Sunday, February 15, 2009

From that guy on the 5000 yen note

I'm not sure if he's still on it, though. Anyway, I'd read Inazo Nitobe's Bushido: The Soul of Japan and came across this paragraph:

Have you seen in your tour of Japan many a young man with unkempt hair, dressed in shabbiest garb, carrying in his hand a large cane or a book, stalking about the streets with an air of utter indifference to mundane things? He is the shosei (student), to whom the earth is too small and the Heavens are not high enough. He has his own theories of the universe and of life. He dwells in castles of air and feeds on ethereal words of wisdom. In his eyes beams the fire of ambition; his mind is athirst for knowledge. Penury is only a stimulus to drive him onward; worldly goods are in his sight shackles to his character. He is the repository of Loyalty and Patriotism. He is the self-imposed guardian of national honor. With all his virtues and his faults, he is the last fragment of Bushido.

I just laughed when I saw that. Not because I disagree or find it a preposterously simplistic view of the university student* but because of the sheer contrast with a previous encounter with the shosei, found in a book written by no other than the bloke on the 1000 yen bill, Natsume Souseki (after whom my cat is named). But of course, the book is I am a Cat, and here's what the shosei looks like there, from the very first page:

I am a cat. As yet I have no name. I've no idea where I was born. All I remember is that I was miaowing in a dampish dark place when, for the first time, I saw a human being. This human being, I head afterwards, was a member of the most ferocious human species; a shosei, one of those students who, in return for board and lodging, perform small chores about the house. I hear that, on occasion, this species catches, boils, and eats us...

Shortly after that, if appeared that this particular shosei found our protagonist too small and scrawny to be worth eating and flung the poor devil into a clump of bamboo grass. Man, I love that book. If you haven't read it, do. You might find yourself tempted, like me, to learn Japanese because of it.

* In my experience, university students are usually found at the bottom of pint glasses in the Student Union pub. Or urinating on your doorstep. Or your car. Ah, British education...

No comments: