Japanese Culture and Westernization

Japanese Culture

Japan’s isolation until the arrival of the ‘Black Ships’ and the Meiji era produced a culture distinctively different from any other, and echoes of this uniqueness persist today. For example, as Ruth Benedict pointed out in her classic study “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”, Japan has a shame culture (external reference standard) rather than the guilt culture (internal reference standard) that is more familiar in the West. Again in Japan, inter-relationships between people are heavily influenced by “obligation” and “duty” in a way that is no longer true in the more individualistic and free-wheeling West. Finally, generalised conceptions of morality and desirable behaviour are relatively under-developed in Japan, where particular obligations to family, school, and friends tend to guide behaviour.

Japanese Culture
Japanese women wearing blonde wigs take part in a promotional event in Tokyo.

Because of strong correlation between Japanese culture and language, the Japanese language has always played a significant role in Japanese culture. Nemawashi, for example, indicates consensus achieved through careful preparation. It reflects the harmony that is desired and respected within Japanese culture.

While Japanese are better known for their physical comedy outside of Japan, they have intricate and complex humor and jokes. Because this humor relies so heavily on Japanese language, centuries of cultures, Buddhism-Shinto religion, and ethics, however, they are generally impossible to translate.

Japanese popular culture not only reflects the attitudes and concerns of the present but also provides a link to the past. Popular films, television programs, comics, and music all developed from older artistic and literary traditions, and many of their themes and styles of presentation can be traced to traditional art forms. Contemporary forms of popular culture, like the traditional forms, provide not only entertainment but also an escape for the contemporary Japanese from the problems of an industrial world. When asked how they spent their leisure time, 80 percent of a sample of men and women surveyed by the government in 1986 said they averaged about two and one-half hours per weekday watching television, listening to the radio, and reading newspapers or magazines. Some 16 percent spent an average of two and one-quarter hours a day engaged in hobbies or amusements. Others spent leisure time participating in sports, socializing, and personal study. Teenagers and retired people reported more time spent on all of these activities than did other groups.

In the late 1980s, the family was the focus of leisure activities, such as excursions to parks or shopping districts. Although Japan is often thought of as a hard-working society with little time for pleasure, the Japanese seek entertainment wherever they can. It is common to see Japanese commuters riding the train to work, enjoying their favorite comic books or listening through earphones to the latest in popular music on portable music players.

A wide variety of types of popular entertainment are available. There is a large selection of music, films, and the products of a huge comic book industry, among other forms of entertainment, from which to choose. Game centers, bowling alleys, and karaoke are popular hangout places for teens while older people may play shogi and go in a parlor.

Westernization of the Japanese Culture

The Japanese lifestyle is gradually becoming westernized and things Japanese are slowly fading away. The symbolic sign of this trend is the kimono. A decade ago many women were wearing kimono in the New Years period, but not many do nowadays. Putting on a kimono will inconvenience contemporary Japanese women. Kimono are very graceful, but they are not easy to put on by yourself. To solve this problem, kimono wearing classes are available.

On the other hand, kotatsu or foot warming tables are rarely seen these days. Kotatsu are placed in a tatami room or straw matted room and covered by a futon or cotton packed quilt. This used to be a typical Japanese winter scene where family members would gather around a kotatsu and enjoy talking or watching TV with their legs inside the warmer. Kotatsu used to take a role not merely as a warmer, but also to provide an opportunity for families to communicate. A reason they are rarely used now is very much related to the change of housing design in Japan. The biggest character of Japanese houses was the tatami room, but with the progression of westernization, many rooms now have furnished floors.

Japanese Culture and Westernization (Reuters/Yuriko Nakao)
Japanese women wearing blonde wigs take part in a promotional event in Tokyo.

About 300 Japanese women in identical blonde wigs took part in the event on Sunday April 10, before throwing the wigs in the air to debunk the stereotypical western concept of beauty and being urged to develop their own beauty ideal.

Westernization is pushing different aspects of Japanese culture aside one after another. However, parts of culture that are abandoned are often reassessed with nostalgia for their good aspects and revive in a new style. Yukata and mosquito nets are a good example of this. Some people who have arranged these things in contemporary style have even created a boom.

Source: Hiragana Times