, and how they were done in America in the past as well as Japan today. The tone of disagreement in some long past America was generally polite and positive, agreeing on basic principles, and suggesting to one’s opponent how they might be respected. This is the way things are still run in Japan. But in America, this has increasingly given way to a culture of critique, where negative language predominates and noticing any natural differences between different people is proof of evil in some way or another.

Today, the most exciting thing you can be in America is part of a marginalized class. This means that you can be as negative as you want, you can talk for hours or years about all the bad things happening to you, and people are expected to approve of this as part of a fight for justice. Your enemy becomes all of society, and society is expected to stop distinguishing between your negative, critical attitude and the positive, friendly attitude of someone like my businessman friend. When this final discrimination between the social and the anti-social is eliminated, the result is chaos.

Now, it was once seriously proposed that Japan educate children that some disputes in their country were the result of “marginalized classes”. But it was soon recognized that allowing people to do this would create mafias within the country that could simply manipulate people to do whatever they want by claiming marginalization. Indeed, to the extent that these groups still exist today, they resemble mafias.

If we really take the culture of critique seriously, even violence can be approved, as the Japanese police approved 13 hours of torture at Yoka High School in 1974. Or, indeed, how murder is being approved today.

What is the alternative?

The alternative is to honor a positive principle. Law and order, and families, and a harmonious society are all positive things– which is why those who have fallen head over heels for the culture of critique instinctively cringe and wretch when they hear these words. What is currently being taught in Japan, as a result of those decades of intimidation of violence, is the principle that all people deserve equal opportunity, called 同和教育 dowa kyoiku— you may find endless materials on this at any Japanese school.

I’m aware that there’s more to be said on this matter. But the last line of the Washington Post article reads, “His students at Okinawa seemed to benefit from the lesson, but a number of others don’t seem ready to hear it.” It seems that for the Washington Post, it is not a question of whether his message is right or wrong (and indeed it doesn’t matter that he is factually wrong). Whether he is right or wrong is not even a question. The only question is when Japan will become “ready” to imitate the West in all social issues.

The tone of the Washington Post article implies that Japan has known nothing of this, that their different culture is illegitimate, and that there is no reason anyone would want to disagree with Dezaki’s video. Instead, I think, this needs to be framed as a dialogue, and I hope that Dezaki’s accusations, if reframed as honest questions, will find answers from the Japanese.

Posted: February 24th, 2013 | Japan, JET 12 Comments »

Why Japan Has No Identity


I thought I’d squeeze in another translation before work. This one’s by KURE Tomofusa, in his A Decoction of Language (言葉の煎じ薬, 2010). Kure needs no introduction.

In September 2006, the new Abe cabinet took office. Leftists and revolutionaries denounced him as a hawk and a nationalist, but how did he do really? Starting by confronting the issue of North Korean kidnappings of Japanese, he said things that naturally needed to be said all over Asia. He did, however, use an inordinate amount of loanwords in his inaugural speech; I didn’t think that very patriotic of him.

The one that made me uncomfortable above all was the phrase Country Identity [in English]. In the first place, it’s an oddly invented loan word, and furthermore isn’t the use of a loanword here an affront to Japan’s own “Country Identity”?

I had trouble getting used to the phrase “Country Identity” from the very beginning. It seems like he really just wanted to say “patriotism”, but that would invite a rain of punishment from the leftists and revolutionaries, so he used this ever-so-slightly different “Country Identity” instead.

There are three different words to refer to a country in English. The first is “country”, broadly 国. Its meaning is essentially derived from a place on the earth, and it also means the countryside, with some rural flavor.

The second is nation, which implies 国民, a conglomerate of people.

The third is state, the political 国家.

The Abe cabinet seemed to choose the term “Country” to demonstrate that they were not nationalists but wanted to emphasize Japan’s cultural and historical strong points. But using English to do that is an elementary contradiction.

Identity“, on the other hand, seems like a more necessary borrowing here, because there is no appropriate translation for this word in native Japanese. The root word is form, idem, which in the original Latin meant “sameness”. When we translate its biological and chemical meanings, we have words like “confirmation” and “speciation”. “Identification” of a person or thing is translated into terms like “self-confirmation”, or “self-sameness”, or “self-verification”, or “independent being”, or even “individuality”. None of these words, though, are quite appropriate. Those all simply state that a thing is itself, but we are looking for a term that more approximates “Japanesey” (日本らしさ).

This loanword began being used in the 1980s. In English, of course, it’s been around a lot longer, but when I looked at English-Japanese dictionaries written before the 1980s, along with “the thing in itself”, I saw the term 正体,true form! It was so spot on the mark that I laughed.

The true form of the big Cyclops was a trickster raccoon.

If we translate this “true form” back into English, it would be “identity“!

The foreigner, whose true form could not be established, slipped through airport security.

Here, too, it wouldn’t be strange to use “identity” for true form正体.

