I’m in Japan tae lecture on Scottish Language and Literature tae students in universities in Shizuoka an Kyoto, an tae members o the Tokyo Caledonian an Scottish societies. Me book, The History of Orkney Literature , was translated intae Japanese last year.
The kindness an courtesy we’ve been shown by the Japanese folk is notheen short o incredible. Between exhiliratan inter-city trips on the Shinkanzen, we hiv been royally entertained: taen roond the most sacred shrines o these magnificent cities, an introduced tae ivry conceivable aspect o Japanese cuisine.
We’ve eaten jellyfish, tofu, an miso soup, sea urchin, scallops an pickles. Soft-shell shrimps, cooked whole in impossibly light tempura batter, an eaten wae the heids on. The Japanese basil leaf, when picked up wae chopsticks and placed in the mooth, bursts wi fragrance an flavour. Udon noodles that keep ye fill up for days. A fish like a peedie stickleback, deep fried, crisp, an crunchy, is eaten whole. Onion soused in ginger. Sesame rice. Vegetables, the like o which we’ve nivver experienced afore, and that I canna compare tae anything European. Baby flatfish, fried squid, whitebait salad. We sample saki, hot an cowld, in modest quantities. The Japanese lager is cool an crisp. An, of course, diverse sushimi – the king o Japanese foods – unkan, fresh, an luxurious.
Sittan doon tae a cup o green tea in Yuko’s tidy office in Shizuoka afore me lecture, I’m struck by the extensive range o Scottish books I’ve seen on the shelves in these universities. Japanese translations o A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, the complete works o James Hogg, the Scottish National Dictionary, Japanese books o Scottish folk tales, Irvine Welsh in Japanese, a Japanese Lanark. The academics here ken more aboot Scotland an Scottish culture than most o us at home. Yuko’s PhD is aboot the history o the Scottish National Dictionary, for instance, an we meet ither freends who specialise in Scottish Romanticism, George Mackay Broon, an Shetland folklore.
The students themsels are interested, too. I tell them aboot Burns, Scott, MacDiarmid, Edwin Muir, aboot Scots an Gaelic, aboot Scottish political systems. They mak a really good job o repeatan peedie broon moose, an spier some penetratan questions at the end o the lectures: Can you tell me more about the links between Orkney language and Norwegian? Why do people in Orkney vote Liberal Democrat when the rest of Scotland votes S.N.P.? Why did Scots language supplant Gaelic as the language of the Scottish state during the Middle Ages? We can learn fae these inquiring young Japanese, too: cultures across the world should be interested in wan anither.