Trevor Leggett answers questions about Japan in 198530 min read

Q: May I ask, what was the Japanese opinion of the spread of Judo, and the popularity of Judo, in the West, and the standards of the West?

A: They rather deplore the fact that it’s become a sort of sport in that way.

Q: What was it before it was a sport?

A: It was a system of spiritual and mental training.

Q: How did it become a sport?

A: Well, I can say that after the war it was one way of getting back on to the international stage.

Q: American influence?

A: Partly American, but they agreed with it, they wanted to have some sort of significance, and they did it through this. But it can be practised, and should be as the fighting situation is one where the very, in anyway, the very deepest instincts are aroused, and to be able to practise meditation in that situation is a very important training, because it’s one of the most difficult. It’s very easy to get angry – they help to control it with extreme formality. One of the roughest men I’ve ever practised with, and he was quite dangerous – I dare say I was dangerous too, I was in a sort of panic. He was doing really, really quite dangerous stuff, as you could in those days, it’s really much quieter now, but when he threw me, and it was pretty hard, he’d – as I jumped up, he would come together and bow and say, ‘Excuse me”. And when I crashed him down, I’d be standing there, and he’d get up and bow and say, ‘Thank you very much”. And I thought, ‘You damned old hypocrite!”, you see, but I realised afterwards – he was a medical student, and they were pretty rough, and the teacher of that medical school insisted on this very strict politeness in order to teach control; the natural instinct when you’ve thrown is to pitch in. He wanted to break that. ‘Thank you very much.’ It means that it can be controlled. Otherwise it’s quite easy to lose your temper, and if you lose your temper, you’ll be very dangerous.

Q: And the reason behind the bow, isn’t there something about getting your head lower than your hips, this also has an effect on you peace of mind, apparently.

A: Yes, it does.

Q: It’s sublimation, or whatever.

A: When it’s done with any sort of feeling at all. I mean I’ve done, probably, over a quarter of a million bows, right on the ground, you see, but they’re not necessarily very spiritual.  And probably without that it would’ve been even worse. But yes, you’re right, the physical posture does affect the mind.

Q: May we ask, were you attracted to Japan because of the sporting ethos, or because of the culture, the spiritual culture?

A: Sport I suppose, well it wasn’t a sport then …

(interjection: ‘the Judo?’)

I wanted to get out of this country, adventure you know, a longing for adventure.

Q: You must have seemed a very big man to the Japanese.

A: Yes.

Q: Did it create a sensation?

A: That was one of the things. The other is the hair on the body, curly hair, animal but fascinating. It’s quite funny.

Q: May I ask, did you leave much before the war, or did you leave because of the war, or the imminence of the war?

A: Leave where?

Q: Japan, before the war.

A: No, I was interned there.

Q: You were interned? I never knew that.

A: Well it doesn’t matter. I was young and healthy and , knew I could speak Japanese, and it wasn’t for very long. There was an exchange.

Q: Did you ever meet Laurens van der Post?

A: I never met him, no. I tried not to meet any Europeans while I was in Japan, because I felt there was no use coming ten thousand miles to meet people whom I could meet at home. So I tried to mix only with Japanese.

Q: Did they find it difficult to accept you?

A: No, I had this skill in the Judo. Whatever it was. The old grandmother – well, foreigners smell to the Japanese, or used to smell, of butter and cheese, and the old grandmother, she was, she remarked, the first family I stayed with, she said, ‘He doesn’t smell, it must be because he plays Judo’.

Well, the thing is to learn the good points of the country you go to.

The culture has gone right down to the lower levels of society. In nearly all countries the culture is the culture of the top ten per cent – you’ve got to be rich. But in Japan it’s gone right down. The farmers and so on win the poetry competition. The miners’ wives might come at the top of the poetry competition.

Q: Because the culture’s gone down?

