Saturday, February 23, 2013

The sound of a wet towel

"My Narrow Isle: The Story of a Modern Woman in Japan"  is the first part of the autobiography of Sumie Seo Mishima. She was born in Japan at the beginning of the XXth century in a Samurai Family, and received a western type of education in the US after World War I.

The end of the XIXth and the beginning of the XXth centuries were times of great changes in Japan. The society basically switched from a feudal to a westernized capitalistic structure in a matter of 2 generations.

At the beginning of her book, the author remembers how her younger sister's old nurse - whose husband had died in the wars of the Meiji Revolution - used to say: 

"Don't ever, ever flap a wet towel to dry it when you take a bath. It gives out a sound exactly like the sound of a human head struck off!"

The old lady and many of her generation had seen many human heads cut off and be displayed by the roadside...

The old woman was trying to remind young generations of the horrors of what had happened. Unfortunately this was not enough, and the same terrible things happened again a few decades later during the invasion of China by the Japanese troops. 

The tension brewing today between China and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands is - at least partially - fuelled by the remembrance of these atrocities. 

If we cannot learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes...

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