When George F Kennan was named director of the US State Department’s Policy Planning Staff (PPS) in 1947, he had little knowledge of, or interest in, the Far East. Kennan’s diplomatic experience was limited to Eastern and Central Europe and Russia. His influence in policy-making circles in Washington stemmed from his authorship of the “Long Telegram” from the US Embassy in Moscow in February 1946, and “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” in the journal Foreign Affairs (using the pseudonym “X”) in 1947.
Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (1886-1965) was a major Japanese author and a finalist for the 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature. A prestigious award, the Tanizaki Prize, was established to honor his contributions to Japanese literature. Many of his works have been adapted for film. So, it came as a surprise that one of his novels discovered in a collection of his works had never been translated.
It’s always been a pleasure to handle a Folio Society book, and having three of them at one time, all on Asian themes, was even better.
In one nightmarish vignette from his 1990 film Dreams the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa imagines how life might look and feel following a nuclear meltdown in Japan. With the breach of six nuclear reactors, Japan’s residents flee to the sea, where most of them eventually drown, leaving a handful of humans amidst a radioactive landscape of blackened earth and sky. The only other living organisms are immense mutant dandelions, whose weighty yellow flower heads tower over the human figures. Twenty-one years later, the imagined world of nuclear disaster became reality when the March 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami resulted in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear incident.
That there are over 800,000 ethnic Koreans living permanently in Japan, including fourth and fifth generation Korean-Japanese, is not well known outside of Asia. The historical details of how the Koreans came to live in Japan is both fascinating and tragic, mainly because of the conscript labor forced on Koreans during Japanese occupation of the peninsula beginning over 100 years ago and ending with World War II. Even less well known is the discrimination the Korean-Japanese face in their adopted, officially or not, country. Known in Japan as Zainichi (“resident of Japan”), the ethnic Koreans have been largely relegated to marginal occupations as were other minority groups in Japan. That is changing, but discrimination and hate still exist.
East is East, and West is West, but the twain did meet and influenced each other unpredictably. For instance, the post-colonial Asia encountered Christianity during its first interactions with the West. The fruit of such a meeting is the post-colonial religion that is practiced in different parts of the continent as Christianity. Jesus is a protagonist of the stories of transformation of thought and practice of the religion in Asia.
Now in her 10th decade, it would be understandable if Jan Morris could no longer cope with the amount of research she once so enjoyed. But she has not abandoned her craft. In her most recent work she has undertaken to memorialize the sinking of the Japanese battleship Yamato, a subject which she says has fascinated her since childhood.