A: No, I mean the country has gone …

A: (continued) You can’t say, well he’s a day labourer – of course he won’t be able to write anything, no, it doesn ‘t follow at all. He may be a first-rate poet or painter. And that’s very impressive. And the arts are such that you can practise them without a lot of money. We tend to think of a painter as it a sort of state ceremony getting set up. Well, the Japanese rate black and white pictures higher than coloured pictures, and it’s done with an ordinary writing brush, and then they can make … a Zen man will sometimes do a picture of  Kwanon in ten or twelve strokes every morning as part of his devotion – dash this off pretty quick.

Well, here you can get that. You get our beautiful Book of Kells and that sort of thing, and it’s done by a team of highly skilled specialists. The ordinary people have nothing to do with it. But there you can say the ordinary people can take part and that’s a wonderful thing.

A: Yes, I think that’s done a lot of damage there, but the fact of having to study so hard has limited it, They must pass their exams. It’s produce or perish for Japanese children. And they’re under a great strain. They’re all pale, girls and boys. One family I stayed with now, the girls, they’d come back from school, about half past four. They’d have a meal, then they’d go out to cramming school for two hours, to study especially their weak subjects. Then they’d come back home, and then they’d do their homework. They go to bed about eleven or so and they ‘d be up at five. Yes, it made me…. living in such circumstances.

But they have produced some wonderful things and Zen is one of them. And they have this idea that it’s possible to achieve a calmness and a spiritual realisation in everyday life.

Now the ordinary Japanese doesn’t do this, but he knows that it’s possible, and quite often if he has a bereavement say, a man loses his wife or a wife loses her husband, they ‘re very attached, there’s something she can do. She can go to a Zen teacher and ‘say, ‘Now this is what has happened. There’s a huge gap in my life. Now what can I do?’. And he’s able to tell her. Now here it’s not so easy to find that.

But they think we live in Heaven. They think the circumstances here absolutely marvellous.

If you want to learn Spanish in this country, you can pay £12 a year to the evening classes, and they’ll provide you with a good teacher and a classroom for about year, once a week. Well, I checked up in Japan, in order to learn Spanish £12 would buy you about two lessons.  People here complain, complain, ‘I’m entitled to this … they ought to do that …’: we don ‘t realise how well off we are, we ‘ve got all these imaginary rights – ‘I ‘m entitled to this ….’. It’s the fourth bowl of rice that’s making us ill.

Q: They seem to have taken avidly to Western music?

A: Yes.

Q: And I’ve heard some remarkable figure quoted – an extraordinary number of symphony orchestras in Japan – many many concerts and every one well attended.

A: They’re all packed. The answer …

Q: They’ve got far more orchestras haven’t they?

A: I don’t know, I don’t know what the figure is, but we’ve got far more concerts here, you’ve got a concert of two on in London more or less every night. The Wigmore Hall, or St. Martin in the Fields, or something, there’s something doing, and they enjoy it when they come here, and it’s all so cheap you see. The Japanese concerts cost you the earth.

(Really!)

Yes, everything costs the earth there, all the Western stuff. But that’s an example of us saying oh they’ll never play Western music, they’ll get the notes right and that’s all. And that was true up till forty years ago, thirty years ago. And then they began to learn the expressions.

Q: They’ve got some marvellous fiddlers!

A: Yes, yes, as good as anything we can do, which shows that they used to say British would never be ballet dancers. I can remember as a kid when all our ballet dancers changed their names to Russian names, Marks became Markova, or otherwise you just assumed she was no good. If she’s Russian she must be good. And a lot of the musicians did too. Yes you’ve got….. Higgin or something, doing a concert, no good that’ll be wooden … Barnikow … Ah maybe a wrong note, a lot of wrong notes maybe, but think of the passion!

These are the sort of illusions that fill our lives, absolutely fill them. Zen and then dispel them.

Q: Side by side with the Zen tradition which seems marked by gentleness, and a kind of common sense, there’s also the Japanese tradition of the cult of the warrior. How does that relate, if at all, to the Zen tradition?

