18 Marzo 2011

Interview with professor Ohashi Ryosuke/3

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: Young people in Europe live a great uneasiness caused by nihilism and relativism which followed the "Death of God". Which kind of values survive in young Japanese people? Does a young Japanese who is looking for himself turn to philosophy or to Zen today?

OR: Nishitani Keij who has been my real master wrote that the great majority of Japanese people today have also forgotten nihilism itself, have even forgotten that God is dead. Nishitani thinks that this kind of situation is characteristic of the modern Japanese society. It's a kind of "double" nihilism, risen to the second power, a nihilism that has forgotten the nihilism of the Death of God. Professor Nishitani thinks that we should ask ourselves if nihilism which dominates the modern world is not in fact a "doubled" nihilism. The tragedy of the Death of God itself  has also been forgotten. We live in a more or less pleasant way, having the products of technology around of us, we have some fun, but nevertheless in the background there's a sensation of uneasiness, of anguish which doesn't find peace and which is always growing. Do young Japanese people in a situation of that type turn to philosophy or do they turn to Zen?

I think that this is a problem which regards more philosophy and Zen than young people. Traditional Zen, Zen how it was practised up until now in temples is extremely far from the modern world, there's too much distance which could permit the young people of today to go to a temple to find an answer to their questions. Present day philosophy has become, in a good or bad sense, too academic. The fundamental question of Greek philosophy, how can I live in a good way?, at a certain point has been lost without being noticed and philosophy has become one of the many subjects of knowledge and it is practised in a scientific, philological way. This is more or less the tendency of the present day philosophy, therefore I think that both Zen and philosophy should go back to their origins.


FB: For the western world the Japanese soul is represented by Kurosawa's movies and recently by "The last samurai". Does that soul, based on a sense of honour which seems to go beyond life and death,  still survive or has it  also given into the pleas of  modernism and  technology?

OR: It's a strange thing, but the question to whom do the Japanese belong to is very old and even today there's no clear answer. Maybe we can try to understand it by thinking about the traditional images which were transmitted of Japan, for example the cherry trees, the rising sun. Of course these symbols are also kind of annoying. There is also the Japan represented in Kurosawa's movies, a Japan which partly doesn't exist any more but which could still exist today. In any case towards that kind of Japan the Japanese of today anyway feel a certain kind of nostalgia. The problem is if in reality there's still something that remains of that Japan that you can see in the movies of Kurosawa or of Oyu, or of the Last Samurai.

I think  that it still exists and that it can't be destroyed. But the question now is:

which form does it take today? Not in the sense that a similar question would sound in the case that we would objectively observe a certain phenomenon. I understand this question like this: what shall I do? I think in this way technology is something global and also economy is something global and globalisation has already completely run over Japan as well. Inside such globalisation, exactly as I said before about inter-culture, local traditions, local cultures are discussed. For us who live inside them, like for example me, on one side it is necessary to see clearly such situations and at the same time to also see that local traditions and that spirit which are questioned by globalisation and which live inside globalisation. I think it's necessary to be aware of the fact that the own roots are there.  Therefore globalisation is a little bit like an asphalt flow covering the ground in which there are still several roots, where there's still life. Now maybe we can let this life emerge, let it sprout, continue to cultivate it also inside globalisation and experience it in numerous phenomenon. But anyway it's evident that the danger, the risk is imminent.

If a street is really covered with asphalt, the buds can't sprout and this kind of situation is well described for example by Heidegger when he talks about the problem of technology and of  framework, of the Gestell,  as a condition of the today's world. But then we have to think if we can overcome that danger, including also the question if the commitment of  the single individual could do something inside such a sphere. At a philosophical level there's the necessity to be responsible for such problems. Hard technology is like asphalt, but the world of life in which hard technology is applied is a soft technology, software, software has to be something soft, tender. But in which way hard and global technology can connect itself with the world of soft life? Or on the contrary everything becomes hard, is homogenized, levelled.

I think that we are at a crossroads between these two options.


FB: Professor Ohashi, you are doctor of Aesthetics at the University of Osaka. Could you synthesise in a few words if  it's  possible, the essential aspect of  Japanese artistic expression  compared to the European one? Does art according to you have a universal heart? Do you think that philosophy or art is the  more suitable means for reciprocal communication and knowledge among different cultures and specially among young people?


OR: This is a very interesting and important question. Also if you universally talk about art, the position of art in Europe and in Japan was originally different. In Europe we started talking about art in the modern sense only in more recent times. "Fine arts" start to be talked about when art was becoming independent from Christianity, in the eighteenth century. Before that time you didn't talk about  "fine arts", but just of "art", art similar to what today is called technology. Just from the eighteenth century on a distinction was created and we talked about "fine arts" just in the era in which art became an independent field of Christian religion. Beginning from this era one started to think that for example the paintings in the caves of primitive men were art. At any rate modern art is always in a relationship full of tension with the Christian religion.

In Japan on the contrary art and religion were  from the beginning one thing and they developed together. The term "gei" which we could translate with "art", is not used inside a contraposition of art and religion. On the contrary, "gei" how it is also "michi", Way, in Japan there was a similar idea.  So first of all the position of art compared to religion is different in Europe and in Japan. Now, this said, does the way of expression of  Japanese art deeply differ from the European one?

Or is there something in common? I think that in order to answer to these questions we have to think of their historical background.

So first of all we refer to the same term "art", but in any case the undertaken position of art inside  each culture is different. But  I also think that there's something which puts together every form of art, so to say the fact to produce, to create something, poiesis. In that sense, Oriental or Western, as human beings we all have a sort of instinct to produce things and in that sense you can find a deep common point.

Globalisation is the background which allows an intercultural dialogue. If it's true than Japan or Europe that until now had been culturally very different, are in a very close position. At the same time, even if from the knowledge point of view one knows about the other and vice versa, just because we know each other, also our differences are known. Now, is philosophy or art more suitable inside the intercultural dialogue ? In the case of art, we certainly will notice many differences, if we consider the history, the past of Western or Japanese art.

 But, that being stated, I think that you could say it like this: the relationship between philosophy and art is different from the one between religion and art. In the case of religion and art it seems that we often have to say either religion or art. On the contrary in the case of philosophy you can say philosophy "and" art. I think that this "and" is in the sense of a possible relationship.

If it's true then I think that inside the intercultural dialogue it's possible to start a dialogue using as a means sensibility connected to artistic experience. I think that we need philosophy in order to deepen this dialogue. When the intercultural dialogue is done on a philosophical level, if  it starts from a work of art it becomes concrete and there's a dialogue, then  that type of process is possible. Therefore concerning philosophy "and" art, from now on there could be many ways of understanding the sense of that "and". 

FB: Professor Ohashi, thank  you, it has been a very interesting conversation.

OR: Thank you for your questions.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3


There are no comments

Leave a comment:

Please login to leave a comment.
If you are not registred click here to register.
Facebook Twitter Youtube
Donate now