01-07-2008 - Traces, n. 7


This Is How You Say
Religious Sense  in Japanese

The most recent translation of Fr. Giussani was presented in the Land of the Rising Sun. This is the report of an evening (or a network of friendships) in which two worlds met–two worlds with the same heart.

by Paolo Cremonesi

“An Eskimo mother, a mother from Tierra del Fuego, and a Japanese mother all give birth to human beings recognizable as such, both by their exterior aspects and their interior stamp.”
Who knows if Fr. Giussani imagined, in the room that served as a study in the ground-floor flat in via Martinengo, Milan, and where he wrote these words at the beginning of The Religious Sense, that he would have seen realized what was then only an example on the page of the book?
Tokyo, Wednesday, June 11th: Among the many proposals available in that megalopolis, the people who choose the presentation of the Japanese edition of The Religious Sense are not few. In the modern Italian Cultural Institute (“one of our finest centers in the world,” according to the director, Umberto Donati), the first who were unable to believe their eyes are precisely the organizers of the event. Tomoko Sadahiro–Sako for short, assistant of the Bishop of Heroshima and the local animator of the CL community in Japan–tells us, “I had sent out a thousand e-mails, and got about twenty replies. I expected a few more than that, so when I entered the room, what a surprise!” One hundred and fifty people were there, including university lecturers, students, religious people and managers in Tokyo for their work. Maybe even the “Japanese mother” was there, too!
The projection of a part of the television program on Fr. Giussani’s life helped to introduce the event and set it in context. “I was with a friend who had never heard speak of Fr. Giussani,” said Ernesto Cellie, an Italian with Japanese citizenship. “No more than thirty seconds had passed, and he told me quite seriously, ‘What a fine person!’ He said just that–‘What a fine person!’” Tomoko added, “A teacher who saw the video was struck by the explanation of the Gospel: ‘Simon, do you love Me?’ And he was not struck only by the words, but even by his way of speaking, his intensity, his figure.”

The importance of the sign
Proposing The Religious Sense in Japanese is no mean feat. Fr. Ambrogio Pisoni explains this. He was one of the presenters and is responsible for CL in Asia. “Here, we don’t have the Judaic-Christian experience of the person as we know it, inherited from Athens and Jerusalem. The ‘I’ is indistinct, like, for that matter, reality itself, which is not recognized as being created. At best, there is a sort of pantheism. There is no experience of listening to the heart as the sign that we are made by an Other. There is no experience of reality seen as a way of grasping the presence of the Mystery.”
Shodo Habukawa, lecturer at Mount Koya University and responsible for the Muryokoin Buddhist temple, knew Fr. Giussani well. During one of the many meals that sealed their friendship, they began to discuss songs. The professor had expressed his liking for Neapolitan music, and added, “I like ‘Torna a Surriento’ [‘Come Back to Sorrento’] very much.” Fr. Giussani was surprised at this and asked him why. The Buddhist monk kept silent for a moment and answered, “Melancholy.”
“For fifteen years,” Habukawa said at the Tokyo presentation, “Giussani would always speak to me of the experience of the Mystery and of what he called an ‘open heart’ for entering into relationship with reality, and what I call the ‘spirit of observation.’”
Heart and reality. Reality and heart. This couplet re-echoed as one speaker after another talked of the book. Etsuro Sotoo, the Japanese sculptor working on the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, speaking over satellite link from Spain, said, “Every time you pick it up, it tells you your life in that moment. The words can sometimes seem banal, but in fact they are thought out, reasoned and calculated.”
There are few adherents of CL in Japan but, as often happens in other parts of the world, the potential is striking–“especially for a mentality that conceives of its apex in the concept of harmony,” Tomoko explains. “Here, for example, a child is educated ‘not to disturb others.’ At school, only an ambiguous morality is taught, with notions like, ‘Don’t pull a cat’s tail,’ ‘Don’t break the neighbor’s windows,’ etc. But in this way, the person’s ‘I’ is buried.” Pisoni adds, “At times, the only possible form of personal expression in Japan seems to be the group. Everyone has a uniform: at school, in the factory, in the office… The ultimate horizon is the collective. The supreme paradox is that, in order to distinguish himself, the person has to wear a uniform.”
“Fr. Giussani created a school of thought,” said the Apostolic Nuncio to Tokyo, Alberto Bottari de Castello, opening the presentation of the book, “and I am happy that it can be known in Japan, too.” Education in listening to the heart and its relationship with reality become an experience around which a dialogue can begin. A few days before the meeting, the main editorialists of the Japanese press acknowledged this as they reflected on the massacre at Akihabara (seven people were killed and ten injured by a young man of 25 who was “tired of living”). The daily paper Asahi, for example, wrote, “There is something in our apparently serene society that pushes young people to act irresponsibly and violently. We need to find the cause.”

The joy of living
“The word ‘master’ in Japanese means ‘born before,’ and God knows how much need there is for masters in Japan,” observed Jesuit Archbishop Giuseppe Pittau, Secretary Emeritus of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education (for Seminaries and Institutes of Study) and former missionary at Tokyo’s Sophia University. “But a master is not simply someone who was born before, but rather someone who teaches what he has lived. And Fr. Giussani communicated to his students a meaning and a joy of living.” This is why the potential for a verification of the reasonability of the Christian proposal is enormous. “We are the ones who attract those who join us,” said Cellie. And it is true.
“The one in charge of the publishing house (Don Bosco Press) was worried about how he would bring back the books left over after the presentation,” said Tomoko. “There was no need–we sold them all.”