A: Well, it’s most stimulating. Zen was to set us free from the fear of death, and the warriors practised it for that purpose. And with success, many of them were absolutely fearless. When they were losing the war, they were a lot fanatics about who were determined to have no surrender. Well, they appointed as Prime Minister a former Admiral, who had been a Minister in one the pre-war governments, and he’d been attacked by an assassin, who burst into his room, and because he admired the old Admiral, old Suzuki, he tried to explain why he had to kill him.

So the Admiral said, ‘Well, if that’s all you’ve got to say, you’d better shoot’. So the chap did shoot,  and he got one bullet through here, and one through the head, but he survived. Well then at the end of the war, when the peace – they were going to have to make peace – these fanatics were everywhere, and it was a risky business – they appointed the old Admiral to be Prime Minister again. Well, they had a very brilliant man, young man, whom I knew as Cabinet Secretary, and who told me, he said, ‘Towards the end of the war I was running the country. I’d work perhaps all night. I’d bring in the papers, and the old Admiral was sitting there, and I ‘d try and explain the papers to him, you see. And he ‘d say, “No, what you think is right for the country”, and he would seal it as Prime Minister.

I used to think, this poor old boy, he just sits there and he’s just a figurehead, he doesn’t seem even to think, and I’m running the country’. Then one morning the Admiral wasn’t there. He’d got an appointment somewhere else, and  Sasanita told me, he said, ‘I knew I had to wait until he came back until twelve’, and he said, ‘My hands were shaking with fear’, and he said, ‘I couldn’t do a stroke of work, and the old boy came back and he said, “Whew, it’s a hot day isn’t it? You’ve got a lot of papers there”, and then Sasanita said, ‘Immediately I felt calm, I was able to go on’. Now that gives the hint that Suzuki had passed beyond the fear of death, and he was perfectly calm, and he did, he was able to inspire that young, brilliant young man, with calmness in the face of a very horrible assassination.

Q: What can you say about literature throughout Japanese history

A: About 1000 AD was one of a great sort of explosions of culture , and that went right on until about 1600 AD, then the Tokugawa regime sort of clamped down rather, well not only on women’s literature but on literature in general, but even so there are poets and poetesses  and now today, in the great poetry competition at the end of every year, the New Year’s Day competition, they get about thirty thousand entries. The winners of the highest distinctions are often women.

It’s quite a fashion now for small printing houses to – for a housewife to have two or three hundred of her poems printed privately, and circulated among her friends. They ‘re printed very cheaply. It’s estimated there are five million poets in Japan. Every month they have great thick magazines come out, at least three of them which are glossy magazines of three hundred pages, full of poems, and I could say the majority are by women.

There are about five hundred magazines devoted solely to poetry in Japan. The last time I checked here, it was about four in Britain. Well, why it’s happened? One doesn’t know. But it has happened, and what they can do other people can do. But the ordinary sportsman there writes, can write poems, I don’t say they ‘re good poems, but he can write them. But I’ve never dreamt of writing a poem, I didn’t think men did those things.

Well, we can all try writing poems. It is most embarrassing. I go with the sports team sometimes, and after the contest they take you to some beauty spot, and you’d see the sun going down behind some craggy mountain, reflected in some lake, pine tree there, you see, and people stand silent as they watch the sun go down, and then afterwards you come back, and one or two of them have written poems, composed poems, you see, which they write down, and then explain to you, you see, and then they say, ‘What is your poem?’ It’s so embarrassing.

Q: What is the role of women in Japan?

A: The role of women. Well, it’s the only literature in the world that I know of where women are – there’s a galaxy of women geniuses in literature in all the fields, poetry, in the psychological novel, in the travel diary, in all the fields of literature women aren ‘t just included as a courtesy like in an anthology of poems in most countries, where you put a few women in, you know, because you’ve got to have them in, there are no real women Miltons or anything like that.

But in Japan there are. They were right at the top. They invented a new style of calligraphy, which is such an esteemed art, which the men can’t do, and when the men were all imitating Chinese verses, the women were writing in pure Japanese. They saved the language from being swamped by Chinese. Well now, this shows what can be done, and it’s almost unknown outside Japan because of course the Japanese language is rather difficult to read. People don’t know this, but the women weren’t politically influential, but in matters literary, and in some of the other arts, they got right to the top, and not one or two exceptions, but a whole chain of them.

