Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Japan as a separate civilization

I was in a thread on the causes of the American Civil War when in an aside I mentioned Samuel P. Huntington. A fellow replied to me and we got totally off track. He had no respect for Huntington whatsoever and began listing his sins. One of them was that Japan should have been grouped in the same "Civilization" as China.

Huntington can't really be blamed for the classifications since he announced in the beginning of his Clash of Civilizations that he was accepting some classifications widely accepted by Political Scientists but he has been blamed anyway, particularly by those who have read about Clash of Civilizations but not read the book carefully.

I was in Japan years ago and developed an interest in their history. I moved a lot of my books on Japan to the garage to make room for my ACW library but I did find Japan, the Story of a Nation by Edwin O. Reischauer. What he writes on page 7 seems to support the making of Japan a separate "Civilization."

"Japan . . . is culturally a daughter of Chinese civilization much as the countries of North Europe are daughters of Mediterranean culture. The story of the spread of Chinese civilization to the peoples of Japan during the first millennium after Christ is much like the story of the spread of Mediterranean civilization to the peoples of North Europe during the same period. But the greater isolation of the Japanese from the home of their civilization and from all other people meant that in Japan the borrowed culture had more chance to develop along new and often unique lines. . . Although geographic isolation has made them conscious of learning from abroad, it has also allowed time to develop one of the most distinctive cultures to be found in an area of comparable size. Take, for example, things as basic as their traditional clothing, their cuisine, or their domestic architecture and the manner in which they live at home. The thick straw floor mats, the sliding paper panels in place of interior walls, the open airy structure of the whole house, the recess for art objects, the charcoal-burning braziers (hibachi), the peculiar wooden or iron bathtubs, and the place of bathing in daily life as a means of relaxation at the end of a day's work and, in winter, as a way of restoring a sense of warmth and well-being -- all these and many other simple but fundamental features of daily life in traditional Japan are unique to the country and attest to a highly creative culture rather than of simple imitation.

"Japan's cultural distinctiveness has perhaps been accentuated by its linguistic separateness. Although the Japanese writing system has been derived from that of China and innumerable Chinese words have been incorporated into Japanese in much the same way that English has borrowed thousands of Latin and Greek words, Japanese is basically as different from Chinese as it is from English. Its structure is strikingly like Korean, but even then it appears to be no more closely related to Korean than English is to Russian or the Sanskrit-derived languages of India. Possessing a writing system more complex than any other in common use in the modern world and a language with no close relatives, the Japanese probably face a bigger language barrier between themselves and the rest of the world than any other major national group."

COMMENT: It seems to me I can keep this thread in the realm of history because the Political Scientists making up the classifications of "Civilizations" were basing them upon most of the things Edwin Reischauer mentions in his history. He doesn't mention religion, but even there we have the Shinto religion that doesn't have an equivalent as far as I know in Korea or China. And though Buddhism arrived from India through either Korea or China (I don't recall which) it was transformed into Zen and Nicheren if I recall correctly and was not left as it was in India or China.

So the Political Scientists looked at Japan's history, language, culture etc and couldn't see fit to put it into the "Sino" Civilization.

I don't know to what extent anyone here is familiar with these matters but just looking at the histories of Japan and China, if you had to decide to place Japan with China (meaning it is too close in all those things described above to leave it separate) or leave it as a separate civilization, what would you do?

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