Today, a Japanese lesson in the value of Western
culture. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
My wife and I recently
visited Japan. We saw so many interesting things.
Take the Museum of Western Art in Tokyo: I've
always wanted to see Rodin's epic bronze, The
Gate of Hell. I've wanted to see his statue
of Victor Hugo. Both were there. I saw my first oil
by the 18th-century Gothic painter Fuseli.
Of course, we knew the Japanese have been buying
Western art. But that museum brought the extent of
it home to us.
I suppose I should've seen it coming 30 years ago
in a strange old Japanese movie, Throne of
Blood. It was about a corrupt Samurai
clawing his way to power. He and his wife,
propelled by the prophecy of three witches,
murdered children to fulfill the prophecy. In the
end they died of guilt, madness, and -- in his case
-- a chest full of arrows. It was, of course,
Macbeth in Japanese clothing.
A Japanese-American friend was born here and
trapped in Tokyo during WW-II. He told me he'd sung
Beethoven's Ninth with his high-school chorus. When
General Doolittle first bombed Tokyo, one of his
pilots looked out to see Japanese playing baseball.
The Japanese have found that Western culture --
like Western technology -- speaks to their needs
and dreams. Take that old Macbeth
movie. Scholars have suddenly found that Tokyo's
Meisei University holds the second largest
collection of original Shakespeare folios in the
Two features mark Japanese buying. One is secrecy.
Buyers usually work behind Western agents. The
other feature is a willingness to pay whatever it
takes. Japanese buyers have driven prices
That's infuriating, of course. But I see things in
it I like. For one thing, the Japanese remind us of
the universality of Shakespeare, Rodin -- and
baseball. They also remind us that your heart shall
be where your treasure is. They've developed the
finest technologies of preservation to keep these
works. Most important of all, they tell us how
valuable our heritage really is.
And so the Japanese do with our culture just what
they've done with our technology. They remind us
that it's a greater gift than we realized. They
learn more from us than we thought we knew --
whether it's about building cars or reading
Shakespeare. They remind us that the legacy of
Western technology and culture is a gift that's
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds