Friday, February 22, 2013

"A Whole World of Varied Beauty"

Donald Richie, 1924-2013

Although this is a literary journal dedicated to fiction and poetry, we would be remiss not to acknowledge the passing of the great translator, interpreter, and advocate of Japanese film, literature and culture, Donald Richie.  Richie lived in Japan for sixty-six years, beginning with his service there as part of the Allied Occupation forces in 1947.  He published forty books--novels, studies of Japanese aesthetics (including a wonderful book on Kabuki 歌舞伎), and many books on Japanese cinema, including the definitive study of the films of Akiro Kurosawa. 

My own favorite among his books is The Inland Sea, a travelogue that recounts Richie's journeys among the islands and villages that surround Japan's great interior ocean.  With a handful of other books--Bruce Chatwin's In  Patagonia, Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Gray Falcon, Rose Macaulay's The Towers of Trebizond, and Michael Arlen's Passage to Ararat, Richie's book transforms the genre of travel writing to create a literary work of great intelligence and sensitivity--a book that is as much about Richie's inner life as about the lives of the people he encounters between the great islands of Shikokoku and Honshu.

"If I were to tell a Japanese that [something] is very beautiful, he would ask what is beautiful, and I would select the clouds or the far islands or else say that everything is beautiful. In Japanese it is always something that must be beautiful. Though the language has many abstract nouns, I have rarely heard the one for 'beauty.'

"Beauty is then not a state, but a quality. It is like strength or width or weight. It implies that there are many kinds of beauty--not just one ideal beauty. Everything is real; therefore everything has its own form of beauty, and beauty exists in it and not outside it.
"Beautiful islands, beautiful sea, beautiful sky--a whole world of varied beauty."

The Inland Sea, is now available from Stone Bridge Press

George Ovitt (2/22/13)


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