Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Tiger Tanaka on gaijin

From You Only Live Twice

[Tanaka, head of the Japanese secret service, is speaking to Bondo-san about gaijin, as a prelude to the impossible job he is fixing to ask Bondo-san to do.]

He [Tanaka] got out of his chair and sat down on the tatami and arranged himself in the lotus position. He was obviously more comfortable in this posture. He said, in a expository tone of voice, ‘Ever since the beginning of the era of Meiji, who you will know was the Emperor who fathered the modernization and Westernization of Japan from the beginning of his reign nearly a hundred years ago, there have from time to time been foreigners who have come to this country and settled here. They have for the most part been cranks and scholars, and the European-born American Lafcadio Hearn, who became a Japanese citizen, is a very typical example. In general, they have been tolerated, usually with some amusement. So, perhaps, would be a Japanese who bought a castle in the Highlands of Scotland, and who learned and spoke Gaelic with his neighbours and expressed unusual and often impertinent interest in Scottish folkways. If he went about his researches politely and peaceably, he would be dubbed an amiable eccentric. And so it has been with the Westerners who have settled and spent their lives in Japan, though occasionally, in time of war, as would no doubt be the case with our mythical Japanese in Scotland, they have been regarded as spies and suffered internment and hardship. Now, since occupation, there have been many such settlers, the great majority of whom, as you can imagine, have been American. The Oriental way of life is particularly attractive to the American who wishes to escape from a culture which, I am sure you will agree, has become, to say the least of it, more and more unattractive except to the lower grades of the human species to whom bad but plentiful food, shiny toys such as the automobile and the television, and the “quick buck”, often dishonestly earned, or earned in exchange for minimal labour or skills, are the summum bonum, if you will allow the sentimental echo from my Cambridge education.’

‘I will,’ said Bond. ‘But is this not a picture of the life that is being officially encouraged in your own country?’

Tiger Tanaka’s face darkened perceptibly. ‘For the time being,’ he said with distaste, ‘we are being subjected to what I can best describe as the “Scuola di Coca Cola”. Baseball, amusement arcades, hot dogs, hideously large bosoms, neon lighting – these are part of our payment for defeat – a denial of our ancestors, a denial of our gods. They are a despicable way of life’ – Tiger almost spat the words – ‘but fortunately they are also expendable and temporary. They have as much importance in the history of Japan as the life of a dragonfly.’ He paused. ‘But to return to my story. Our American residents are of a sympathetic type – on a low level of course. They enjoy the subservience, which I may say is only superficial, of our women. They enjoy the remaining strict patterns of our life – the symmetry, compared with the chaos that reigns in America. They enjoy our simplicity, with its underlying hint of deep meaning, as expressed for instance in the tea ceremony, flower arrangements, NO plays – none of which of course they understand. They also enjoy, because they have no ancestors and probably no family life worth speaking of, our veneration of the old and our worship of the past. For, in their impermanent world, they recognize these as permanent things just as, in their ignorant and childish way, they admire the fictions of the Wild West and other American myths that have become known to them, not through their education, of which they have none, but through television.’

‘This is tough stuff, Tiger. I’ve got a lot of American friends who don’t equate with what you’re saying. Presumably you’re talking about the lower level G.I.s – second generation Americans who are basically Irish or Germans or Czechs or Poles who probably out to be working in the fields or coalmines of their countries of origin instead of swaggering around a conquered country under the blessed coverlet of the Stars and Stripes with too much money to spend. I daresay they occasionally marry a Japanese girl and settle down here. But surely they pull up stumps pretty quickly. Our Tommies have done the same thing in Germany. But that’s quite a different thing from the Lafcadio Hearns of the world.’

Tiger Tanaka bowed almost to the ground. ‘Forgive me, Bondo-san. Of course you are right, and I have been diverted from my story down most unworthy paths….'

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