23 Marzo 2011

Interview with professor Ohashi Ryosuke/2

Kyoto school, Zen tradition, and the comparison with the West

Ohashi Ryosuke is Professor in Philosophy at Osaka University, holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the Ludwig-Maximilians University München.

He received his Phil. Habil (Habilitation) from Würzburg University 1983 - as the first Japanese in Philosophy.



Franco Bertossa is the Director of the ASIA Study Center (Bologna, Italy), Buddhist Meditation and Martial Arts Master, interested in intercultural dialogs between West and Est.


Japanese Translation: dr. Enrico Fongaro. English translation: dr. Manuela Ritte 

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

FB: A survey about the Zen exponents' role for Japan's  entry into war, caused a sensation. Which was in reality the weight of such thinking for the events of the IInd World War?

OR: Yes, I know the book which you are referring to. It is a topic which I didn't tackle in this seminar, but also regarding the Kyoto School there is an open question about the collaboration of the Kyoto philosophers with the military regime. About two years ago I published a book in Japan about this subject, because I had found a note-book which has thrown new light on the fact of how to interpret the position of the philosophers of Kyoto. It's a note-book which belonged to a certain Oshima who was at that time assistant at Kyoto. From the beginning of the War until the end the Kyoto philosophers held regular secret meetings with members of the Navy. These meetings were secret because the Navy was hostile towards the Japanese government which was controlled by the military.

In those meetings they tackled the reasons of such a diversity of positions, they tried to analyse the state of the conflict, the geopolitical conditions of that time.
In other words, they were against the extension of the conflict which was supported by the government and, at that time, it would have been a great risk if they had been discovered. It was therefore an anti institutional movement inside the institutions of that time. In order to take part in those meetings you had to risk your life. Many Buddhists on the other hand, in contrast with the Kyoto philosophers, collaborated from the very beginning and without doubt together with the nationalistic and military regime. I think that this depended on the fact that they didn't have a philosophical vision of their time.


FB: European philosophy is the child  of logos and idea. A Westerner is moving inside thinking through representation, concept and logic. What is the axis around which the Japanese philosophical thinking is articulated and what could be the ground for a confrontation between these two ways of thinking?

OR: First of all I think that you could answer like that: the philosophy of the Kyoto School, being "philosophy", has got a common element with Western philosophy and it has to have it. However the discussion between the Kyoto philosophers  and the Western philosophers could be like, it always happens inside the only frame which is philosophy. When thinkers of the Kyoto School confront each other with Plato, Aristotle, Heidegger or Hegel they are always moving at a philosophical level. Therefore the axis around which all these discussions move is surely logos. For example at the beginning Nishitani Keiji devoted himself to interpreting Aristotle and after that he was interested in German mysticism. He was  also interested in the thinking of Kant and Hegel,  Heidegger and Husserl, that means that the Kyoto "philosophers" confronted each other with  Western "philosophy". In this sense, as I said,  the axis is logos.

But now I was talking about a "frame" which is philosophy. For the Kyoto-thinkers outside of this frame there is a ground, there is a landscape and a sky which are completely different. This means that the philosophical frame touches something inside them which is outside the frame and which has a completely different nature. But if you are aware that outside the frame there is something of a completely different nature, the meaning of the frame itself can be disputed. I think that, in the case of Europe, the "outside" of the frame has been the Christian faith. In the case of the philosophy of the Kyoto School it was on the contrary Zen or Buddhism. For example we are now in this room and nearby along the corridor there are many other similar rooms. In this room the light of the landscape which extends outside, is coming in through the window. If the landscape outside were  different, let's say a mountain or the sea instead of these hills, the room would be the same, but the kind of light, the sounds entering through the window would be completely different. Now, if we imagine that this room in which we are is philosophy, we can talk to each other through the common logos, but according to what is outside the room, evening or morning, Italy or Japan, desert or mountains, I think that it will change the meaning  and the context of the dialogue which happens through the common logos.


FB: Our era is characterized  by  the necessity of an intercultural dialogue. Do you think that globalization is  favouring  or on the other hand hindering  such a dialogue?

OR: I think that the term inter culture is born parallely to the term "globalisation".

I myself have for more than ten years been vice-president of the Association of Intercultural Philosophy and I have noticed an interesting fact. The term inter culture was created and diffused  particularly in Europe, while in the United States the term "cross culture" [crossed cultures] is more diffused. But we have to be careful because interculture and cross culture differ in their meaning.

Inside globalisation the distance which distinguished different cultures has shrunk and a structure in which cultures introduce themselves one into the other was created. We can say that in the United States it is as if under a single wide roof which are the United States itself  a variety of different cultures "cross" each other. I think that the term cross culture should be understood in that sense. On the contrary in Europe's case a similar single roof doesn't exist and there's a structure in which various nations are in a reciprocal relationship. So there's not a crossing of cultures under a single roof, but several independent cultures penetrate each other and a dialogue arises, you can feel the necessity of a dialogue even if sometimes there are frictions and conflicts. I think that it is a structure of that type. 

Therefore on one hand globalisation makes the intercultural dialogue possible, but on the other hand it happens that some nations introduce themselves too deeply inside others, they encounter each other too directly at an economic level and so a dialogue becomes impossible. I think that both things happen at the same time: globalisation is promoting dialogue and sometimes is making it impossible.


