The other day I wanted a little inspiration while I was folding laundry, so I put on a CD of my favorite Japanese cellist, Yoko Hasegawa. They say that the sound of the cello is haunting because it is the closest to the voice of a man. The song that particularly haunts me on this CD is Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20. How elegantly yet tragically it soars and plummets, as if to express that it is nobler to suffer than to be loved.
As I was listening to the song, it occurred to me that it was familiar to me from someplace other than this CD. Now where had I heard it? Was it at one of the classical music concerts my cousin and I used to attend together? Had I perhaps heard it while learning the cello in school?
Then I placed it. I’d first heard this song in an episode of Sailor Moon.
There is something slightly embarrassing about having to learn one’s own culture from Japan, but it happens often. I admit that I know the words to more jazz standards in Japanese than in English. I first encountered reproductions of my favorite paintings of the Annunciation in Japan. From Mont Blanc (a French dessert) to paso doble (a Spanish dance), from Rococo objets d’art to Victorian tea houses to big floppy hats, I would often find myself admiring something beautiful in Japan and then stop and say, “Wait a minute, they got that from us!”
It’s not that these things aren’t present in America. They’re just not considered relevant. (When was the last time you asked someone their favorite musician and got “Chopin”?) They’re buried in history, appreciated as relics by historians, not young women hanging out with their friends. The West has lost the thrill of the romance of Christian culture. We’re embarrassed by it. We mock it.
The Japanese treasure it. It was through them that I was introduced to many of these works, not as dusty historical facts, but as living, relevant objects of beauty. Japan, for me, has been a time capsule of Christian culture.