Green Tea Among Snow-Covered Mountains

Twenty years ago, I lived in a small town in the mountains of central Japan, where, through a nationally-administered educational program called JET, I was employed teaching English in the local middle school. I was in my mid-20s, and off on a great exotic adventure – a romantic one too, as through some luck and ingenuity I had managed to find a way to bring with me a certain young lady of whom I was quite fond. It was not only my first time living in a foreign land, but, as a child of the Great American Suburbs, also my first time living in the countryside anywhere. It was, as small towns tend to be, the sort of place where not only does everybody know everybody, but everybody is vaguely related to everybody as well – there were a handful of local surnames that I’d guess between them hung on about three-quarters of the people there. The local barber had, in his younger days, been a sailor on a a cargo ship and had come home with a Filipina wife, but other than her, my young lady and I were the only non-Japanese there. As one can imagine, we made quite an impression on the place, as it did also on us.

Japanese schools work differently from American schools in a few important ways. Among them is that in America, students shuttle around between classrooms all day, while in Japan, students stay at the same desk while, every class period, different teachers come in for each of their various classes. This is why there are no lockers in Japanese schools – students there simply keep everything at the desk at which they sit all day, every day. It is also why the common American phenomenon of a teacher taking over a certain classroom as their own personal fiefdom and storing all of their stuff in its desk never happens in Japan. Because of this, teachers in Japan spend a lot more time at their desks in the staff room, which is where they come between classes and during periods in which they have nothing scheduled, to grade papers, plan lessons, or relax a bit.

My own desk in the staff room was nose-to-nose with that of Yukari-san, the school’s office lady. Office lady (OL for short) is a job that doesn’t exist in America, or even in the West as a whole, but is a fixture of Asian business settings. It is, in truth, a job that the egalitarian feminist sentiments of the modern West would not permit to exist here. The function of OLs is simply to make the office comfortable and comforting. Yes, they often do some minor functional tasks like making copies or shuttling papers from one office to the next. But the main things that they do during their workdays are to make tea (oh, the endless cups of tea consumed in Japanese offices!), to ensure that the electric hot water kettles that office workers use for instant ramen consumed at their desks are full, to offer cookies and snacks to those too busy even for ramen, to greet guests, to be pleasant, to look nice. Most of them are attractive young women who are expected to, and do, quit after a few years when they get married. Most, in corporate settings, wear smart-looking uniforms – universally featuring skirts, not pants – and pretty but businesslike high heels. They make offices – in which Japanese workers spend far more time than their American counterparts – a more warm and welcoming place.

Yukari-san was not in her 20s, and though she had obviously been quite pretty in her younger days, age and care had faded her looks. She wore no uniform, but came to work in the nicest clothes that her modest circumstances would allow. Hers was not the “Pretty Young Thing” approach to making the office a brighter place, but a motherly one. Quite literally, in fact, as two of her three daughters were students at the middle school (the third and oldest had just moved on to high school, which, as is common in the countryside, was farther off and shared by two or three nearby towns). She had been a widow about ten years, her husband having been killed in a wintertime wreck on one of the twisty, narrow roads that led out to the highway. She had never graduated high school, had no marketable skills, and after the accident had been left with three young children and enough money from savings and life insurance to get by for perhaps a few months.

In a small place like that, word gets around fast. The town, as a whole, made up its mind to do something to help her. Meetings were held at town hall. The mayor got involved. It was decided that a job would be found for her, marketable skills or not. Budgets were adjusted, and a modest sum per year was come up with. The Board of Education was consulted; suddenly there was an opening for an OL at the middle school, and only one candidate was ever considered for it.

In the West, the answer would have been to send Yukari-san to the welfare office, and to hurl her into the void of those who become lifetime wards of the system. She would be left to shuffle through the dehumanizing bureaucracy of the welfare state, filling out forms in dreary government offices, and then to return home to sit on the couch in front of a television set, getting fat on EBT-provided, high fructose corn syrup-laden junk foods, until diabetes or hypertension took her to an early grave. Or perhaps, as has become so common in America, someone would clue her in on how to get an easy prescription for opioid painkillers, and they would slowly consume her until, inevitably – by choice or by accident – the inevitable happened. But that is not how small-town Japan works. They find a way to take care of their own, and not just by giving them free processed junk food and a shabby Section 8 apartment. They came up with a way for Yukari-san to continue to be a useful member of the community, to have a purpose in life, to have a reason to get off the couch, to have pride in every bit of money that she was paid.

