Ancient Greece in Present Japan, Mariko Sakurai, Emeritus Professor at the University of Tokyo, Japan (click on the grey area to download and read the PowerPoint presentation)
“1) I sometimes asked to the students in my classes, “tell me about whatever you know about ancient Greece?”. Many students answered that they knew or they were interested in Greek myths. The Greek myths are very popular among the Japanese people, young and old, and many of them are familiar with Homer’s epics as well as Greek myths. The native religion in Japan is Shinto, which is a type of polytheish. So, some of the ancient Greek gods seem familiar to the Japanese. Some traditional ways of life based on Shinto has been kept among ordinary people, and Lafcadio Hearn seemed to get interested in the. I can tell it in his works such as Kwaidan published in 1904. He was born in Lefcada, Greece in 1850, and died in Japan in 1904 as a Japanese. His origin might have made him comfortable to live in Japan.
2) Christianity was introduced into Japan in the sixteenth century by the Jesuit missionaries. They brought the Aesop’s Fables with them. Since then the Fables has been published in various translations until today, and are still very popular among the Japanese. This popularity might have some roots in the Scrolls of Animal Cricatures attributed to Toba Sojo nobleman-priest (1053-1140). Some say that the caricature is the oldest Japanese Manga (animation). The popularity of the Aesop’s Fables in Japan, the active production of animation Manga magazines and films, and the Animal Caricatures might have the common roots.
3) Homer’s epics, Ilias and Odysseia have been loved by many Japanese. The Tale of Genji is a long novel of 54 chapters, and is called the oldest novel in the world literature.
Lit is often said to be the oldest novel in the world comparable to Homer’s epics.
4) Japan became a modernized state in the late nineteenth centure, which is called the Meiji Restoration of 1868. In modernized Japan, the intellectuals were influenced by the philhellenism which was among the European intellectuals in 19th centurey. The knowledge on ancient Greek culture made it possible for the Japanese to get the ddep understanding of the Western culture, deep enough to success in being westernized and industrialized. But some writers of the younger generation who were born after the end of WWII have been interested in ancient Greece and Greek culture not through the philhellenism of Europe but through their own experience of encountering ancient Greece by living or visiting Greece, for example, Natsuki Ikezawa and Haruki Murakami. The phenomenon that the films of Theo Angelopoulos are very popular in Japan, as well as the plays of the Greek tragedies are favoured by the young people may be explained in this way.”
The lecture was given on March 27th, 2008 at the “Ioannes Drakopoulos” Amphitheatre, at the Main Building of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. It was an initiative of Professor of Prehistoric and Environmental Archaeology Lilian Karali under the auspices of the Department of Archaeology and History of Art of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.
Ancient Greece in Present Japan October 4, 2008
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