Q: I am interested in your referring to the change in the language the Zen masters use to express the experiences of their ideas:  is this partly a change in the nature of Zen itself as it’s evolving, or were you making people relate more to it as a less austere way of expression?

A:  Well, he’s made a study of this, and he doesn’t come to any conclusion, he says he doesn’t know why, but it may be something to do with modern man, that the – that it’s better to take some risk of a man sticking and give positive terms than to present him with these negatives which perhaps the modern man hasn’t got the patience to work through.  It may be connected with that, but he doesn’t come out with any particular conclusion.  No, he just draws attention to it.

Q:  I would like to ask about Shankara, rather changing on to another tangent as it were.  In a lot of the standard courses, elementary courses on Yoga, we have the Bhagavad-Gita, and , but one very seldom hears about Shankara.  I’d be very grateful if you could tell us if one wants to urge a wider knowledge of Shankara what we should stress?

A:  Shankara’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, that could be the one, yes, yes.  He wrote works, extremely profound, philosophical works, and this connected with the fact that in India intellectual brilliance was always so highly esteemed.  A doctrine to be put forward had to be justified in open debate.  This goes back for a very long way, right to perhaps a 1,000BC.  The Brahmins exercised themselves in debate.  So that Shankara had to justify his doctrines in debate on very difficult philosophical lines.  But when he wrote his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, he wrote it for ordinary people to practise, and so that’s the one to study.  (rings bell)  People think he’s not a devotee, but he is, if we read that.  The Japanese and perhaps British people are much more concerned with whether a thing works, but Indian people are very concerned with whether you can justify it by logic, and there is a real difference in the atmosphere there.  Indian people are uneasy if a thing just ‘works’, they want to know ‘why’, and if you can’t produce, so to speak, a satisfactory account of it they are inclined to draw back from it.

The Japanese and I think the British to some extent tend to say, ‘Well, does it work?’.  And the British tend to say ‘And does it pay?’ also.  But it’s more a sort of the empirical ‘Let’s see’.  This is what happens. By an Indian standard the average Japanese is dull-witted, and in an argument an Indian makes rings round a Japanese. But at the end of the argument, you see, the Japanese gets the thing done, and the Indian can’t because he is satisfied with having won the argument; he doesn’t necessarily .  Now Japan’s got something like six hundred universities; India hasn’t got nearly so many. and well, I’ve heard an Indian say to a Japanese, ‘How many universities do you have?’, you see, and he was amazed and shocked when the Japanese said six hundred.  So he really marvelled and said, ‘What’s the standard in those universities?  Are you satisfied with the standard?’. And the Japanese said, ‘Well, no, I have to admit that the state universities are pretty good, but some of them are pretty ropy’.  ‘Yes you’ve got six hundred factories for grinding out fools’.  He won the argument.  The Japanese couldn’t think of anything to say.  But at the end of all the argument the Japanese got the six hundred universities and they are

Well, I’m only using that as a sort of joke. The Indian mind has been ‘brilliantly, brilliantly, analytical.  It’s unrivalled in the world.  For instance the Greeks, now they’re an intelligent people, and the Chinese, they’re an intelligent people, but neither of them ever had a grammar of their own language.  That never occurred to them, to study their own language.  The only, the first Greek grammar, was when they started teaching Greek to foreigners.  Then they made a grammar.  And the Chinese didn’t make one until the Jesuits made one, and then the Chinese felt, ‘Oh, we’ve got to make one’.  But the Indian grammar started about 500BC, and that grammar is still used today, in Sanskrit.  It’s unrivalled, it’s a masterpiece of philology, and the philologists today still use the same treatment, they say, ‘Even with our most modern analysis, we can’t do better’.  The intellectual brilliance is tremendous, but in other things they haven’t done so well.  But that’s why Shankara had to justify his doctrine, and his teachings, by these extremely brilliant intellectual arguments.  It wouldn’t have been accepted otherwise by the elite.  Well, it’s a good point anyway, thank you for asking.