FB: Professor Ohashi, how is the meeting- encounter between civilisations, for example between West and Islam or also between West on one side and China and Japan on the other seen by a Japanese philosopher?

OR: We can distinguish between encounter and meet if my feeling of the words is correct. In the case of meet you can understand meeting as being together in a place, while in the case of encounter  en-counter emphasizes  the "counter".

So there are cases in which there is a meeting, because people are just together in a place and other cases where there's an en-counter, a counter-stroke, a contraposition. Of course an en-counter can happen and happens at various different levels, in various different ways.  For example the en-counter between Islam and Christianity happens on the level of religion or at least was rising at the beginning on the level of religions and then became an en-counter that was moving at the level of territories, of cultures. On the contrary the en-counter between East and West, for the very reason that Islam and Christianity could be considered as East and West broadly speaking, does change according to what we understand as "East". The en-counters between China and West or between Japan and West are different from each other. Therefore also the way of being of the "counter" changes from case to case.

The question you put started with "how does a philosopher consider" all this? I'm neither a historian nor an economist, so as a philosopher or at the level of philosophy, how do I consider all this? Was this the sense of your question?


FB: How did you encounter philosophy?

OR: I have also been talking about this in other interviews. Since I was little I have had some questions, questions which have tormented me and I didn't know who I could ask for an answer. In my second year of high-school, while skimming by chance through a dictionary, I ran across Heidegger's name who was defined as the "Author of Being and Time". It was a great surprise. Until that moment no teacher of any subject had discussed the question of the problem of being and of time and, even if questioned, nobody could give me an answer. I became petrified when I discovered that there was someone who had written a book precisely on those topics I cared so much about from the beginning of my childhood. Therefore I immediately went to a bookshop and bought a Japanese translation of Being and Time. I read it and didn't understand anything. But  by then my interest in Heidegger had started and so I decided to study philosophy at University.


FB: Professor Ohashi, you have  mentioned Heidegger. Heidegger himself has had many Japanese students. Is it true that Nishida, the founder of modern Japanese philosophy and of the Kyoto School suggested to his students to become Heidegger's  students? Did you ever meet Heidegger?

OR: Nishida has never gone to Germany or to any foreign country. One of Nishida's colleagues, Tanabe Hajime was the first to become one of Heidegger 's students in Germany. Being and Time was published in 1927, but already in 1924 Tanabe had written in Japanese about Heidegger in the essay A new turn in Phenomenology. Therefore even still before Heidegger became well-known thanks to Being and Time in Japan there already existed an essay about Heidegger's Phenomenology. It was one of the first or maybe really the first essay which was ever written about Heidegger. After Tanabe, many other Kyoto- thinkers went to study in Germany.

I think that this depended not so much on Nishida's suggestion but on the fact that all of Nishida's colleagues and students were approaching philosophy by studying in the first place German philosophy, so it was obvious that they would go to study in Germany with Neokantian Rickert or with Husserl or Heidegger. It was more than a suggestion by Nishida, it was something that rose from the condition of the philosophy of that time.

I had the possibility of meeting Heidegger personally only once, it was in 1969, after the celebration of his eightieth birthday. When my professor took me to Heidegger, I had just graduated with a thesis about Heidegger. 


FB: What kind of influence does philosophy have nowadays in the Japanese world? Do Japanese students still consider Europe as an important reference point for their cultural education? Do you sometimes  meet young Europeans in Japan? If yes, what are they looking for?

OR: Philosophy arrived in Japan at the beginning of the Meji era or of Japan's modernisation and  it entered into the Japanese world as something unknown, foreign. But as philosophy already has on its own an extremely universal nature, it had the possibility of immediately taking root in Japan. Therefore even today in Japan philosophy is considered an extremely important subject at university. Does European philosophy still make sense to young Japanese people, to their education? Or, in a even more general sense, does European culture still make sense to young Japanese people of today? This is a very serious question, because "globalisation" is according to its nature contemporarily also "Americanisation" and this Americanisation is also taking over Europe. At the level of thinking Americanisation means that tradition, European culture, which comes from the Greek one, is replaced by American technology and its way of thinking which becomes the unit of value of everyday life.

You can also notice the same trend in Japan. It's interesting to see that what happened in Europe immediately afterwards also happened in Japan. Specially with reference to philosophy, the condition of American or European philosophy immediately affects the Japanese one.

Therefore generally speaking, what meaning do European culture and European philosophy today have for young people? If this question is asked in Europe you have to understand what meaning European culture  has for young European people and the same thing is also valid for young Japanese people. In other words, we are in a situation in which it's not easy either to say that it makes sense or that it doesn't. As for the Europeans who come to study in Japan and the motivations which push them to come are probably in many cases different, I don't know.

But there is something I seem to notice every time: in many cases when Europeans come to Japan, they always come to learn something Japanese, something connected to tradition or to Japanese spirituality, I think it is something the young Japanese people of today have almost started to forget.

When young Europeans come to Japan to study something Japanese I can see that this fact is shaking those Japanese that they come in contact with. Young Europeans force young Japanese people to turn their eyes onto themselves: this type of dynamics is created every time. 

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3


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