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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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There's Samurais in Both
Ever since I realized that Britain could be a source of occidentalism to the Japanese, I've been thinking off and on, albeit in a decidedly superficial, Fluellenish way, about the similarities between the two countries - archipelagos and presqu'iles, I should perhaps say. Their maritime situation, sitting slightly detached on the edge of a continent, is one connection - and comes with the same sense (however misguided) of the sea as offering inviolability. If we have the Armada - "God blew, and they were scattered" - they have the Mongol invasions of three hundred years earlier, also disrupted by divine winds - or kamikaze. There's an ambivalent relationship with the continent, too, which is looked on suspiciously even though it is the source of much assimilated culture - not least a writing system. Organized religion came via that route, too: while Christianity moved west, through the Levant to Rome and thence to Britain, Buddhism made the trip east, from India to China then to Japan. Everywhere you look, you find the two halves of a Rorschach blot.

Ah, but where is the British Shinto? I wish we had a thriving animistic religious tradition here, to give my instinctive sympathy with animism some structural support: but while Shinto shrines sit unmolested in Buddhist temples, Christianity is not the kind of religion that brooks rivals (or even partners).

In the spirit of these meditations, tonight I'm going to try making okonomiyaki. I failed to find okonomiyaki sauce in the huge oriental supermarket 15 minutes' walk from here, but never mind: the recipe says that Worcestershire sauce is an acceptable substitute - and that, I feel, is as it should be.

ETA: This is what it looked like. It tasted pretty good, actually.

The town of Gillingham in Kent where we live at present has one major claim to fame- it's the home town of Anjin Sama (aka William Adams) who is generally recognised as the founder of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

He fetched up in Japan and settled back in Elizabethan days, married and never came home (leaving a wife and chidren on the parish as it happens).

There is a memorial to him locally in the style of a Shinto shrine and we have an annual Will Adams Festival. The town is twinned with Yokusaka.

Fascinating! And totally news to me, I admit. Wiki tells me that Adams saw service against the Armada, too.

Because X-ianity won't brook rivals, it doesn't permit the animism of rival brooks. (Okay, that didn't work as well as it should have.)

At an International Shakespeare conference I went to in Tokyo last millenium, a lot of the Japanese Shakespeareans were interested in making the connection, and quoting Gaunt-san from Richard II as applying as well to Japan. And I think the connection, the insular sense of an insular culture able to govern itself on its own terms and mainly struggling with internal rather than external threats, or at least an appeal to a kind of nostalgia for those times, is behind Kurasawa's Shakespeareana.

There may be a way that one kind of imperial ambition flows from that sense (he typed, historicizing wildly): the idea that the world could be governed like an island as well. Prospero, Crusoe, Queen, Shogun, and Emperor, all dealing with internal struggles as the sun rises or never sets on their island home.

OTOH, when I went to a conference in Cyprus, that was all about Othello: Cyprus = England; the Turkish Fleet = the Armada. Me, I think there's so much Shakespeare done in Manhattan because it's an island under relentless attack from the ridiculous continentals to its west.

I saw a Japanese inflected production of the Scottish play some years back (think Seven Samurai meets Macbeth) which worked a lot better than you'd think it might do.

I did too! In Lennox, MA. At the Berkshire Theatre Company. In fact, I was the dramaturge for that production, and it did work.

Also in Slings and Arrows the wonderful scene of the elementary school production of Mackers has an operatic Madam Butterfly/kabuki moment in it, blood represented by the pulling out of a long red ribbon from (iirc) young Macduff or maybe Banquo.

The beauty of Macbeth is that it can be read so many ways.

My other half's a Scot and a mediaevalist and always claims that the historical Macbeth was framed! :o)

Any connection to Throne of Blood?

Not directly, but plainly that's the the way the director was thinking. If my memory serves, it was an RSC production.

Wild historicizing is always welcome in this blog. Mind you, I buy the Japanese analogies more easily than the Cypriot ones, because if Cyprus = England and the Turkish Fleet = the Armada, what's Venice? If we want to go down that road, a better fit might be: Venice = England, Turkish Fleet = the Armada, Cyprus = Ireland, Othello = Lord Grey de Wilton.

the animism of rival brooks

I meant to mention that I groaned appreciatively before, but I hope you took that as read.

Well-dressing has survived, and that's always seemed animistic to me. So has tying rags on trees to make a wish.

Yes, that's true - and I think there are other examples. But while such traditions exist here, they've been slightly hidden; or if they've shown their heads (as with well-dressing) it's been at the price of losing the explicit association with animism. Certainly, animism has never been recognized as a major faith tradition in the UK, and the structures don't exist that would allow it to be.

On the other hand, establishment recognition and adoption as a state religion brings its own problems, as the 20th century history of Shinto demonstrates.

Um, from the point of view of this monotheist Jew, England is profoundly animist with long traditions of hobs, fairy circles, brownies, leaving milk out etc etc, etc.

True, though many such beings - where they couldn't be stamped out entirely - were accommodated to a Christian worldview (e.g. with the idea of them as fallen spirits, implicit in the tithe to hell) that effectively robbed them of their animistic aspect. Belief in them - and perhaps especially animistic belief - has for many centuries been seen within mainstream British culture as the preserve of the credulous and/or uneducated, and even today it's hard to imagine animistic beliefs gaining the same kind of establishment credentials as Christianity or even Judaism (e.g. national holidays, seats in the House of Lords). That's what Shinto has in Japan.

I'm never well-dressed.

Oh, wait.

I did not know about that!

Explains a lot, maybe, about this poem.

A fondness for gardens and near-worship of tea?

And on the subject of animism, what about green man figures in medieval churches?

Oh, I meant to mention the tea! Ironically, I'm slurping a cup of the green stuff even as I write this. It's not just a fondness for the drink, either, it's the turning it into a ceremony too.

Best china. Best silver. And never inviting back the guest who does things in the wrong order.

Honour, strict codes, family, and the stiff upper lip. The military, a tradition of never letting your emotions show, a naval heritage, an empire built on both trade and aggression, a devotion to tea. A tendency for a laddish culture that binge drinks in heroic proportions... men with weird views of sex.

Yes, yes, and yes. The Fluellen in me is thoroughly convinced by now!

The bulk of the initial Westernization of Japan came from influence from Britain, with Germany coming second* and America and France running behind. In the 20th century, especially, the pole of influence switched to America, but Japanese still uses British (non-rhotic) pronunciations for loan-words. As such, there's a certain amount of cultural fascination with 19th century Britain. (See also maid cafes.)

* This shows up in, for example, in the amount of medical jargon borrowed from German.


Interesting. Is that why they also drive on the correct (I will not say right) side of the road?

All of this may go some way to explaining why we have a Canadian Japanese friend (now a naturalised Brit) who does morris dancing and plays the melodeon! :o)

I suspect that's why, but have no citations for the matter. For all I know, it could be Buddhist influence predating westernization.


Isn't it because they're an island nation, hence no trouble at border crossings?

It's true that a lot of left-driving nations are islands: Australia, Japan, UK, Ireland, Indonesia, etc. But then quite a few aren't: Pakistan, India, South Africa, Zimbabwe, etc. All of those except Japan and Indonesia were under British rule, of course.