松平千秋:Classical Studies in Japan


Classical Studies in Japan

Professor of Classics at the Faculty of Letters,
Kyoto University

Some sixty years ago, a student of Greek philosophy propounded a sensational theory in his treatise which dealt with the Japanese and Greek mythology(1). He attempted there to demonstrate that the mythology of the two nations originated from the same source, by pointing out a number of striking features (mostly in the mythical motif) which the Japanese myths have in conunon with the Greek. Even at the present time, when it is rather fashionable to discuss the possible relations between the Oriental and Greek mythology, it is very unlikely that this idea will find support from the reader, wether he is a specialist or not. It was therefore natural enough that not only was this theory rejected simply as fantastic, but the author himself was stamped as an eccentric scholar. We shall not question here whether this treatment was fair or not for this very original theory and its author, but we may perhaps keep this event in our memory at least as one of the interesting episodes which ocurred in the early years of Classical scholarship in Japan.

It is hardly possible to know to what date can go back the first acquaintance of the Japanese with the Classical culture, especially literature and philosophy. We may, however, be fairly certain that, when first the Portuguese Jesuits came to Japan in the middle of XVI century, they brought with them some knowledge of the Classics along with other European things. This is not a mere conjecture; to this does bear witness the fact that, at the close of the same century, the first Japanese version of the Aesopian Fables was published (Nagasaki, 1593), and for long time hereafter remained one of the most popular readings of the common people. So, there is good reason to believe, that, had the Tokugawa Government not taken the policy of severe exclusionism, the Classical heritage of Europe would have striken its roots in the Japanese soil three hundred years earlier at least. But as it was, the first steps were taken in the first half of XVII century for checking the foreign commerce (with the only exception of the Chinese and the Dutch), and ever since Japan was virtually cut off from the cultural tradition of Europe. This situation lasted for nearly three centuries, and it was not until the middle of XIX century, that Japan reopened itself to the European nations. When all the kinds of new knowledge began to flow into Japan from Europe and America, there was naturally the Classics among them, this time not as a mere casual accessory of the missionaries, but as one of the formal branches of the Humanistic Science.

Now at last, we have reached the period which marks the real beginning of the Classical studies in Japan, and at the very outset of this period we come across a great man, to whom mainly we owe the first initiation into the Classical philology in modern sense. His name is Dr. Raphael von Koeber and he may rightly be called the “Father of Classical studies in Japan". In the year of 1893, he Came to Japan, at the invitation of the Tokyo University, to lecture there on philosophy. His teaching activity lasted without break for more than twenty years. He was a Russian by nationality, but was a genuine German by birth and was also educated mostly in Germany. Thus by him, the brilliant German tradition of Classical scholarship was transplanted into the soil of Japan. By his wide scholarship and his extremely charming character, he attracted to his class many able students, most of whom were in later years to be leading champions in the field of Classical learning in Japan. Nearly seventy years have now passed, since Dr. Koeber opened his lecture at the Tokyo University. During this period, Classical studies in this country has progressed slowly but steadily, keeping pace with other modern branches of the Humanistic Science. Thus at the present day, Greek and Latin are taught at any large University, and even in colleges of smaller scale, one of the two at least constitutes an integral part of the curriculum. Let us take the case of the Kyoto University as an example; for this may perhaps enable the reader to have a clearer idea of the present status of Classical education in Japan. In the Faculty of Letters, there are three chairs or departments which are concerned with the Classical Antiquity: Classics (Greek and Latin), Ancient Philosophy of Europe (as one of the three chairs for History of European Philosophy) and Ancient History of Europe (as one of the two chairs for European History). We may add hereto the Department of Mediaeval Philosophy in the same Faculty and also the chair for Roman Law in the Faculty of Law. It may be noted that other large universities of Japan such as the Tokyo University etc. are not very different in system from the Kyoto University.

