Why should we learn from history? It is because our present is shaped by our past. It is quite natural that today we are proud of the deeds of our forebears and the precious cultural heritage they have created. But if so, we must be responsible for the past as well. There are no time limits for either pride in it or responsibility for it. As the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert aptly put it, “The loss of memory by a nation is also the loss of its conscience.”
Researching history may be the work of historians, but literary imagination is required to pass it down as national memory and the heritage of a people. History is not just a pile of facts. The works selected for the fifth volume of Worth Sharing, “Imagining Japan’s tomorrow,” bring forth how Japanese contemporary writers are facing history from the ancient past to the present day, imagining the future, and how they engage with the issues they find there. As well as depicting the past, these works present eloquent self-portraits of contemporary Japanese people. This is our message for international readers interested in Japan today: We hope you will examine the road we have traveled so as to know what we are now.
History does more than turn us to face the past. It is true that history is an endless dialogue between present and past, but it must also be a dialogue that opens the way to the future while looking through time in both directions, like the two-faced god Janus. In the past that we have almost forgotten, we can rediscover an amazing culture from long before today’s “Cool Japan.” And by digging through our present, paradoxically we find warnings from terrifying futures that we cannot allow to come into being. The interplay between past and present sheds light on hidden seeds for the future, forecasting possibilities for both dreams and nightmares, war and peace, and heavens and hells that may await Japan.
We present this modest pamphlet as a trusty signpost on the journey to the future, steering readers away from nightmares, war, and hells and pointing the way to dreams, peace, and heavens.
Numano Mitsuyoshi, Professor, University of Tokyo