Fly High

English Version of 『自‘遊’への旅

Part Six (Chap. 6)

6. Paradigm Change of Thought


 Japan as the number one in the world

When I was young, attractive foreign countries were those developed countries in Europe and the United States.

In other words, in the long history of the world, the West has opened up the fore of world civilization, thus conquering the world, carrying out slaughter, piling up wealth from the world, winning wars, occupying the top of worldwide organizations, having led the world in both senses of good and bad. Because of that, they had something to shine as the leader of the world.

The dominance of the West, briefly speaking, had been co-existing almost in my generation. But seen in various circumstances and discussions, their world is transferring to a period of gradual decline.

For example, in October 1984, when I arrived on Australia, the exchange rate between the Japanese yen and Australian dollar was around 1 dollar = 220 yen. In the 1985 Plaza Agreement between Japan and the United States, the United States had let Japan, who had a strong economic power, acknowledge the appreciation of the yen in an order to weaken the international competitiveness of Japanese products. The yen, consequently, has jumped to one hundred and a few tens yen against the Australian dollar in just a few months.

At that time, I had brought into small but unneglectable amount of money which I had saved in Japan. But the amount of my Australian dollar exchanged would have doubled almost if I had exchanged it a few months earlier. I was in the mood to blurt it out, saying, “If this is the case, tell me beforehand!”

After that, Japan fully used such a strong yen to literally buy the world’s assets up. In 1989, the Rockefeller Center Building in New York was acquired by the Mitsubishi Estate and bought a backlash from New Yorkers. In Australia, Sydney’s most of major buildings were owned by the Japanese.

Then, Japan, the then the world’s second largest economy, even boasted that it would overtake the United States and become the world’s largest economy soon. It was the barking at its peak, but the bubble that swelled eventually burst.

If you look at China today, one can find a similarity to the aggressive Japan at that time.

At any rate, the decline of the West has begun to seem obvious gradually as such an economic trend showed.


Twilight of the West

Thus, from the second half of the last century, the limits of the West began to be widely pointed out, and it turns this century, the waning of so-called “advanced Western countries” has become remarkable in various fields. In addition, the chaotic situation in the United States today is seen almost distressingly for my generation who grew up watching popular American television movies, “Low Hyde” or “Lassie” a half-century ago.

Since the Meiji era, Japan has succeeded first in westernization herself among the Asian countries and expanded its Western model to Asia.

The “Great Empire of Japan” had colonized Asian countries, then left behind own imposed peculiar civilization and various difficulties, and it is still struggling to cleanup today.

Now, as seen a view that Western civilization has already entered the path of decline, it may be the time when Oriental civilization replaces it. China is the epicenter of the view.

Such a self-righteous view of history in China is that, while it is the central pillar of the Chinese thought having the genealogy of world view from ancient times, the center of the world is China. But now it brings global tensions and be the leading source of instability or concern in the world.

The United States once succeed to self-sunk Japan, who boasted formerly that would surpass the United States shortly, by causing it a bubble economy. It is now placing various demands on China and trying to block its momentum.

While Western civilization has been making efforts to maintain its dominance by taking advantage of its past wealth accumulation, the East has emerged as a new region of growth in the world.

Setting the Senkaku Islands at its northern end, the western Pacific Ocean is now the front line of the East-West confrontation.

It remains unforeseeable to no one whether the East will surpass the West and the time when the East will become the center of the world will be revived like the ancient period. However, the sign is becoming a reality year by year.

China is foreseeing the time to overtake the United States on an economic scale. And the country is expanding the Chinalization among neighboring countries with the own ambitious view that she is the future model of civilization in the world holding the strategy of “One Belt, One Road” as a foreign policy.

Japan was occupied by of the United States immediate after World War II and since then has been a de facto client country for 75 years up to now. Currently Japan has the expanding China as a neighbor, also has accepted its cultural influence for long as indicated by the use of Chinese characters in own language. Thus Japan faces to an important turning point in that what direction and position it will chose.