For Yukari-san, the job was perfect. She wasn’t well-educated, but she could make tea and snacks and photocopies and she could keep electric kettles full. The position allowed her to keep an eye on her daughters – the elementary school and the middle school were separated only by their shared baseball field, which meant that she would be near them all the way from when they began kindergarten to when they were teenagers headed off to high school. The pay was not lavish, but for getting by in a small town it was adequate, and since the staff in Japanese schools eat the same meals that students do, a few meals a week for both herself and her daughters were had at no charge. And most important of all, she could hold her head high with self-respect and say that she earned her keep.

Was that really quite true? Was the service she provided worth what the town was paying her in cold economic terms? Most certainly not. But despite the protestations of Ayn Rand, not all societal good is measurable that way. Was it cruel to make her work for her money instead of simply handing it to her and asking for nothing in return? Bleeding hearts would insist that it was, but it never seemed that Yukari-san felt that way. She didn’t feel demeaned – either by feminist sensibilities telling her that the job was beneath her or by a sense of entitlement telling her that she was owed something for nothing. She was only grateful that her community had found a way to take care of her, and she was equally grateful that she could contribute something back to it.

And as for me, I was simply happy to have a hot cup of green tea waiting for me whenever I came back from teaching a class. To this day, I can’t drink any without thinking of Yukari-san. The memories – of looking out at snow-covered mountains beyond the school windows while warming my hands over a steaming cup – are faded, but surrounded by a glow of distant happiness. By helping to create them, Yukari-san added something of value to my life that I feel even all these years later, in ways that are beyond the capability of economists to quantify.

And, though she was never a teacher, she did manage to provide me with a lesson in how a community can best take care of its needy.

Advertisements

A Traditionalist Constitution

What would the constitution of a Traditionalist state look like? A good example might be illustrated by the “Shotoku Constitution” of early-medieval Japan. Written by Prince Shotoku, who lived from 574-622AD, the seventeen-article Constitution took effect in April of 604. Many Japanese scholars believe it to be the basis of the entire Japanese worldview, even today. Here it is, in its entirety:

Article One: Harmony should be valued and quarrels should be avoided. Everyone has his biases, and few men are far-sighted. Therefore some disobey their lords and fathers and keep up feuds with their neighbors. But when the superiors are in harmony with each other and the inferiors are friendly, then affairs are discussed quietly and the right view of matters prevails.

Article Two: The three treasures, which are Buddha, the (Buddhist) Law and the (Buddhist) Priesthood; should be given sincere reverence, for they are the final refuge of all living things. Few men are so bad that they cannot be taught their truth.

Article Three: Do not fail to obey the commands of your Sovereign. He is like Heaven, which is above the Earth, and the vassal is like the Earth, which bears up Heaven. When Heaven and Earth are properly in place, the four seasons follow their course and all is well in Nature. But if the Earth attempts to take the place of Heaven, Heaven would simply fall in ruin. That is why the vassal listens when the lord speaks, and the inferior obeys when the superior acts. Consequently when you receive the commands of your Sovereign, do not fail to carry them out or ruin will be the natural result.

Article Four: The Ministers and officials of the state should make proper behavior their first principle, for if the superiors do not behave properly, the inferiors are disorderly; if inferiors behave improperly, offenses will naturally result. Therefore when lord and vassal behave with propriety, the distinctions of rank are not confused; when the people behave properly the Government will be in good order.

Article Five: Deal impartially with the legal complaints which are submitted to you. If the man who is to decide suits at law makes gain his motive, and hears cases with a view to receiving bribes, then the suits of the rich man will be like a stone flung into water, meeting no resistance, while the complaints of the poor will be like water thrown upon a stone. In these circumstances the poor man will not know where to go, nor will he behave as he should.

Article Six: Punish the evil and reward the good. This was the excellent rule of antiquity. Therefore do not hide the good qualities of others or fail to correct what is wrong when you see it. Flatterers and deceivers are a sharp weapon for the overthrow of the state, and a sharp sword for the destruction of the people. Men of this kind are never loyal to their lord, or to the people. All this is a source of serious civil disturbances.

Article Seven: Every man has his own work. Do not let the spheres of duty be confused. When wise men are entrusted with office, the sound of praise arises. If corrupt men hold office, disasters and tumult multiply. In all things, whether great or small, find the right man and they will be well managed. Therefore the wise sovereigns of antiquity sought the man to fill the office, and not the office to suit the man. If this is done the state will be lasting and the realm will be free from danger.

