Japan is a fascinating nation, but it’s also a perplexing one. For instance it’s wealthy and highly developed but has been stagnating for over two decades. It also seems the nation’s wealth and development has led to it becoming more insular and closed rather than the opposite and Japan seems fine with this. Caravan, a fine Indian nonfiction publication, has a long feature story on modern Japan. Taking into account its 20th century misdeeds and its antagonistic relationship with China, the writer gives a good overview of its development and where it might have went wrong. Whether it be politics, technology innovation, social issues, or international relations, Japan seems to be in a deep funk. At the same time, I’m not blind to Japan’s impressive attributes in public safety, the aforementioned technological innovation, civil society, and efficiency, which I admittedly saw a lot of on my trip there in July. The article is a strong critique of Japan with the author not pulling any punches. In a sense, Japan has failed to live up to its promise, both pre-World War II-aggression and post, with its inability to fully admit and understand its WWII atrocities as a vivid example.
In another Caravan piece, the writer starts off with a very good question, before going on to highlight several Chinese books. Why is it Chinese writers only become known to Indian readers through Western publishers and marketing? “Western publishers are the gatekeepers of what we read from China,” says the writer. The answer to me, and which the writer most likely already knows, might be because Western publishers are the only ones with enough money and resources to search for, translate, and release books on China (as well as countries and regions all over the world), which say, Indian publishers can’t for economic and cultural reasons. Still, it’s a worthwhile question and you could extend it to across Asia as well. Are Indian authors well-known or have their books published in China? Are Japanese writers except Murakami well-known in China? Are Korean authors well-known in Japan? Just as the article’s writer says he hopes that one day foreign non-Indian literature can be directly selected and published by Indian publishers without having to be “filtered” through and via the West, I hope for China’s case that Asian non-Chinese literature can be given the same treatment (though publishing censorship and restrictions make it tricky). Among the Chinese authors covered are Mo Yan, not surprisingly, Ma Jian, author of Beijing Coma, and Ha Jin, who writes his novels in English.
This African “kingdom in the sky” gets a rare mention in the news, though it’s mainly because of the involvement of a British royal. The story is about child shepherds (as young as five!) who look after cattle and sheep out on rural mountainsides, away from their homes for months or even years. It’s very impressive, but also very sad. This isn’t a longstanding tradition but a more recent development caused by the migration of adult males to South Africa for work. The article is interesting but the main reason it caught my eye was because I visited Lesotho before. It was on a daytrip while staying at a hostel near the Drakensberg mountains in South Africa, to a rural village nestled inside a vast mountainous dusty valley, with people tending cattle, round clay huts, and caves featuring “paintings” from over a thousand years ago.