Saturday, September 27, 2014

Alex Kerr's "Dogs and Demons"

Alex Kerr's Dogs and Demons (2001) is a polemic against the wrong direction that Japan has taken in in the closing decades of the last century. The charge sheet looks serious. Excessive construction is destroying the environment. Bureaucrats are enriching themselves at the expense of national interest. The country is piling up its national debt but losing its technological edge. Schools are teaching rote-learning and social conformity. Culture has degenerated into manga and anime, plastic flower-arrangement and context-less architecture. The unremittingly bleak picture makes me doubt that I visited the same country last summer that the author is describing. Still, I remember things in retrospect that fit with Kerr's picture. The Kamo River in Kyoto was barricaded on both sides by concrete embankment. Pachinko parlors contributed to the noise pollution in Shinjuku in Tokyo, where we stayed. Manga took up more than half of the shelves of the bookshop in one train station. The culture of cute, or kawaii, was evident everywhere. But I went to Japan to launch the Japanese translation of my Pillow Book, my homage to Sei Shonagon. The launch was well-attended by a youngish crowd, who listened appreciatively to my Singaporean re-working of this Japanese classic. Afterwards, a young woman approached me and asked me shyly why I called a verse a tanka when it does not have the traditional five lines. She shared that she was studying medieval literature at school. In that hip, artistic crowd, there was at least one person who looked back to Japan's past for enjoyment and education. She couldn't have been the only one.

1 comment:

Ms. said...

The wise and discriminating can still see the brilliance despite current conditions, they look to the past and see in the present with inspired eyes.