Article Eight: Ministers and officials should attend the Court early in the morning and retire late, for the whole day is hardly enough for the accomplishment of state business. If one is late in attending Court, emergencies cannot be met; if officials retire early, the work cannot be completed.

Article Nine: Good faith is the foundation of right. In everything let there be good faith, for if the lord and the vassal keep faith with one another, what cannot be accomplished? If the lord and the vassal do not keep faith with each other, everything will end in failure.

Article Ten: Let us control ourselves and not be resentful when others disagree with us, for all men have hearts and each heart has its own leanings. The right of others is our wrong, and our right is their wrong. We are not unquestionably sages, nor are they unquestionably fools. Both of us are simply ordinary men. How can anyone lay down a rule by which to distinguish right from wrong? For we are all wise sometimes and foolish at others. Therefore, though others give way to anger, let us on the contrary dread our own faults, and though we may think we alone are in the right, let us follow the majority and act like them.

Article Eleven: Know the difference between merit and demerit, and deal out to each its reward and punishment. In these days, reward does not always follow merit, or punishment follow crime. You high officials who have charge of public affairs, make it your business to give clear rewards and punishments.

Article Twelve: Do not let the local nobility levy taxes on the people. There cannot be two lords in a country; the people cannot have two masters. The sovereign is the sole master of the people of the whole realm, and the officials that he appoints are all his subjects. How can they presume to levy taxes on the people?

Article Thirteen: All people entrusted with office should attend equally to their duties. Their work may sometimes be interrupted due to illness or their being sent on missions. But whenever they are able to attend to business they should do so as if they knew what it was about and not obstruct public affairs on the grounds they are not personally familiar with them.

Article Fourteen: Do not be envious! For if we envy others, then they in turn will envy us. The evils of envy know no limit. If others surpass us in intelligence, we are not pleased; if they are more able, we are envious. But if we do not find wise men and sages, how shall the realm be governed?

Article Fifteen: To subordinate private interests to the public good – that is the path of a vassal. Now if a man is influenced by private motives, he will be resentful, and if he is influenced by resentment he will fail to act harmoniously with others. If he fails to act harmoniously with others, the public interest will suffer. Resentment interferes with order and is subversive of law.

Article Sixteen: Employ the people in forced labor at seasonable times. This is an ancient and excellent rule. Employ them in the winter months when they are at leisure, but not from Spring to Autumn, when they are busy with agriculture or with the mulberry trees (the leaves of which are fed to silkworms). For if they do not attend to agriculture, what will there be to eat? If they do not attend to the mulberry trees, what will there be for clothing?

Article Seventeen: Decisions on important matters should not be made by one person alone. They should be discussed with many people. Small matters are of less consequence and it is unnecessary to consult a number of people. It is only in the case of important affairs, when there is a suspicion that they may miscarry, that one should consult with others, so as to arrive at the right conclusion.

*   *   *

What are the differences between this and, say, the United States Constitution? The first obvious one is that it is wisdom-based instead of legalism-based. This makes it a “positive” constitution instead of a “negative” one. This I mean in the same way as the rhetorician Richard M. Weaver, when he once noted that the U.S. Constitution is “primarily a negative document in the sense that it consists of prohibitions and restraints imposed upon the authority of the state”. It is orderly and spiritual, both in the usual senses of those terms, and also as Evola used them – it appeals to the Mandate of Heaven, to the divine and natural order of the universe as the basis for regulating human affairs. It teaches; it attempts to instill wisdom and virtue in leaders and, by the example of these wise and virtuous leaders, also in commoners. And yet even more than that, by the very practice of trying to pass on wisdom, it provides the basis for a culture, a worldview, a national soul that can endure through the generations. It is unmistakably non-egalitarian, yet it both is sympathetic to and inclusive of the needs and interests of commoners, and also proscribes idleness and corruption among nobles. It is humane (except for the part about forced labor, which unfortunately was, humane or not, a basically universal institution in the pre-industrial world); it is understanding of human faults without being approving of them. It weaves in the traditional faith of the state and the people without being outright theocratic. And it is straightforward and easy to understand, with no tricks or doublespeak to it.

A great deal of the path I have traveled in life to gaining whatever wisdom I now have has involved learning that there were other ways to approach the issues of life than the ones I had always known. If you are a product of the modern world, then – especially if you are a westerner, and even more especially if you are an American – read this, and consider the ways in which there are other approaches to crafting the constitutions which serve as the bases of societies and their laws.

Someday – perhaps sooner than you think – this may be important.