Alex Kerr

It has often been pointed out that the Japanese educational system aims to produce a high average level of achievement for all, rather than excellence for a few. Students in school are not encouraged to stand out or ask questions, with the result that the Japanese become conditioned to a life of the average. Being average and boring here is the very essence of society, the factor which keeps the wheels of all those social systems turning so smoothly. It need hardly be said that this is one of the major drawbacks of Japanese life. However, in watching the pottery class at Oomoto, the weak points of the American educational system became evident as well. Americans are taught from childhood to show creativity. If you do not ‘become a unique person’, then you are led to believe you have something wrong with you. Such thinking becomes a stumbling block: for people brought up in that atmosphere, creating a simple tea bowl is a great hardship. This is the ‘poison’ to which David was referring. I sometimes think that the requirement to ‘be interesting’ inculcated by American education might be a very cruel thing. Since most of us lead commonplace lives, it is a foregone conclusion that we will be disappointed. But in Japan, people are conditioned to be satisfied with the average, so they can’t fail but be happy with their lots.

Japan is a hapax. You can try to approach it by comparing it to China and Southeast Asia, or you can read the voluminous literature on the subject of Japaneseness. But as Van der Loon used to warn his students, in the end you cannot understand a hapax – you will never really know what it means.

3 thoughts on “Alex Kerr

  1. shinichi Post author

    Lost Japan

    by Alex Kerr

    Why has pachinko swept Japan? It can hardly be the excitement of gambling, since the risks and rewards are so small. During the hours spent in front of a pachinko machine, there is an almost total lack of stimulation other than the occasional rush of ball bearings. There is no thought, no movement; you have no control over the flow of balls, apart from holding a little lever which shoots them up to the top of the machine; you sit there enveloped in a cloud of heavy cigarette smoke, semi-dazed by the racket of millions of ball bearings falling through machines around you. Pachinko verges on sensory deprivation. It is the ultimate mental numbing, the final victory of the educational system.


    Dogs and horses are difficult; demons and fascinating things are easy. The idea is that painting dogs and horses is difficult because they are so ordinary; demons and grotesque objects, on the other hand, are quite easily depicted.


    But Fushimi-inari is not one site to be viewed from one angle; it is an experience that you must pass through, like dreaming. At the entrance is an enormous cinnabar-red torii gate, and beyond that, an outdoor stage and main hall. Before the main hall are two large fox statues: one with its mouth open, the other holding a key in its teeth. (Foxes are considered to be magical creatures, with the ability to bewitch human beings.) Above the entrance is a banner with another symbol of Inari, a flaming jewel, which also represents occult power. Behind the main hall is a procession of several hundred red torii, lined up so close together that they make a tunnel. Most visitors walk through this row of gates, then return home feeling a little disappointed. But they have turned back at the entrance to the dreamworld.

  2. shinichi Post author

    by アレックス カー

    1. お城を探す (Looking for a Castle)
    2. 祖谷 (Iya Valley)
    3. 歌舞伎 (Kabuki)
    4. 美術コレクション (Art Collecting)
    5. 日本学と中国学 (China versus Japan)
    6. 筆で遊ぶ (Calligraphy)
    7. 天満宮に住む (Tenmangu)
    8. バブルの経験 (Trammell Crow)
    9. 僕の「関西七番巡り」 (Kyoto)
    10. 続「五番巡り」 (The Road to Nara)
    11. 奈良の奥山 (Outer Nara)
    12. 東西の文人たち (Osaka)
    13. 東南アジア (The Literati)
    14. 最後の光を見ることができた (Last Glimpse)

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