cultural merit

December 27, 2005




There's a wonderful interview with Donald Keene in the Japan Times. I never knew that Emperor Meiji never ate sashimi. I did know that the Japanese love to talk about the weather, but I think Keene is off base when he says "We Westerners only mention the weather when we have nothing better to talk about." Obviously he never lived in Massachusetts.

It's interesting that he says his biggest mistake in life is not having kept a diary. I think my favorite Donald Keene book is Modern Japanese Diaries. His choice of diaries to translate covers ordinary people as well as literary people and soldiers. His translation and editing makes these people's lives just jump vividly off the pages. The diary is more of an established literary form in Japan and the tradition of diary keeping goes way back. After I read Modern Japanese Diaries, I rushed out to get Travelers of a Hundred Ages, which is also diaries or fragments of diaries translated and edited by Keene. That covers the period 847 to 1854 (modern is after 1854) and provides fascinating insight into the social history and everyday life of the time before and during the Meiji restoration/contact with the west thing.

Keene has been named a Person of Cultural Merit (Bunka Koro-sha) by the Japanese government. What is cultural merit anyway? Do we have anything comparable? I suppose the Kennedy Center Honors are the US equivalent for the performing arts but what about other lives of achievement in American culture? I suppose to assess cultural merit I'd have to know what culture is and it's well known that I have no idea what culture means. It's also well known that I disagree with the NEA chairman about what literature is, so who am I to say what the American equivalent of the Japanese Person of Cultural Merit is anyway?

I still have World Withn Walls in my "to be read" pile, so maybe I'll move it up higher in the stack.


Today's Reading
Down the Bay
by Wallace P. Stanley, When China Ruled the Seas : The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne, 1405-1433 by Louise Levathes, The Edge of Maine by Geoffrey Wolff

This Year's Reading
2005 Booklist




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Copyright © 2005, Janet I. Egan