What do you think of when you talk about Japan? Maybe you can imagine something unique to Japan like Japanese food, samurai, anime. However we aren’t able to explain about what is Japan , even the Japanese. In this article, I’ll try to give you some hints on how to understand Japan.
Before thinking about Japan, what would you say if you are asked what a country is like ? One of the answers, I think, can be found in a country’s motto. For example, the motto of France is “liberty, equality, fraternity”. The motto of USA is “In God We Trust”, or “Out of Many, One”. Many of you may have heard of these. The national motto is based on the country’s founding beliefs. In addition to the motto, there is also a national symbol in France called Marianne. She is personification of France, and the symbol of freedom and republication.
These gives us a fandamental idea of the spirit of the people. However unfortunately, there is no so symbolic word in Japan. Of course, the Emperor is a symbol in Japan, but, they are representative of Japan rather than an abstract symbol like Marianne. So what should we focus on?
If we categorize what is unique to Japan, we may be able to find someting. I’m going to introduce the type of category here.
Japanese peple find value in materials and try to use that value. Sushi is a perfect example. There is no other dish that is so simple and brings out the taste of the material.
This can be said not only for sushi, but also for Japanese food in general. I think making the most of materials leads to favoring the simple. The design of the Shinkansen is a good example.
This type is similar to Sushi-type and Donki-type (describe below). “Waku” is the Japanese word for “frame”. They try to be creat as much as possible within a limited range. You probably have the image that Japanese people are very regular. A typical example of waku-type is the Japanese uniform.
High school girls, in particular, are enjoying thier own fashion within the limits they are allowed. It’s a kind of culture now.
This type is the design that contains a variety of elements. In other words, it has a lot of information. “Donki” is the short name for Don Quijote, a Japanese discount store. Let’s take Harajuku fashion as an example here.
They try to put as much functionality, covenience, and comfort as possible into a limited frame. We can see the Japanese way of “putting our herat into it” and “getting to the bottom of it”. It’s called “OMOTENASAHI”.
Mirai-type is an image of the future as described in city pop and SF anime of the 1980s and 1990s. You may have heard of AKIRA, one of the most famous ones.
The types I’ve described here, of course, have not appeared out of nowhere. As I mentioned in the Donki type, each type is a reflection fo Japanese values.
Sushi-type , which finds value in the materials, is born from the value of “sabi”. “Sabi” means “lonely” in Japanese. It is a way to feel the beauty of the materials as time goes by. The reason why Japanese people love cherry blossoms is that we feel that there is a sense of elegance in the annual cycle of blooming and falling.The beauty of cherry blossoms is not all in the bloom.
In addition to the above “sabi,” the waku-type is also related to the concept of “wabi”. “Wabi” is a value system that finds beauty in poverty and lack. This is a concept that has developed rapidly in the Japanese tea ceremony. One of them is called “Kintsugi”, using gold to repair a broken tea bowl.
This kintsugi not only means repairing broken parts, but also finding beauty in the parts that have broken down with the passing of time. Therefore, there is a difference in the beauty of the object before it is broken and after it has been repaired. This sense of beauty may be connected to the Japanese people’s awareness of the need to use limited items for a long time.
Next, we can see the spirituality of the Japanese people, who did not cultivate nature, but became part of it and found God in various things in donki-type. In Japan, there is a custom of finding gods in mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and many other things called the “eight million gods”.Japanese people are often told at a very young age that there are seven gods in a grain of rice, and that they should eat every last grain!
Finally, mirai-type is a prime example of the custom of accepting, arranging, and absorbing outside cultures and ideas as Japanese culture. Another example is Buddhism.
When Buddhism was accepted in Japan, it merged with the Japanese Shinto, which honors the eight million gods I mentioned before, and became a part of Japanese culture. As evidence of this, modern Japanese people do not really understand the difference between these.
In that way, we can find the values of the Japanese people from what is unique to Japan.
Up to this point, we have looked at the values of the Japanese people. From this, we can see that the Japanese are a people who have lived in harmony with nature. They do not fight against the flow of time as the natural order, but rather find beauty in it. They find God in everything that exists in nature and accept nature. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Japan is a nation that has been surrounded by and integrated with nature.
This is probably due to the fact that 2/3 of Japan’s land area is covered with forests and that Japan has rarely been invaded by other countries. I believe that the Japanese people should take the lead in this era where environmental issues are being discussed.