What Americans Can Learn from Japanese Remakes of Ancient Greek Fables
| In the middle of the 16th century, Jesuit priests began evangelizing in Japan; however, in 1587, Christianity was deemed a national threat, and the welcome mat disappeared. Westerners were expelled from the country, and efforts were made to exterminate all Japanese Christians. Not surprisingly, the Bible and other Christian/Western literature were banned. There was, however, one exception to this harsh policy: Aesop's Fables. Although some stories were retained in their original form, others were adapted to better reflect Japanese values. The stories were then promulgated as Japanese folk tales. One example of a story that was modified is The Grasshopper and the Ants.
In the original story, the ants spend all summer stockpiling food while the grasshopper lazily chirps and makes music. When winter rolls around, the grasshopper knocks on the door of the industrious ants to ask for food. The ants respond by telling the music-making garden pest to go sing for his food and slamming the door in his face. The lesson being work hard, or else.
In his book, Confucius Lives Next Door, T.R. Reid notes that there is a lot of explicit "Or Else" in America. While Japan is full of no-parking, no-smoking, and no-entry signs, these commands are not followed up with the threats that punctuate these sorts of admonitions in the U.S., e.g. "Violators will be towed, fined, prosecuted, etc." Yes, they do tow cars and bikes in the Land of the Rising Sun, but the fact that there is a rule seems to be enough to persuade most folks.
In the Japanese version of the aforementioned fable, there is no grasshopper but rather a group of cicadas. In the summer months, the ants work hard gathering food, and the cicadas work hard playing music to encourage the ants. When winter comes, the cicadas knock on the door of the ants, and they all sit down together for a feast. The lesson being: all work has value, and if we all do our part and help each other, we will all be fine.
No, it is not perfect over here. Japan, like the U.S. and every other place I have ever been, has a lot to learn, but we might all learn a little faster if we listen to and value others.