When I first came to Japan in 1962 and tried to understand the language, one of the first words I learned was "kuni." When, almost inevitably, I was asked what "kuni" (country) I came from I would answer "Britain."
Right from the start I knew that if I answered "Wales" the reaction would be a blank look. Hardly any Japanese knew the country of my birth, which is Wales. I absolutely refused to acknowledge the Japanese word "Igirisu" and I can assure you that no Welshman, Scotsman or Ulsterman (Northern Ireland) would ever admit to being English. I was born in Wales, not England. The point that I try to make is that the country of one's birth is a matter of pride and identity. We do not object to being identified as "British."
So does the title of this column, "Country Gentleman" imply the meaning of being a British, Welsh or Japanese gentleman? Always opening doors for ladies?
The answer is no, not really.
The word "country" in English can also be translated in Japanese as "inaka."
From way back in history, city dwellers have always had a strong tendency to look down on those who dwell away from the city, the farmers, herders, foresters, fishermen and hunters, folk who seem to live closer to nature and are more likely to get all sweaty and to soil their hands with earth. However, without "country" or the sustaining natural land and water sources, no city could survive. For somebody born and raised in Britain, to be reasonably well-travelled, educated enough to read and write, and of independent means, to be able to say that you "live in the country" is almost always a matter of pride.
For a long time in British history, city dwellers without land in the "country" did not have the right to vote. This was because in times of uprising and war, a city dweller could not muster the men, horses and supplies to answer the call to defend the nation. The real pride is really in the land, and those who nurture and protect the land.
When travelling in Britain with a Japanese passport, hotel staff, and especially the staff of the better class of country hotels would ask if I lived in Tokyo. When I answered, "No, I live in Nagano, in the Japan Alps" the attitude would almost always change. Very often they would even upgrade my room.
To many of those British, the fact that I lived in the Japan Alps might very well mean that I could be the ultimate kind of gentleman, which to conservative country folk implied that I was a "country gentleman," not a V.I.P. or some kind of international city slicker, but a solid, reliable sort of fellow who would pay his bills and not misbehave.
I've lived in the countryside of Japan for 37 years now, and as a Japanese citizen, I will do my best to be a country gentleman. (By C.W. Nicol, author)
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This is the first installment of a regular column by author and conservationist C.W. Nicol.