South Korea, another neighbor, is in the similar position as Japan, but while taking a kind of U.S.-China bifurcated policy, it has caused distrust from both countries rather than the synergy effect.

This historic change in the east-west balance of power and tensions in East Asia are certainly very important situation for Japan must not make decisions wrongly.


The Essence of Oriental Thought

In the course of these historical changes in the relationship between East and West civilizations, there is a natural shift in the ideas that have been built within such an East-West framework.

Let us look at the point of attention in the angle of “restraint” which is the theme of this book.

When the centre of gravity in the world is changing from the West to the East, it would be a balanced view if one takes up the viewpoint from the Westerner’s in terms of avoiding the favour to the Oriental side.

Here is the best literature from that point of view. This is cited from “Zen for the West”, an introductory chapter for Western readers of ZEN BUDHIZM (2006), written by William Berrett, a former philosophy professor, the New York University.

At the beginning of it, this is a clear message that literally spoke to Westerners.

Only a century separates us from Schopenhauer, the first Western philosopher who attempted a sympathetic interpretation of Buddhism, a brilliant and sensational misunderstanding on the basis of meagre translations. Since then great strides have been made in Oriental studies, but a curiously paradoxical provincialism still haunts the West: the civilization which has battered its way into every corner of the globe has been very tardy in examining its own prejudices by the wisdom of the non-Western peoples. Even today when the slogan “One World!” is an incessant theme of Sunday journalism and television, we tend to interpret it in a purely Western sense to mean merely that the whole planet is now bound together in the net of modern technology and communications. That the phrase may imply a necessity for coming to terms with our Eastern opposite and brother seems to pass publicly unnoticed. There are many signs, however, that this tide must turn. (p. viii)

As the title suggests, this book is about Zen, and explains the writings of Daisetz Suzuki, the great zen master. And the reason for paying attention to Zen thought was how Western civilization was covered by “strange paradoxical narrowness”. Therefore, the description not only outlines the transition of Western thought, but explains Buddhist thought as well, and which is a very useful summary for Japanese today.

However, it is not the purpose of this book to introduce the whole picture here, and I will show the key argument only. But it is a valuable work  to read. The original book has not been translated into Japanese, but one can read my translation of the introductory chapter “Zen for the West” at the following URL.


In this introductory chapter, the professor emphasizes that the characteristics of Oriental thought, especially Zen thought, are the method of “concrete and simple to avoid abstraction”.

To summarize by the Western way, the Eastern counterpart is an intuitive idea. But even with such a Western style explanation, it is not easy to approach this method of “concrete and simple”.

That is where he uses examples to show how to do it. That is, it mentions in regard to the matter-of-fact spirit of Zen.

Before you have studied Zen, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers; while you are studying it, mountains are no longer mountains and rivers no longer rivers; but once you have had Enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and rivers are rivers. (p. xix)

To say it curtly, if you remove those rigid views from your eyes like this, your vision will change. The problem is the idea which blurred your eyes and a way of looking at things.

The reason why I think the journey and the reality to survive are significant is that they form oneness which is mixing up analysis, logic, and abstraction all together in such a complicated experience but they never fall into either one of them and they are still a complete and simple one.

It is a thing that can understand even if it is called just “mountain and river” as the above citation. That is, it is the wholistic view which includes such great connotations over everything around us.

Therefore, on the contrary, the idea consisting of disjointed parts through Western analysis sometimes results in a large overlook, which also constrains yourself.

The above “strange paradoxical narrowness” pointed out by professor Barrett is such a disjointed part. That is why he say, “The very heavy paradoxes surrounding all of these changes are deep or upper in our Western culture.”

To put a change of the history in short, the Japanese can cross their own barriers by Westernization, and Westerners can cross their own barriers by Orientalization.

There should be a fusion point to come to terms with somewhere around here.


to be continued

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