From Japan to the World: Seiichi Kondo at TEDxKyoto 2013

This year has been a significant year for me. I had a very sad event and very wonderful news. The sad event is that my father passed away. The wonderful-happy event is that Mt. Fuji was inscribed on the UNESCO's World Heritage list. My father was brought up in the city of Numazu in Shizuoka prefecture, which is the host to Mt. Fuji. And he spent all his school days worshiping and admiring Mt. Fuji. So it is quite natural that he had been dreaming of the day when Mt. Fuji is designated as a World Heritage. He resigned many years ago and moved to Atami, another city in Shizuoka prefecture which is known to be a wonderful resort town and lived there until the age of 94. Early May, when I learned that ICOMOS, which is the advisory body of UNESCO, made a recommendation that Fuji-san should be inscribed on the World Heritage list. So I immediately went to see my father in the hospital in Atami to share this wonderful news with my father.

He, who was already unable to speak opened his eyes, gave me a big smile and took my hand. And that was my last conversation with my father. He passed away a few hours later, before dawn. 6 weeks later Mt. Fuji was officially designated as a World Cultural Heritage. What is significant here is that Mt. Fuji was designated as a World Cultural Heritage and not World Natural Heritage. It is not its beautiful landscape but its role as a source of artistic inspiration that was appreciated by UNESCO. Mt. Fuji inspired many Japanese artists ranging from the poets who appear in Manyosyu the oldest anthology of Japanese short poem, Waka to Katsushika Hokusai and other woodblock print artists in Edo period. The essence of traditional Japanese aesthetic comes from Japanese unique views of nature, I believe. The Western civilization places humans above nature because humans have reason whereas in Japan people tend to think that even humans are no more than part of nature and seek a lifestyle which unites with nature and never challenge it head on. These unique views of nature developed by the Japanese are best represented in the making of Japanese gardens.

Japanese gardens are made in full harmony with natural landscape Sakuteiki, which is an instruction book on garden making published in the 11th century tells that if you want to make the best Japanese garden you have to follow what nature tells you. This is in a sharp contrast with the Western gardens. The garden of the Palais de Versaille outside of Paris in France is geometrically designed, composed of straight lines complete circles and total symmetry asserting human superiority over nature. However there are no either straight lines or complete circles no perfect symmetry in the real world. They only exist in human brain. The similar difference exists in the world of ceramic wear. Royal Copenhagen tea cup is very assertive in trying to make as a perfect round as possible whereas Japanese Raku-Yaki the tea ceremony bowl is intentionally distorted. Japanese feel it is very comfortable because it is natural.

The Japanese respectful nature places animals as equal partners of the humans. In Yuzuru, one of the most famous and the widely-loved Opera in Japan a crane, Tsuru, transforms itself into a human lady to help the man who saved its life. This may never happen in the Western civilization because in the Western civilization people are supposed to be superior to nature. So maybe a demon transforms a man into a swan but animals do not transform themselves to express their emotions. Japanese believe that people or humans are only part of nature goes on to accept that even furniture has emotion. This is Otogi-zoshi scroll of the medieval ages. This tells a story about a group of furniture which were thrown out into this corner of a garden, got angry about it and tried to threaten humans as a revenge by transforming themselves into monsters and demons. So this is scientifically impossible therefore sounds totally absurd to most of the people in the West but Japanese, more or less accept it without much difficulty.

Now these Japanese unique views of nature are based on the mixture of awe for and love of nature developed over the centuries. You may wonder why the Japanese have developed such ideas, such unique views of nature. The answer is the wonderful scenic views natural beauties with distinct 4 seasons. And the disasters beyond human control such as volcano eruptions or earthquakes. And rich natural resources such as blossoms, fruits, vegetables, fish that embrace the people immediately after disaster. So I think these unique views of nature developed and held by the Japanese should be better appreciated by contemporary Japanese and also should be shared by the rest of the world for the following reasons. One, this approach will help us develop high level of respect for nature which is significantly important to deal with environmental issues to protect the environment of the planet including our fight against global warming.

Second, this will help us develop sympathy, compassion for others which is vitally again important to enhance mutual understanding amongst the people of different cultural backgrounds. And third, this will lead us to the acceptance of diversity which will let us avoid unnecessary conflicts and will help us build true world peace. So I hope the designation of Mt. Fuji as a World Cultural Heritage will highlight the importance of these traditional views of nature held by the Japanese and demonstrate the relevance in the 21st century civilizatoin. Ladies and gentlemen let me invite you to go back to the life of a diplomat. They say, when a diplomat says "Yes" he means "Perhaps". When he says "Perhaps", he means "No". And if he says "No" he is no diplomat. (Laughter) And when I said "Yes" to the invitation from TEDxKyoto, I really meant it because this will provide me with a wonderful opportunity to get this message across.

And this is exactly what my father wanted me to do after the official inscription of Mt. Fuji on the World Heritage list. Thank you very much. (Applause).