Q:  Mr. Leggett, one of the things that came through to me in the talk was the way in which Zen has an application to this in daily life.  One can’t help comparing what you talk about and what seems to happen now with what seems to have got long lost in the mainstream religions in the West.  I know it’s a question you’ve answered in part, but could you go into it a little for us as to why?  Is it doctrine or is it the nature of the individual?

A:  I wouldn’t really know why that’s happened.  It would have to be a historian.  I don’t know the history of the West all that well, that doctrine may have something to do with it, although we have this doctrine in the West, that they have the doctrine that the Buddha nature is in all things, and in the West we have St. Paul’s saying that ‘Christ is in all things’. He’s the measure of the whole universe, in Him all the things .  But this hasn’t been stressed, it seems, and one rather, in some parts, in some phases of Christianity, you rather get the idea of sort of that the world is a losing battle against the Devil.  The Devil’s active, and he’s everywhere.  He’s a go-getter.  St. Michael all sort of it out, and there’s God giving sort of impossible commands from above, and leaving us to fight the Devil single-handed.  It’s  – but anyway I simply haven’t the knowledge to answer why.

The point about the everyday activities is a very important one.  A Westerner who went to Japan to go into a Zen monastery, he’s tremendously keen you see, he couldn’t sort of sit properly, and of course he didn’t know much of the language.  Well what happened, what you do then in those cases is you think, ‘Well, I’m going to be so hot sitting here, and of course I can’t understand a word of what’s said, but by God, I’ll show them’,  So he used to make a point of getting up, well it’s 4.30 in the winter, and 3.30 in the summer, and then one of the jobs is sweeping and cleaning and all that.  Sometimes when monks are tired the head monk rings the bell but lets the monks go on sleeping, you see, because he knows that they are tired.  Well, when this happened the foreigner used to get up, you see, because he thought, ‘Well [I may be] no good at sitting.  I may not know the language, but by God, I’m up’.  Well, then he’d sweep.  He described it himself, I must admit, with exemplary frankness.  It’s very good.  He said, ‘I used to sweep that garden, and my broom would bang against the sleeping quarters ‘  And he said, ‘I hated them, I hated them’.

And finally this thing boiled up, and he saw the abbot, and he explained what it was.  So the abbot said, ‘Well, why are you doing this?’.  So he said, ‘Well, I’m doing it as part of my spiritual training, this is one of the rules, isn’t it, we get up and then we sweep every day, tired or not’.  So the abbot said, ‘Well, if it’s simply your spiritual training it doesn’t matter what the others do, does it?  Must be something else.’  So the Western chap said, as one does, ‘Well, I suppose I’m trying to set an example, really, an example which I’m afraid is not being followed.’  So the abbot said, ‘Well, you are sweeping that ground in hatred, and that’s an example that ought not to be followed.’  So he said, ‘Well then, how do you sweep the ground?’  Then the abbot said, ‘When the Buddha gets up and picks up the Buddha broom and sweeps the Buddha dust from the face of the Buddha earth, that’ll be sweeping’.  When we’    re doing these jobs which don’t require much of the mind to do, some painting a wall, some chore, these are the times, otherwise we shall be thinking of where we were yesterday, what we’re to do tomorrow, what [somebody] said, but these are the times when it’s rhythmical, physical work, sweeping, cleaning, polishing, scrubbing, then at those times to try to extend the meditation experience into activity.  Anyway, thank you for the question.

Q:  (indistinct) re ‘sutras’, and more popular books thereon.

A:  Well, the best thing is to get one small book and then practise.

Q:  (indistinct) Not one you can recommend…?