In 1949, the “Classical Society of Japan” (Nippon Seiyokoten Gakkai) was founded, as the first and only nationwide organization of the Classical scholars in Japan, with its central office placed in the Department of Classics of the Kyoto University. It comprises as its members nearly all the students of Classics in Japan and holds the General Meeting once a year (usually in autumn) at various parts of the country, on which occasion a number of papers are read in two days by its members on their majoring subjects, and public lectures on more general themes are also delivered by eminent scholars. Since 1953, our Society has been issuing an annual publication, the “Journal of Classical Studies", as its organ magazine, which is sent to over twenty institutions abroad in exchange for their own publications. Further in 1958, our Society joined the FIEC (Fédération Internationale des Associations des Études Classiques) and ever since sends our delegates almost regularly to the international congresses.

A critic abroad has lately pointed out in his review of our Journal that the Classical studies in Japan have a strong perhaps overstrong, inclination toward Greek. The present writer thinks that we must frankly admit the truth of this criticism. This inclination was, in the opinion of the present writer, caused by two main factors, the one historical, theother internal. First, it is that Dr, Koeber’s influence was more or less decisive for the course which the Classical studies in Japan were to take subsequently. Although Dr. Koeber did not intentionally restrict his teaching to Greek, it was nonetheless only too natural that he as philosopher was more interested in Greek than in Latin. Apart from this historical factor, we may think of another, perhaps more important than the former. It is the curiously strong feeling of congeniality which we Japanese have with the ancient Greeks in various aspects. This will make a very interesting theme for our discussion, though the present writer regrets not to have time enough to dwell on this topic here in detail. Be that as it may be, it must be admitted that such a more or less biased attitude toward the Classics is not the right way for the sound development of Classical studies in Japan. We are ourselves fully aware of the necessity to encourage Latin more strongly than before. But perphaps we need not be too pessimistic about the future of Latin in this country; the students of Latin are gradually increasing and the number of good works in this field is also rising. So we may hope that it will not take much time for the relation between Greek and Latin to become better balanced than today.

It will hardly be necessary to emphasize here that Classical students in Japan have been heavily handicapped in many ways; they had to start almost from nothing. Seventy years of Classical scholarship in Japan was really the history of toilsome struggles of the pioneering scholars for overcoming so many difficulties and removing so many obstacles which stand in front of them. Even today, when the situation has been much improved, we cannot say that all these difficulties have been overcome. We must realize that there are still many difficult problems awaiting us on our way ----and most of these are such as never exist for the Europeans. But everything has two sides; the lack of a long academical tradition was vicious for us not in every aspect. Let us take as an example the method of pronunciation of the Classical languages. So far as the knowledge of the present writer goes, Japan is, if not the only, at least one of a very few countries, in which the historical method is observed most strictly. Few specialists will deny that the historical method should theoretically be the only recommendable way of pronunciation, but it is a well-known fact that in most of the countries which have a long tradition of Classical scholarship, they pronounce the Greek and Latin ἄλλοι ἄλλως, so to speak, the long usage preventing them from adopting the historical method. We may say therefore, that in this respect at least, we are in a more favourable condition than the Europeans, because through the historical pronunciation, we can better appreciate the original beauty of the Classical languages and thus get into touch with the ancient Greeks and Romans more closely.

Nowadays, the world is becoming narrower and narrower. Especially after the Second World War, geographical distance does not make an obstacle any more for mutual communications between countries in any form. On the other hand, never has been so keenly needed as today the international cooperation in every field of human activity. Our field of Classical studies makes no exception. Under these circumstances, it is the keen desire of us Japanese classicists to contribute in some way or other to the progress of Classical studies of the world, in the firm belief that it is a significant task worthy of our efforts to demonstrate that the Classical studies can flourish also under a cultural climate totally different from Europe or America.

(1) - His name was Dr. Takataro KIMURA. He was the first Japanese translator of the whole work of Plato, and was also the author of a handbook on the Greek and Roman mythology.

Source: Romanitas, IV-5 (1962), Brasil, Rio de Janeiro