It is quite meaningful that the usual Korean translation for “identity” is 正体性 (true-form-ness). I think this is a very powerful word.

You won’t find the term true form in Chinese dictionaries; it was invented in Japan. If you see any Koreans using it, I’m afraid that is a loanword from the colonial period.

But at the same time, I think this term reflects the “form vs. function” thought of the Shushi (Cheng-Zhu 朱子) school. The Shushi school was a branch of Confucianism that was exceedingly systematic and was exceedingly influential in China and Korea as well as Japan. In Korea it grew out of a political system and had an influence on customs and culture as well.

“Form vs. function” thought distinguishes the essence of something from the purposes it is put to. The modern Japanese grammatical terms for uninflected words [“essential words” 体言] and inflected words [“functional words” 用言] are derived from this way of thinking. When we append true 正 to form 体 like in the Korean “true-form-ness”, we get a translation for identity that, much more than “self-confirmation” or “self-samedness”, may be meaningfully applied to culture and history.

Posted: February 20th, 2013 | Kokoro 2 Comments »

The Tao of the East and the Last Samurai’s Testament

Shūmei Ōkawa is a Japanese religionist, Islam scholar, and class-A war criminal. On the first day of the Tokyo Trials, upon entering the courtroom he yelled nonsense in German, ran around the room, and whacked Prime Minister Tojo on the head, and was shortly found to be insane. While in the mental hospital, he made the first Japanese translation of the Qu’ran. Upon being released, he wrote a religiously oriented memoir, from which I translate two-thirds of this chapter.

Returning to the free spirit of the Japanese, I noted in the past that the word we use today to indicate the European words for “religion” (宗教) is merely a modern translation of that European concept. In the East, not only the Japanese, but also the Chinese and the Indians had no corresponding word for this concept. Religion is derived from the Latin religio, and there are several theories on the origin of religio, but I consider as with Cicero that it must have come from relegere, “to do a thing scrupulously”. As Cicero proceeds to say, “All matters concerning the gods are said to be practiced religiously,” and therefore, the Romans gave the term religio to those ceremonies honoring the gods. Furthermore, not only the Romans but other nations also thought that the existence of “religion” was derived from these ceremonies. In comparison, in the Chinese Book of History there are three words, 類[resemblance], 禋 [sacrifice], and 望 [hope] which refer to ceremonies for the gods, but there is no generalization for the three, and only in the Book of Rites to we start to see such general words 礼祠 [revere-enshrine] and 祭法[honor-law] which could correspond to religio. In Japanese, the terms matsurigoto [lit. “matters of state”] or kamiwaza [“matters of kami”] express the same idea. In India, the word Rita refers to the successful completion of a ceremony. So, there are words in the East which correspond to the Latin religio, but these are not terms which match the word religion used in the present day. Thus, when the Dutch came to our country as the first emissaries of Western civilization, at that time, the first translators invented new terms like 祭祀 [shrine-revere] or 宗祀 [sect-revere] to correspond to the European word religion.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: February 19th, 2013 | Kokoro 4 Comments »

A Who’s Who of Traditionalism and English translations

Of whom nothing more need be said.
René Guénon: Metaphysician. In print with Sophia Perennis.

Gruppo di Ur
An Italian secret society which hit on the same truths as Guénon.
Julius Evola: Roman/pan-Aryan metaphysician. In print with Inner Traditions, Arktos, and private publishers.
Guido De Giorgio: Metaphysician. Being translated at Gornahoor.
Arturo Reghini: Italian esotericist. Currently being studied as a Ph.D. thesis.

Those who lived around the 1910s-1940s, who had never read Guénon despite holding similar views.
Charles Maurras: French political theorist. Being translated at Gornahoor.
Valentin Tomberg: Hermeticist, Catholic, and ex-Anthrosophist; anonymously published Meditations on the Tarot has a mainstream publisher.
Shūmei Ōkawa: Japanese religious scholar; associate of Sri Aurobindo; class-A war criminal. Translated for the first time on this blog.

Studies in Comparative Religion
A journal published 1963-1987 which codified Guénon’s work as (religious) perennialism and brought it to wider notice among mainstream intellectuals. Their work is carried on by the excellent press World Wisdom which, although it is not academic, is deeply respected by religious scholars of the right persuasion.
Ananda Coomaraswamy: Religionist. in print with World Wisdom, and out of print partially.
Frithjof Schuon: Religionist. In print with World Wisdom.
William Stoddart: Scottish religionist, leaning Sufi. In print with World Wisdom.
Marco Pallis: Greek-British mountaineer who worked with the Tibetan community. In print with World Wisdom.
Jean Hani: French esotericist. Published by Sophia Perennis. Died in 2012 at the age of about 98.
Martin Lings: English Sufi. In print with Islamic publishers.
Titus Burckhardt: English Sufi. In print with Fons Vitae, another perennialist press.
Michel Vâlsan: French Sufi. Out of print.
Jean-Louis Michon: French Sufi. Still living (age 80).

