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  • 04 octobre 2018 - 16:21
  • Aline Jaccottet 4730 signes
Spiritualité

Une âme suisse sous le Soleil levant

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L’histoire de Philippe Neeser, c’est celle d’un amour éperdu pour le Japon. Une passion qui a valu à ce maître de cérémonie de thé d’être nommé commandeur de l’Ordre du Soleil levant après quasi quarante ans passés dans le pays.

Aline Jaccottet, Genève

En lui cohabitent deux univers. Le premier, c’est celui de ses racines. Elles vont profondément dans les terres vaudoise et genevoise du bord du Léman en une généalogie dont il est féru. Demandez-lui l’histoire de n’importe lequel de ses ancêtres et Philippe Neeser vous en fera un récit passionné. Filleul et double cousin du poète Philippe Jaccottet, il partage le goût de son parrain pour la beauté des mots, la délicatesse du verbe. 

Genevois râleur et lettré japonais

Mais tandis que l’un s’exprime en vers, l’autre récite des haïkus, car l’univers d’adoption de cet homme cultivé et un brin excentrique, c’est le Japon. «Je concilie deux personnages dans une même carcasse: un vieux Genevois râleur et un lettré japonais», relève-t-il l’œil pétillant dans son appartement de Genève riche de milliers de livres et de meubles de famille ripolinés.

Philippe Neeser tombe dans la «marmite» nippone à l’âge de 14 ans en découvrant, alors qu’il farfouille dans la bibliothèque paternelle, un livre de Jean de la Varande: «Bric-à-brac». On y parle samouraïs, sabres et impermanence de la vie dans une description du Japon «si juste qu’elle n’a jamais été démentie par mes expériences», affirme-t-il. Au début des années 1960, personne n’a encore la moindre idée de ce que sont les mangas ou sushis qui feront la joie de millions d’Européens cinquante ans plus tard. Fasciné par ce monde si différent, l’adolescent dévore des dizaines d’ouvrages. «Je me disais: si c’est aussi beau en traduction, qu’est-ce que ça doit être en version originale!»

Une langue «inventée par le Démon»

Arrivé à l’université, il explore les dédales du droit et suit des cours de japonais, mais «apprendre une langue hors d’un pays où on la parle, c’est comme, disons, de se mettre à la natation sur le tabouret de sa cuisine», dit-il, une lueur espiègle dans les yeux. D’autant que le japonais, c’est des idéogrammes par milliers, une prononciation à exercer à la perfection sous peine, dans le meilleur des cas, de paraître ridicule en disant tare pour barre… Philippe Neeser aime citer à ce sujet Nicolas Bouvier qui attribuait à saint François-Xavier, missionnaire arrivé au XVIe siècle au Japon, la phrase suivante: «cette langue a été inventée par le Démon pour empêcher la prédication des Évangiles!»

En 1973, le jeune homme plonge dans cet univers complexe grâce à une bourse du gouvernement japonais qui lui permet d’étudier le droit international public à Kyôto. «En arrivant, j’ai éprouvé un sentiment de déjà-vu. Mes lectures m’avaient bien préparé», raconte-t-il, se rappelant son émotion à la vue du mont Fuji, alors que l’avion entreprenait sa descente. En 1975, il commence à travailler comme juriste pour la firme pharmaceutique bâloise Ciba-Geigy. Il y fera carrière pendant plus de trente ans au plus haut niveau, occupant par ailleurs plusieurs postes-clés dans des structures promouvant les relations bilatérales.

Devant le Grand Bouddha de Nara

Et lorsqu’il a du temps, il se consacre à apprendre le japonais et la cérémonie du thé, «creuset où se confond toute la civilisation asiatique». Le Suisse reçoit l’enseignement d’un maître pendant sept ans et finit par «pouvoir s’y adonner sans même y penser, afin d’être pleinement au service des invités». Assidu, il reçoit en 2002 sa qualification de maître sous le nom de «Sôsui» (Sui fait allusion à «Suisse», ou «vert de jade»). Et lorsque sont fêtés les 1250 ans de l’inauguration du Grand Bouddha de Nara, haut lieu religieux du pays, il est le seul non japonais autorisé à lui offrir le thé solennellement.

Trois ans plus tard, nouvelle consécration. Nommé député-chef du pavillon suisse à l’exposition universelle de 2005 à Aïchi, il y guide personnellement l’empereur et l’impératrice. «J’ai déclamé un poème du Xe siècle en le modifiant à travers une vieille technique. En racontant l’histoire d’un courtisan, accompagnant l’empereur retiré lors d’une excursion en montagne, qui demande aux singes de cesser leurs cris plaintifs; j’ai alors remplacé le mot singe (mashira) par le mot vache (ushira). Ils étaient aux anges», raconte-t-il, jubilant encore à ce souvenir.

L’impermanence de toute chose

Philippe Neeser sera honoré pour l’ensemble de son parcours en 2008, année où il est fait commandeur de l’Ordre du Soleil levant par le gouvernement japonais. Au-delà des honneurs, le septuagénaire aura reçu de cette vie passée à l’autre bout du monde un héritage intérieur empreint de bouddhisme. «Je suis conscient de l’impermanence de toute chose, y compris de ma présence dans ce monde. C’est ce qui donne toute sa valeur à ma vie: elle n’est pas infinie». Et de citer ce haïku de Kobayashi Issa: «Être rien qu’en vie / À l’ombre des cerisiers / Cela est miracle».

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