[From October Issue 2011]
With October 2011 issue Hiragana Times marked the 300th edition. Back in 1986 when the first Hiragana Times was published, the Japanese economy was at its peak, and Japan was almost as great an economic power as the USA. It’s now 25 years later and Japan has changed greatly after experiencing the failure of the bubble economy, the Leman shock and the Great East Japan Earthquake. On the other hand, with the economic success of Asian countries (especially China), the world faces a new age.
While corporations from advanced countries moved their manufacturing overseas, the economies of those nations suffered and unemployment rates soared. Because of this, in place of manufacturing, many nations seeking fresh sources of income, instead depended on finance deals. However, as a result, many nations including the USA are experiencing the same conditions Japan did after the economic bubble burst.
This year Japan’s GDP ranking fell from second to third place in the world after the USA and China. Under these circumstances, Japanese values have been changing. It has become apparent from surveys that the numbers of Japanese who place greater importance on a spiritually rich existence – rather than materially rich life achieved within a competitive society – are increasing.
One of the main reasons for this is that most Japanese now enjoy a comfortable standard of living. The majority of Japanese families possess basic necessities such as electrical appliances or cars, while facilities like railroads and convenience stores are well developed. Japanese are now seeking a cultural environment which will enrich their spirit.
The unique quality of Japanese culture seems to lie in its refined aesthetics. For instance, Japanese cuisine is not only delicious but is presented on exquisite dishes, resulting in wonderful color combinations and the good manners of waiting staff also add to its charm. Taken as a whole, these details lift dining to the level of a beautiful work of art.
Thus the elegance of Japanese culture can be seen in traditional arts, architecture, manufactured goods and more. This comes from the tireless quest for improvement typical to the Japanese, often reflected in the punctuality of Japan’s transportation systems and in the unparalleled hospitality found in ryokan.
Japan’s government is hoping that “Cool Japan” cultural property born out of this perfectionism will be a new source of growth following in the footsteps of the manufacturing industries. Anime and manga is already well-known, and Japanese cuisine is also well received worldwide. Recently the standard of service found in hairdressers and ryokan is also making waves abroad.
“Cool Japan” is now gaining ground overseas, especially in Europe, the USA and Asia. Hiragana Times has asked foreign readers what they found appealing about Japan. Many of the replies cited the variety and tastiness of Japanese food, they also cited customer orientated hospitality including the friendly smiles and useful advice received from shop assistants.
Also many cited the convenience and punctuality of the public transportation system, good public order, Japanese standards of hygiene, and the nation’s strong moral code. Rebecca, an artist from Australia says, “I like the fact that stores can leave items for sale out on the street with almost no fear of theft. The fact that I can walk home by myself at 5 am wearing a short skirt and more-or-less feel safe in doing so. The fact that I can leave my bag on a train and have it back in ten minutes untouched.”
Among the replies, “Japanese kindness” was cited most often. Chinese student LUO Cheng Hua said, “When I ask someone for directions, they kindly tell me by pointing or writing them on a sheet of paper. I am thankful to the person who showed me how to buy a ticket when I took a train for the first time.” Many non-Japanese are bewitched by Japanese culture.
“Culture Day,” on November 3 (this is a national holiday), encourages Japanese people to enjoy their native culture. Many events take place a few weeks before and after the day, including an awards ceremony for those who have contributed to Japanese culture. The Cultural Agency is encouraging organizations to hold culture events.
The easiest way to get a taste of Japanese culture is through travel. In Japan there is an abundance of natural beauty and a great many places of historical interest which tourists can enjoy all year round. Canadian writer Andrea MORI says, “I like the fact that there are so many seemingly contradictory aspects to the country, such as traditional versus modern, or urban versus rural, that manage to coexist in relative harmony.
Thus, Japan has now stepped up to move from being an “economic power” to becoming a “cultural power.” Fortunately Japan has abundant cultural recourses. Japanese culture has the potential to make the country’s revival possible.