Japanese Logic from the English Heart of Tradition

Periodically in the British newspapers there is a quotation from some Japanese official report on Japanese educational standards. Sometimes it is said that the standard in mathematics is very high compared to that of the rest of the world, but that the standard of logical thinking is weak. For instance, the students were set to complete a number of sentences, and only about 60% managed to do this satisfactorily. The others completed the sentences in a way that showed that they had failed to understand and then extend the thought of the sentence. Some explanations are suggested by the Western newspapers, obviously copied from a Japanese commentator. It is often said that the effort of memorizing the kanji must result in a weakness in comprehension. Mindless memorization is supposed to be a handicap to logical thinking. However, I have never been convinced by this. Traditional Indian education has always stressed learning by heart, yet India has produced wonderfully elaborate systems of logic. An educated Indian today is generally very sharp in verbal reasoning. Yet Indian children have to learn a mass of material by heart—much more than most children in the West. For instance, we Western children have to learn …

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Warukuchi from the English Heart of Tradition

It is difficult to translate the Japanese word warukuchi into English; as often in translation, there is no exact equivalent. The dictionary gives various words: abuse, slander, calumny, defamation, scandal, backbiting. But no single one of them is exactly right. Abuse has the sense of shouting, coarse language, and insult. But warukuchi is not necessarily in coarse language. Slander carries the nuance of a lie; the reply to an accusation is often: That is a slander.’ The meaning is, that it is a spiteful lie. Warukuchi may be true. Calumny is a purely literary word, and now very old-fashioned. No one would say it in conversation today. Defamation is a legal term, and only a lawyer would use it. Scandal refers to some incident. To say of a man that he is as slow as a tortoise in his work could not be called scandal, though it would be warukuchi. To add that he only retains his job because he knows a secret about the boss, would be scandal. Backbiting again is a literary word, with vague Biblical associations. The ancient Jews, and some of the early Christians, had a tendency to backbiting, according to St. Paul, who was himself …

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It Likes That from the English Heart of the Tradition

When we are small children, we ask a great many questions, and some of them are very difficult to answer. The parents do not know what to say; often they do not know the answer themselves. For instance, a small child asks his mother when out on a walk: “How high is the sky, Mummy?” That is a difficult question: in fact, there is no actual answer, because the appearance of the blue bowl above us is an illusion. But that would be too difficult to explain to a small child. So Mummy usually tries to distract the child’s attention: “Look at that man over there”, she says; “he’s holding his walking-stick in his left hand. Nearly everyone holds it in the right hand. Let’s look at the people and see how many of them are holding their stick or their parcel or umbrella in the left hand.” It is not too difficult to distract small children; when it cannot be done, the parent may say: “Do stop asking questions!” A hundred years ago, there were stronger means to silence children’s questions. In those Victorian times, fear was often used to control behaviour. In the memoirs of a great Victorian …

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North-South-East-West from the English Heart of Tradition

In the British Broadcasting Corporation weather forecasts, the English phrase ‘here and there’ comes often. For instance, a forecast may say: “The snow which fell in the north of England yesterday has now mostly melted, though there are still some patches of snow here and there.” When this is translated into Japanese, ‘here and there’ becomes ‘achi-kochi’. So the Japanese expression puts ‘there’ first, and then says ‘here’, but the English puts ‘here’ first, and adds ‘there’ afterwards. It is not only English that gives first place to ‘here’. The Germans say ‘hier und da’, and these German words are in fact the originals of the English ‘here and there’. If the German is spoken quickly, it sounds like the English, and if the English phrase is spoken quickly, it sounds like the German. The English and German sound alike when they are spoken, though when they are written, the resemblance is not so clear. That is why some English tourists who go to Germany without first having learnt any German, find that they can understand quite a number of German phrases when they are spoken, though they cannot understand the same phrases when they try to read them. When …

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Losing to Oneself from the English Heart of Tradition

Do you hate to lose in a game? Most Japanese seem to. There is a passage in Kawabata’s novel Meijin, where the great master of igo gives a few lessons in shogi to an American tourist when they are on a train journey. The American is a beginner, and has no chance of winning at all. But he is keen to learn, and they play a number of games. The Japanese meijin is astonished how after each defeat the American just smiles and sets up the pieces for another game. The Japanese master cannot under- stand why the American feels no mortification at continually losing. Well, that American had a good idea of sport, in which one has to try very hard, but then be perfectly calm in victory or defeat. This sporting spirit, as it is called, is a good training for life, but it must be admitted that it is rather difficult to achieve. The fundamental human feeling is, that someone who has defeated me even in a game has done me some sort of injury. I therefore want to play a second game so that I can defeat him, and injure him in the same way. This …

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Cruel to be Kind from the English Heart of Tradition

You have to be cruel to be kind: this is an old English saying. Perhaps there is a connection with the Japanese traditional idea of kitaeru, but it is not the same. An example of the English saying would be when a small child refuses to learn to read, and is very obstinate. He simply will not try, in spite of all persuasions and promises of rewards. Then the parents and teachers have to use punishments to make him study. Now the child feels that his parents and teachers are cruel. They are cruel: they make him cry. But that is only the short-term view. Their ultimate purpose is to be kind. They know (as he does not) that if he cannot read, his life will be very difficult. They are cruel, but it is because they are kind. If they do not force him to read, because they cannot bear to see him cry, then when he becomes a man who cannot read, he will not forgive them. They will say perhaps, “But we loved you. We could not make you cry”. He will reply: “That was no true love. I did not know what would happen, but you …

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Social Conventions and Surprises from the English Heart of Tradition

Social conventions, which we learn as little children, have no surprises for us. In fact, they fade away to the fringe of consciousness, because we do not have to think about them consciously. For instance, Japanese people and British people say Thank You’ a great deal; Americans say it less, and Spaniards do not like to say it at all. It is not that Spanish people are ungrateful. But they do not like to say Thank You’, because a man who is saying Thank You’ is acknowledging that he is in an inferior position. Spanish people do not like an inferior position; they are very sensitive about what they call their Honour. But British and Japanese people do not feel inferior when we say Thank You.’ We think it is simply politeness. In fact, we do it so often that it is almost meaningless; we say it unconsciously. As it is unconscious, it is not really polite, but just the form of politeness. Foreigners, when they first see the Japanese bow, think that the Japanese are tremendously polite people. But really the politeness is often only in the action, and not in the heart. Sometimes a particularly deep bow is …

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