4.2 Different generations have different views on the value of silence: a poem

Sachiko: Let me give you another example about how silence was prized a few decades ago. Let me quote the opening lines of “Ame nimo makezu雨ニモマケズ” by Kenji Miyazawa宮沢 賢治 that you quoted in full in chapter 13(page 188):

Not defeated by the rain

Not defeated by the wind

With a strong body to fight against the snow

And the heat of summer

Not greedy

Not angry at anyone

Always gently smiling

Eat four cups of brown rice and miso daily

With some vegetables

Put others before yourself

Listen well and understand

Not forgetful

This poem, describing an ideal person, played a crucial role in shaping the mindset of the Japanese as it was published in most school text books from 1947 until 1972. All Japanese born until the beginning of the 1960’s had to learn it by heart. I learned this poem at school too! I have also taught it to my students when I was an elementary school teacher and later also to my sons Daisuke and Kosuke. Recently, I got to know that this poem was actually found among Miyazawa’s notes after his death, maybe he did not mean to publish it… I found this information in an academic paper by Jisuke Kubota 久保田 治助 and Yoko Kimura木村 陽子 of Kagoshima University鹿児島大学, where the authors write:  “As a standard teaching material for junior high school in Japanese language textbooks, ‘Ame nimo makezu’ continued to have an influence for a long time from immediately after the defeat to the mid-1960s. ” Today the poem is still very well-known, although it is no longer so widely published on the textbooks. Also, the teachers that were born in the late 1950s and early 1960s are now retiring… I wonder what will happen in the future, perhaps the younger generations will not perceive the value of silence as we did. I anticipate that the number of Japanese people who are “Not greedy”, “Not angry at anyone”, “Always gently smiling”, “Put others before yourself [themselves]”, “Listen well and understand” will decrease… I am afraid these cultural values might be lost in the future…

Scott: It starts in your family when you teach your children values. And of course the school has to work with the family, the school has to support those values. I mean, part of the problem – I don’t want to sound old-fashioned, but… – is the internet with Youtube or TikTok or all the others, and the message that these different media sites give is not necessarily a positive one, it’s hypersexual, there is not communication, it is a little bit vulgar, so it is a challenge to educate your children to have good values. I mean, it has always been a challenge but it is a little bit more difficult now because a lot of parents allow their children to go on the Internet on a very young age and they do not put restrictions, so they can see pornography, they can see all kinds of things. The challenge is to have families and schools balance that, I mean, even if you as a parent say: “I am not going to let my son watch that” your son goes to his friend’s house and he watches it there. We have to recognize that our children are being exposed to these things and think how to balance that, how to challenge those things. It’s not going to go away. But I think it’s a good idea to be worried. I agree with worrying about it, because if we don’t worry about it, we won’t do something. We have to be concerned, because then we will act. But if we say: “There is no big deal”, or “It doesn’t matter”, then it’s going to take over.

Sachiko: The generation gap…

Scott: …Yes, but I think my generation was a challenge also, I think every generation presents challenges but my parents in general had good values and that helped a lot. On a very specific level I was always taught to treat everybody with respect, everybody. If there was a person homeless on the street, I was supposed to talk to that person with respect. Everybody. And that is not a small thing, you know. And we were not allowed to watch television, we were not allowed to be rude to our parents, so you can do it, I mean every generation… you are supposed to challenge your parents but you have to be respectful.

Sachiko: Scott, we may lose the silence in the future. The question is about how do we transmit these values, how do we teach our children, and how traditional values need to be adjusted to the changing reality… What do you think of my worry? You seem to be much more optimistic than me… let me quote another passage:

I especially love the silence and how it is used to communicate far more than words. We have a lot to learn from Japan about the choice to remain silent, especially when faced with adversity, and how it’s a way to demonstrate acceptance. Silence can and ought to be a position taken to observe and listen and establish intimacy. Silence is also a way to establish social authority through restraint and self-control, a way to show you do not have to react to provocation, and a sign that you are thinking things through rather than relying on your emotions for decision making. (page 117)

Scott: As long as it’s an available option, people will always resort to silence in any number of situations.  In fact, I think it’s becoming more popular: silent cars on trains, the growth of meditation, yoga is now normal everywhere…  I think people crave silence.