(Temenos Academy founders are not included here because they would make the list too long.)

Academic perennialism
Those who read the perennialists and, without adopting any particular doctrine, took a sympathetic look at various religions. I regard these people as heroes of the very troubled field of comparative religion.
Huston Smith: American religionist. Still living (age 93).
Seyyed Hossein Nasr: Persian religionist. Still living (age 79).
Mircea Eliade: Romanian mythologist. In print with major publishers.

The generation after Studies
People born too late to contribute to Studies, or who became aware of it after the fact.
Algis Uždavinys: Lithuanian Pythagorean; died 2010. In print with World Wisdom and the The Matheson Trust.
James Cutsinger: Eastern Christian and translator of Schuon (age 60). Published by The Matheson Trust.
Charles Upton: American, editor-in-chief of Sophia Perennis (age 65). His wife was an initiate with Schuon.
Wolfgang Smith: American Catholic mathematician (age 83). In print with the Foundation for Traditional Studies.

I argue that neo-pagan traditionalism misreads Evola. Even if they agree with his Traditional assertion that truth comes from principles and not from people, and that the latter should serve the former and not vice-versa, in practice they simply build ethno-fascist networks, and dumb his anti-Christianity down into racial neo-paganism. Actually in Sintesi di Dottrina della Razza Evola says that true Traditional nobility had no need to appeal to myths, and that racial gods are the pitryana, the lowly “way of the South”, while Tradition is the devayana, the “divine way of the North”. Pitryana is not the way to spiritual liberation. Nevertheless many Traditionalists come to Evola via these politicos so you may see their names around.
Alain de Benoist: French neopagan. In print with Arktos etc.
Koenraad Logghe: Flemish neopagan.
Nikolaos Michaloliakos: Greek neopagan, founder of Golden Dawn.
Various Internet wingnuts who may or may not be worth reading.

Notable post-Perennialists
Religionists influenced by Perennialism who nevertheless moved on and became influential in their own traditions.
Jean Borella: French Catholic. Over 80 years old if still alive.
Seraphim Rose: Russian Orthodox hieromonk. In print with Orthodox presses.
Henri Stéphane: Christian esotericist.

Notable modern esotericists
Joscelyn Godwin: American esotericist and musicologist; translator of Evola. In his 60s.
Yoshiro Tanaka: Japanese esotericist and translator of Guénon; died 2012.
John Michael Greer: American esotericist, neo-pagan, and peak oilist.

Observation: The average lifespan of Traditionalists seems to be over 80 years.

Posted: February 19th, 2013 | Tradition 17 Comments »

Pour vivre pleinement

“Pour vivre pleinement, il faut faire quatre choses : planter un arbre, écrire un poème, faire l’amour avec quelqu’un de son sexe et tuer quelqu’un.” Cette ligne est parlé par le personnage principal dans le film de Claude Chabrol, La demoiselle d’honneur (2004).

Quand j’ai vu ce trailer, j’avais 14 ans. Je suis profondément préoccupé par cette phrase. Les gens y croyez vraiment? Même si une ligne dans un film, il était encore très inquiétant pour moi.

Il y avait beaucoup de choses que je ne connaissais pas alors que je sais maintenant. C’est la même idée utilisée par Camus dans L’Étranger (1942). Simone de Beauvoir a également examiné assassiner comme une nécessité pour la liberté dans L’Invitée (1943), et elle-même ne comprenait pas pourquoi.

Mais je savais, à l’époque, que c’était une erreur.

Posted: February 13th, 2013 | Book Reviews 1 Comment »

The Tao of Maruko


Chibi Maruko-chan is a Japanese children’s TV show full of pathos. For example, here’s the episode I’m watching now, starring Momoko Sakura (“Maruko”) and her best friend Tomo-chan:

Tomo-chan: (to herself) If Momoko becomes a movie star, she won’t be friends with me anymore!

Momoko: Tomo-chan, what’s wrong?

Tomo-chan: Oh, nothing! Good luck with your audition!

This show is targeted at 3 to 8 year olds.

Here are some Sayings of Maruko:

Maruko: “I always forget what I have to do for other people, but I never forget what other people have to do for me.”

Hiroshi: “To live is to forget. If we humans remembered everything, we’d be so sad that we couldn’t go on living. That’s why God lets us forget.”

Noguchi-san: “Heh heh heh. People who laugh quietly to themselves are so much deeper than cheerful people, cause we don’t let our feelings out. Even if you think it’s a defect of mine, it’s really my strong point… heh heh heh…”

Maruko: “If only we had a Cold Bank. On days when you don’t want to catch cold, put it in the bank, and take it out when you really need it.”

Maruko: “Who needs Christmas cards? People who would get angry if you don’t send them cards aren’t good friends anyway.”

Fujiki: “I may be a coward, but I never lie to myself!”

Posted: February 3rd, 2013 | Japan 4 Comments »