A:  There’s a book by Wisdom of the Zen Masters by Irmgard Schloegll,  you know her don’t you, she spoke in here didn’t she, often?  Yes, well now I would have thought that would be a good introduction to practise, and if you read it and then tried to practise, and then read it, say a page, or half a page every morning, just that, and then practise.  One can read far too many books, and as you say, one just gets fed up actually.

Q:  Does Japan suffer the same as we do in the West at the moment which is there’s this glut of gurus, and the problem for all of us is to discriminate who is the genuine guru.  Is there a similar sort of problem with the Zen masters?  And how would you go about discriminating?

A:  Well, the thing is really to practise, to read one of the old texts, and start to practise, and get some idea from one’s own practice, and then, with that experience, you can pick out fairly well.  It’s better to get a teacher who belongs to an old tradition , because experience handed down a long line is of great value.  People hear things from their teachers, who’ve heard things from their teachers.  Now for instance, about the role of learning – yes, it’s quite useful to – I’ll give an example you see, something I hope that might teach you.  A Sanskrit and Pali scholar who studied the language, he was a brilliant scholar, well, he was interested in the language, philology and so on:  Then he got the idea he’d like to practise something of Buddhism or Vedanta.  He didn’t care very much, just some spiritual practice.  Well, he asked my advice about this, which teacher could I manage to recommend.  Should it be Buddhism or Vedanta?  Well, to his amazement, I told him something that I had myself heard, and I realised ‘was true.  I told him, ‘Don’t study Indian Buddhism or Vedanta.’  But he said, ‘But I know Sanskrit, I know Pali, the language of Buddhism, I know these texts. Now what I want to do is go to a teacher, and, knowing what I already, all the vast amount that I know, I want to do the practice.’

I said, ‘No doubt you have – Find a Chinese or a Japanese Buddhist teacher, where you won’t know anything’.  And he said, ‘Why?’.  Well, India is a big place, the the word for friendship and it’s one of the great Buddhist virtues, you see. I said, ‘One of the things your teacher will say to you – supposing he’s a Bengali, and he will tell you to practise friendliness, but he won’t pronounce it ‘mitri’, he’ ll say ‘moitri’, because that’s the way they pronounce it in Bengal, the original changes’, and I said, ‘And, when your teacher says ‘practise moitri’  inside you’ll go ‘Huh, that’s wrong, his pronunciation’s wrong’.  Wonder if he’s any good.  Then the teacher will say to you, now ‘moitri’ is the first of four virtues which are called the Bramavihares and they’re a very old Buddhist list of four, you see, friendship towards people in general, and then compassion towards people who are suffering, and then a very important one, to be happy when other people are fortunate instead of trying to put a spoke in the wheel, and then to be indifferent to people who try to do harm to you.’  I said, ‘The teacher will cite those four, and he’ll say these are four ancient Buddhist virtues, but you will know that they were, that they appear in the Brahmanical schools before they appeared in Buddhism, so when he says these are the four ancient Buddhist virtues you’         ll be ‘Huh, no, no, they were in Brahminism before Buddha, wonder if he’s any good’.  And trivialities like that can impede one, and it’s far better to go to a teacher for the practice where you know nothing.  Then you can accept what he says.  As Christ says ‘like a child’ .

But if you go with your head stuffed with this knowledge of small points of grammar ‘and pronunciation, you may know more than the teacher about those things, but that’s not what the teacher is supposed to be teaching you.  It will be like going to a golf teacher and criticising his Scots accent, nothing to do with it.  But a scholar is bound to do that. Now my knowledge of Japanese Buddhist history is very very limited, but I heard that from my teacher, and I had this experience myself:  I knew one particular area where I found an unusual text of about six hundred years ago, and I’ve translated it, and so I’m fairly expert on something pretty unusual in that little period, you see, and I was listening to a rather good teacher, and he said something about that period, and he gave the usual historical view, but I knew that there was something new that he didn’t, and I caught myself thinking ‘huh he doesn’t know that, wonder if he’s any good’.  Well these are the sort of things, this is where the experience, the chain, the long tradition, is of great value, and the long tradition can tell you what one wouldn’t think, that learning can be an obstacle, if you acquire that learning before you go in for the practice.  If you go in for the practice, and then do the learning, as an aid to the practice, it’             s all right.  But the man who’s got a lot of learning on a secular basis, and then goes in to the practice, his learning will trip him up.  Now that’s something that one wouldn’t normally think about, but it can be handed down in a tradition.  So in selecting a teacher, yes it’s better to get one with a long tradition.

