I was discussing James Clavell’s Shogun with a friend. I have to confess here that I’ve never managed to read the book. I think the world of James Clavell, who was a Changi Prison survivor and a confirmed individualist who believed in Ayn Rand style independence. His books are wonderfully well-informed and have fascinating plots. And yet . . . . His writing style just doesn’t work for me. Much as I want to enjoy his books, I don’t. Every time I try, I end up abandoning the effort after a few chapters.
Nevertheless, since my friend was reading Shogun, I looked it up on Wikipedia and learned that it’s based on the life of a real Englishman, William Adams, who found himself shipwrecked in Japan at the very beginning of the 17th century, at a tumultuous time in Japan’s political history. One of the interesting things about William Adams is how completely he embraced Japan. He came to have the greatest respect for the culture, one based upon rigid social etiquette and one that was much cleaner than the Western world he’d left behind.
When I told my friend about this fact, my friend commented that Japan had a really great culture. I agreed, but I pointed out that, as a general rule, while rigid cultures ensure internal harmony, they tend to stultify creativity. The raucous, roiling, boiling, filthy, pushy Western world, while much less pleasant than the clean, organized Japanese world, was the one that drove exploration and innovation across the globe.
Am I on to something, or am I just letting my cultural chauvinism affect my thinking? And is it even fair to compare one little country (Japan) to the whole of Judeo-Christian European/American civilization?