When I visited an elementary school in the town of Mibu in Tochigi Prefecture recently, I came across fourth-year pupils reciting Japanese translations of quotations from "The Analects" by Confucius (551-479 B.C.) in the school library.

One went as follows: "Tomo ari enpo yori kitaru, mata tanoshikarazuya" (Is it not a pleasure, when a friend comes to visit from afar?).

Another went like this: "Ri ni yorite okonaeba urami oshi" (To act with an eye to personal profit will incur a lot of resentment).

The town is in its 13th year of self-revitalization efforts using this ancient Chinese book.

Schoolchildren are taught "The Analects" during their "morning reading hour," not as part of the regular curriculum.

For adults, weekend classes were started five years ago.

And on Nov. 24, the town is seeking to achieve a Guinness World Record with an event in which group of 1,000 residents will recite "The Analects."

According to Masato Nakano, 60, a curator at the municipal history and folklore museum and one of the brains behind this event, the town's association with "The Analects" dates back 300 years.

At the time, schools run by the local feudal domain actively promoted education in Chinese classics. But this tradition remained forgotten for centuries until the town started looking for ideas for local revitalization, and decided that learning and reciting Confucian quotations, which should be easy even for schoolchildren, would fit the bill.

But many of the quotations were thoroughly steeped in feudalistic ideas, and it proved quite a challenge to separate them from those that are appropriate for the modern era.

The task was delegated to local-born scholars and researchers, who eventually picked 100 quotations, out of more than 500, that elementary and junior high school pupils would be able to relate to.

The selection was annotated and published in book form by the municipal board of education.

An edition of this book, compiled especially for elementary school students, is a surprisingly slim volume that contains only three quotes for each of the six grades.

"To familiarize oneself with 'The Analects' is to know the history of Mibu," said Nakano. "Even if the kids don't quite understand the meaning of each quotation, what really matters is that they come to feel pride in their hometown as they recite the quotations."

The children had serious looks on their faces as they recited this saying: "Kunshi wa washite dozezu, shojin wa dojite wasezu" (The wise man agrees but maintains his principle, the lesser man agrees and casts off his principle).

The words of the Chinese sage, thus memorized and recited aloud, will surely become the "flesh and blood" of these youngsters and enrich their lives later.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 22

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.