Introduction to the Japanese Edition of "Discrete Thoughts"

Gian-Carlo Rota

I often go back in thought to the first time I experienced Japan. It was sometime in the early forties, 1941 or 42 I believe. I had traveled to Rome from Milan to see my grandmother.

While walking on a main thoroughfare downtown, I asked my father, who was leading me by the arm, whose country's was the beautiful flag hanging from the window of a handsome villa. When my father told me it was the Japanese flag, I was stunned for a moment, and kept looking backwards - as children are wont to do - as my father was pulling me away. At last I had a visible image of a country that until that time had been no more than a distant myth.

When two people meet, there is an instant flash of sympathy (or the opposite) that is likely to be confirmed as their acquaintance grows. Something similar happens when we meet another country. I knew, that moment long ago, with the certainty of a child, that Japan would forever remain one of my lifelong loves.

The older I have grown, the deeper my fascination has grown with the cultrue and civilization of Japan. I would like, some time before it is too late, to be able to tell what I think is exemplary in this civilization. I would like to find proper words to describe the grace, the elegance, the exquisiteness of human relations that this civilization has achieved. I hope it will some day be given to me to properly acknowledge that total respect for the life of the mind, triumph of the Spirit that Japan represents.

When asked for an introduction to the Japanese translation of this collection of occasional essays, my reaction was one of disbelief, followed by a feeling of inadequacy. Allow me to boast, and to surmise that the Japanese edition will find a great many more readers than all Western editions combined. But might it not be an effrontery on the authors' part to pretend that these humble essays, dashed off by the authors between a lecture and the writing of a research paper, should pretend to be read by the most sophisticated reading public in the world?

It may be more proper of this insignificant person to ask you, kind reader, for your benevolence in overlooking the authors' megalomaniac phantasy that perhaps one sentence or two, at the very most, might reach up to the lowest rung in the ladder of Japanese approval.

But one consideration has overwhelmed all others in allowing this new edition to be licensed to press, and that is, the irrepressible desire that this publication, no matter how pretentious and ill-advised, might bring me closer to the Japan for which I have always felt a deep feeling of affection. For this reason alone I might undeservedly find the courage to ask you for your indulgent forgiveness.

Cambridge, August 28, 1992.