“What expertise could I have made avail myself of, I, a modest businessman, seller of luxury perfumes and frills, to pretend to decode over a tedious alphabet book this so complex and complete country? “ Listen to Richard Collasse, 68-year-old author of a recent Japan Love Dictionary (1), it would not be worthy to talk about this country, to explain its mysterious arcana or to decode its best preserved secrets.
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This assumed modesty could immediately lead one to believe that he has unconsciously assimilated one of the character traits often associated with Japanese culture: humility. And to drive home the point by quoting Lao Tseu: “He who knows does not speak. Whoever speaks does not know. “ So Richard Collasse took his pen, even if he quotes in the introduction to his work a sentence by Rudyard Kipling, who exclaimed in 1888 in his Letters from Japan : “Japan, this country too delicious to be soiled with one’s pen. “
Richard Collasse gave in to temptation, exhuming the most distant memories, calling on his living memory to bring to life in a earthy way a unique life experience. Because since its first revelation in 1971, it has never stopped ” to dig “ and deepen their knowledge. He first enrolled at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (Inalco), known as Languages O ‘. Like a madman, he studies Japanese civilization and language, “A so-called Ural-Altaic language with an agglutinating syntax like Korean, Turkish and Manchu”.
The Japanese language, a “Chinese puzzle”
The language is not simple, what to say about its writing? Richard Collasse, who has a perfect mastery of both, humorously qualifies her as ” Chinese puzzle “ and immediately takes height: “The Japanese mania for doing the simplest things with extreme complication is arguably the source of the unparalleled sophistication of everything these people touch and do. “ A beautiful summary of the Japanese spirit, its springs and its energy.
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By small touches, like a calligrapher, this businessman, “Upset writer”, diplomat, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in Japan, president of the luxury house Chanel in Japan from 1995 to 2018, reveals his country of election. He won’t say he loves her. It would be too restrictive, too vague, too superficial. Not intimate enough. After so many years he saw Japan and Japan lives in him.
Meetings with Emperor Akihito
But his heart remains French. “I decided not to become Japanese”, he assures. “Anyway, we never become it”, he adds with an ironic smile, referring to these Westerners who “Tatami”. An illusion. The inhabitants of the archipelago, as open-minded as they are, believe that a foreigner will never be able to understand them.
It is also his French identity that allowed him to approach, in 2003 and 2010, and even to exchange a few words with the Emperor of Japan, Akihito, in the gardens of Akasaka Palace. “A rare privilege”he points out, recalling his worry about how to address him. “I was paralyzed at this prospect”, because Japanese has several language levels depending on the status of the person with whom we are exchanging. And yet, the simplicity of the verbal exchange he had that day, beyond the solemnity of the event, became for him a “Perfect summary of Japan, touching with humanity and simplicity”.
Half a century after having laid his eyes on this bewitching archipelago, he believes he has only done “To touch it”. “I scraped the surface, I don’t know enough and will never know enough, it’s a bit of a feeling of failure”, he regrets. Yet his in-depth exploration of every nook and cranny of this “A paradox that is both messy and ordered” and his determination to crack the codes brought him happiness, pain or ecstasy.
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He immersed himself in the art of tea and floral art to grasp their spirituality, in search of the Japanese soul. There is no doubt, reading his Love dictionary, that this one inhabits it. He opened up to this people to the point of being deeply imbued with them. “I have no elegance”, however reluctantly lets go. “In Japan, perfection is important. “ The ultimate challenge for a foreigner.
His inspiration. An initiatory journey in 1971
“I was 19. I was supposed to go to the Amazon in the summer of 1971, but the trip was canceled. An opportunity to go to Japan presented itself. In my mind, this country boiled down to little … It was far away, unrecognized, mysterious. But after two months of traveling by bus, train, boat, youth hostel but also with locals, I discovered a warm, curious, welcoming people. It was an initiatory journey that deeply marked me. I returned from this extraordinary journey with the firm desire to learn more because I sensed the depth in this civilization. I had the urge to dig. “