SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English
CHIAN Hsun-y “What I got from ‘Comparison’”
My life was a stream headed North. I was born in Nantou (南投)County in Taiwan. Nantou County is the only county that has no sea. It locates in the center of Taiwan and has a famous tourist spot “Sun Moon Lake (日月潭)”. Except for such tourist spots, it is not bustling and there is an image of the countryside. I enjoyed my childhood in Caotun (草屯), and moved to Taichung (台中) to go to a prestigious junior high school and high school. I went to an elite university in Taipei (台北). I headed for the North and urbanity. I am now in another further northern island country and living in the international big city Tokyo.
I do not forget a day when I was impressed with snow in Tokyo for the first time in my life. I used a humidifier for the first time because I felt an occurrence strongly of various health problems like skin drying when the temperature becomes low. I was surprised at the length of the night also when the sun sets at 16:30 in winter. When I encounter people who came from many countries, using complicated railway networks which seem to be a labyrinth of a different world, I realized that I am living in a big city.
The subject of my research is a Confucian scholar Ogyu Sorai (荻生徂徠) in Edo Period. He was ejected from Edo (Tokyo) and spent his teens and early twenties living in Nanso Town (midlands of Chiba Prefecture). After returning to Edo in the latter half of twenties, he was enlightened to be in a situation surrounded by “enclosed districts (廓)”. He compared his “Experience in Nanso” with thriving Edo in his front. And he concluded that the influence on the people by “ customs (風俗) is big. Because their insight comes from the environment in which they are living, and their own experience. As a result, he emphasized the importance of their ability to understand “native customs” relatively apart from their present “enclosed districts”.
As I have changed the living places, I could acknowledge the difference between “native customs” and the limitation of “closed districts”. Though various information is flowing freely and quickly now, people’s ways of living and interests are different. Needless to say, there is a big difference in culture and concept of value once they cross borders.
Before I came to Japan, I had a simple impression of Japan. I shared the Taiwanese common images of Japan like “foods are salty” and “people are polite” etc. Although these conclusions are not wrong, the complexities of Japanese culture are summarized in a very rough style. “Salty” may be applied to ‘Ramen’ or ‘ton-katsu (pork cutlets). Japanese home cooking is relatively lighter seasoning than that of Taiwan. I think traditional Japanese cuisine does not pursue heavy seasoning. As to Japanese politeness, they keep a certain distance in human relations. Sometimes, I feel the difference between their principles and real intentions.
Through my living in Japan for years associating with a lot of Japanese friends, I understand now that we cannot comprehend “the others” simply. And, at the same time, I feel I could comprehend various phenomena in “ourselves”. For example, when Japanese friends asked me “what are the characteristics of Taiwan foods?”, I noticed the meaning of this question for the first time. My conclusion was “Taiwan foods are sweet”. We can see discourteous behaviors often in Taiwan. But I think it comes from an atmosphere that does not pursue “conformity” with humane societies.
The purpose of comparison of “ourselves” and “the others” is not a judgment of their superiority or inferiority. Based on the understanding of the actual situation of “ourselves and the others”, to understand the others, we speculate “the others” by our features. And, to acknowledge ourselves, we contrast ourselves from the features of others. Through such understanding, we can relativize “the others and ourselves” and release both from “enclosed districts”. As I changed my living places very often, such understanding is very beneficial for me and useful for my comparative study of the history of thoughts also.
CHIANG Hsun-yi /2021 Raccoon, Studying at ph. D course in Humanities and Sociology at the University of Tokyo
Translated by Kazuo Kawamura
English checked by Sabina Koirala