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2 min.

Introduction to Japanese culture, an essay of mutual anthropology by Hisayasu Nakagawa.

Do not be spooked by the title! The text is short, enjoyable, and above all, extremely interesting for anyone who is attracted to Japan.

I first read it in early 2004 before the beginning of rehearsals of a diptych I was in charge of at the Paris Opera. It was “Gianni Schicchi” by Puccini and “L’Heure Espagnole” by Ravel, directed by Laurent Pelly and conducted by Seiji Ozawa, a mythical conductor me. Worshipping the Maestro, I thought the least was to learn something of its culture before meeting and working together. Then he came, saying “no Maestro, I’m Seiji,” and after a week, he had already squashed me on the tennis court twice …, but this is another story.

This text by Nakagawa does not illustrate Japan’s customs and traditions in a didactic way but rather reveals what distinguishes them and our civilization without appealing to cliché or position statements.

Introduzione alla cultura giapponeseIntroduzione alla cultura giapponese

Chapter after chapter, starting from anecdotes or generic insights, Professor Nakagawa highlights how small peculiarities of Japanese culture actually make the perception of the world and the ego extremely different from our own. For example, for a Japanese, “I” is always linked to the situation (I am the daughter of my parents, employer for my employees, mistress of my dog, etc., but I’m not simply myself regardless of what surrounds me). For the same reasons, in a simple ban, smoking, for example, will always be specified that it is due to respect for other people and not as a pure imposition. Our sign “no smoking” would be unacceptable in Japan.

The chapters also explain the non-exclusivity of personal religion, the idea of art, of truth, the conception of action and contemplation, and the Japanese gap between appearance and inner emotions and feelings.

On second thought, I do not recommend it only if Japan attracts you, but also if the world, in general, attracts you. If you’re curious and love what is different and determine other people and ideas is your priority.

The original version is in French, and the text has been translated into Italian, Japanese, and Spanish. I’m not sure if it’s available in English.

About Hisayasu Nakagawa, the author of Introduction to Japanese culture

Hisayasu Nakagawa was born in 1931 in Tokyo and is now an emeritus professor of French literature in Kyoto. A great specialist of Rousseau, Diderot, and the Enlightenment, he spent his life between Japan and France to understand the two cultures and philosophies.

I take this opportunity to recommend you also one of his other text:

Introduzione alla cultura giapponese

* The main photo is taken from 

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Silvia's Trips

Hi there! My name is Silvia and after 15 years between the Paris Opera and the Palau de les Arts in Valencia I now run a boutique hotel in Cinque Terre, deal with tourism management and blogging, sail, horse-ride, play guitar and write about my solo trips around the world. For more info about me and my travel blog check my full bio.