15 June, 2021

Figures In A Square

Polite, self-effacing submission stands out in Iyer’s explication of Japan’s mystique

Figures In A Square

Japan, Land of the Rising Sun, the place best described as inscrutable. Pico Iyer, who after his years of wandering the world chose to abandon himself to Japan, attempts to explain the mysteries of the country to those unfamiliar with it. We all know pieces of what Japan represents: geishas, zen gardens, scattered rocks, Mt Fuji and above all a sensibility that foreigners are reluctant to offend.

It is, Iyer says through a series of factoids and anecdotes, inter­spersed with narratives that occ­asionally don’t seem to relate to the main story except laterally—for example that of the West Point cadets who march together in perfect orderliness, determined not to stand out. Standing out is a crime in Japanese society; rather, an act of impoliteness. One is required to be submissive, self-effacing—the word ‘hai!’, translated as ‘yes’ in English, actually means ‘I submit’. This, Iyer suggests, also account for Japanese brutality in World War II, where everyone followed orders without letting emotions get in the way....

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