Q: Do you know about the times of this literature? Is this classical literature we ‘re talking about, or right, you know, throughout Japanese history?

A: You ‘re right, about 1000 AD was one of a great sort of explosions of [?culture] , and that went right on until about 1600 AD, then the [Tokugawa] Confucian regime sort of clamped down rather, well not only on women’s literature but on literature in general, but even so there are poets and poetesses like , and now today, in the great poetry competition at the end of every year, the New Year’s Day competition, they get about thirty thousand entries. The winners of the highest distinctions are often women. It’s quite a fashion now for small printing houses to – for a housewife to have two or three hundred of her poems printed privately, and circulated among her friends. They ‘re printed very cheaply. It’s estimated there are five million poets in Japan. Every month they have great thick magazines come out, at least three of them which are glossy magazines of three hundred pages, full of poems, and I could say the majority are by women. There are about five hundred magazines devoted solely to poetry in Japan. The last time I checked here, it was about four in Britain. Well, why it’s happened? One doesn’t know. But it has happened, and what they can do other people can do. But the ordinary sportsman there writes, can write poems, I don’t say they ‘re good poems, but he can write them. But I’ve never dreamt of writing a poem, I didn’t think men did those things.

Q: Could it be that there is something in the culture that enables the women to transcend the time when social customs did tend to oppress them the culture that produced marvellous philosophies, and mysticism, of which the women must have partaken as well, and enabled them to survive and transcend those ages in Japanese history that remained very oppressive towards them?

A: Well, I don’t know, they weren’t repressed in literature, that’sall you can say, they weren’t.

Q: The later ages when mentioned in at that time, which were very puritanical I think in the arts,

A: Well, that’s right yes, Well that wasn’t only the women, it was the men too. And the freedom of the court , had a rough time, because poets are not famous for their conformity, are they? They say the great thing is ‘the nightingale sings just as it pleases’. You can’t make the nightingale sing when  . No, it’s one of the lessons. I’m sometimes asked by African people what’s the secret of the Japanese, and I say it’s the fact that mothers are educated and cultured. They bring up the children, sometimes rather ruthlessly. They make the kids study. They have science fiction films in Japan, and terrible monsters, you know, like we do here, with names like Godzilla. Well now the most terrible of them all was one called Barragon, that was the most awful of them all, and the Japanese child’s name for his education mother is Mummagon.

Q: I believe if the children are ill, their mothers will actually go and sit in the classes for them, to sort of [?cram for] examinations, they’re so ambitious for them.

A: Yes, they’ve unlimited ambition, and the mother very often revises her own stuff so that she can work with the child, and coach the child.

Q: And how is the new generation of Japanese? Have they been affected by Western culture very much, or do they still have their roots in Japanese culture?

A: Well, the crisis is now passing when they had to build up from ashes, so they don’t really know how they ‘re going to feel.

(interjection from questioner)

How they ‘re going to feel, the crisis is over – I mean, they’ve been fighting their way back tooth and nail, most people have had to have two jobs, one in the day and one in the evening, to build the country up. Now it’s built up, and the question is what do you do, and they don’t really know.

But politically, they’re very undeveloped, compared to here. Blocks of votes are sold in thousands. It’s always a great surprise to the Japanese to hear that someone like Harold Wilson isn’t a millionaire. ‘He’s been Prime Minister, so what was he doing while he was Prime Minister?’ He makes money writing his memoirs, but he’s got to make his money. A Japanese Prime Minister retires with all the bribes that he has received. When he puts through a treaty with Indonesia, and then Turkey, the Prime Minister will get perhaps a million out of it.

© Trevor Leggett