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Japanese Culture, culture-less ?

BeNippon

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I am a European, staying now in Japan for some 6 months and will be here for maybe another 2 years.
Although I am working for an academic institute here in Japan and get into touch with a lot of open minded, intelligent and culturally interested people, I still have the feeling that Japan itself has culturally not much to offer.
Of course there is classic poetry, and there are some contemporary artists and art exhibitions. But compared to Europe, it seems rather boring, not cutting edgy at all, but merely repetitive. Everything seems so business oriented here.
And I still wonder what is so special about wood cut paintings, pottery from Kyoto, No and Kyogen Theatre and the beauty of Haiku. Of course they are forms of Art, but long outdated. Where can I find new interpretations, new approaches to Japanese culture, contemporary art that is not related to Manga, Movies, PC Games and so on?

Is it due to my misconception of Japanese culture ( I do speak and write Japanese) or is Japanese culture really not moving forward and becoming more and more culture-less?
 

Maciamo

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I had exactly the same impression when I came to Japan. Let's say that the most interesting revolves around Shinto and Buddhism. I haven't found much in Japanese literature that could compare to European one (only Genji Monogatari, which is in fact the only book well-known outside Japan). Kabuki, Noh, pottery, sado, etc. are all quite boring and most yound and less young Japanese don't even deny it. Modern Japanese culture and technologies are definitely much more popular both for Japanese and foreigners.
 

Ewok85

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I feel Japan hasn't had all the cultural revolutions that the west is said to have, the only major one being from Edo -> Meiji. Makes for about 1000 years of pretty much the same thing.
 

MeAndroo

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Well, I'd disagree with the idea that traditional Japanese culture is boring. I loved sado, wabi-sabi is good stuff, and the kabuki play I went to was actually pretty entertaining. But I have to agree that none of it is very modern. But that's Japanese culture. They love their traditions, and I think that's one of the things that makes it such a paradoxical society. You're technologically advanced, but still have these arts, crafts, and activites that hearken back to a forgotten era.

And I'm not sure that other countries aren't similar to how you're describing Japan. What's happened in the US, for example, lately that's so culturally redeeming? "You Got Served?"
 

myrrhine

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don't knock the kabuki before you've tried it.... what i've seen (on video) is, like meandroo said, pretty entertaining. especially if you've read the play first, so you have some idea what's going on. even if you don't, if you see one of the more spectacle-oriented plays, which can be big on cool design/effects it'll be pretty... well... spectacular :)

noh on the other hand can be a tad slow. to say the least. wouldn't recommend that unless you've done some studying up on it and read the play. or are just hardcore into codified forms of theatre/dance... 🕺

what is totally impressive though (again, from what i've seen on video... this will change soon dammit!) is the puppet theatre, bunraku - big puppets, takes three people to control them. way coolness.
 

chiquiliquis

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BeNippon said:
Is it due to my misconception of Japanese culture ( I do speak and write Japanese) or is Japanese culture really not moving forward and becoming more and more culture-less?

Yeah... I think this whole issue is going to depend on what kind of expectations you had coming into the country.

One thing to keep in mind: cultures are never lost--they just change. Japan, like all regions, will always have a culture. Whether or not that culture jives with what you came to acknowledge as representative or defining of it, 5, 50 or 500 years ago... it is still a culture.

What is so fascinating about contemporary Japan? What gives it it's culture?

- Harajuku on Sunday (or if you don't have access: lolita-goth?)
- Consumer sovereignty (in the GOD-like sense)
- Old men drinking beer on the train.
- A lady who invited me to meditate with her the other week.
- The contrast between "the city" and "the country".
- Kids that stare at me in the supermarket.
- Kids killing eachother.
- Guys dressed in black suits chasing after young girls at the station.
- Not locking my door at night, and feeling safe (I'm American).
- Japenese TV (what, mate)
- Nomikai's (what x2)
- A Latin bar in Hachioji that's full of Japanese people and no Latinos--and all of them know how to dance Salsa really well.
- Commercial Art (Japan is a graphic designers heaven--if the traditional arts are boring, I wouldn't miss this).

Those are just a few. But, I find all of them to be very exciting aspects of my experience of this country. Anyways, good luck... the more time you spend here, the more outlets you find for "cultural enrichment".
 

jieshi

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I disagree that japanese culture is boring. Would we all be on these forums actively investigating japanese culture, traditonal and pop if it was boring? Japan may not have had as long a history as Europe but it certainly has had many interesting events happen in its short history, many which have turned into interesting folk stories, novels and movies. I definitely do not think it is boring!
 

Ewok85

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jieshi said:
Japan may not have had as long a history as Europe but it certainly has had many interesting events happen in its short history, many which have turned into interesting folk stories, novels and movies.

Want to expand on this question or are you going to go away, learn something, and think about it?
 

jieshi

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Ewok85 said:
Want to expand on this question or are you going to go away, learn something, and think about it?

well you have the whole story of the last samurai (not the tom cruise movie) but the real last samurai, Saigo Takamori (read a very interesting book on it). The Meji and Heian periods ( oh and tokugawa). There is very interesting stories from all of these. These are just some examples.
 

Ewok85

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Japanese history is longer than that of say Australia (hah) or America and although it cant boast to be as good as some parts of Europe it has a long and diverse history.
 

Kyt

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BeNippon said:
I am a European, staying now in Japan for some 6 months and will be here for maybe another 2 years.

(...)
Where can I find new interpretations, new approaches to Japanese culture, contemporary art that is not related to Manga, Movies, PC Games and so on?

Too bad you are in Japan now. If you had stayed in Germany, you might have watched this television program
 

Fantt

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I'm not sure what's so useless about manga, anime and video games. Sure, a lot are worthless, but there are real gems to be found here and there.

Should modern "culture" only be defined by that which excited previous generations? To completely overlook new media seems relatively snobbish.
 

corporate punkk

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I believe he's specifically talking about japans ancient culture that is lacking and boring...it's all subjective really. But there's no doubt that Japans modern culture is something to be recognized, it's simply incredible.

chiquiliquis
yeah dude..the commercial graphic design there is HEAVEN FOR ME, i do designs btw. And i've never seen so many wonderful 'graphic design' books in one store. heh too bad i can't read japanese, but wow!
 

Maciamo

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Ewok85 said:
Japanese history is longer than that of say Australia (hah) or America and although it cant boast to be as good as some parts of Europe it has a long and diverse history.

This is not true. Both Australia and the US's history start in Europe. Both countries were founded mainly by the UK and are integral part of the UK's history until their independance. Japan's history (by definition, time from which we have written documents) only starts in the 6th century AD, after the fall of the Roman Empire (or the end of the European Antiquity).

Don't you learn about ancient Greece and Rome, or about the Renaissance or European colonisation in Australia (and the US, for American readers) ? Yes, you do, but you don't necessarily learn about Asian or African history. That proves my point.

jieshi said:
I disagree that japanese culture is boring. Would we all be on these forums actively investigating japanese culture, traditonal and pop if it was boring?

BeNippon was referring to culture in the purest sense of the word, which means the arts, classical music, theatre, literature, etc. That does not include pop culture, but the more traditional aspects. In Japan's case, noh, kabuki, ukiyoe, haiku, shamisen, tea ceremony, etc. - which most people would find boring in comparison to what Europe did in these centuries (from great cathedrals and renaissance paintings to romantic chateaux or classical music, without forgetting literature like Shakespeare, Dante or Voltaire, or even Dickens, Dumas or Hugo).

jieshi said:
well you have the whole story of the last samurai (not the tom cruise movie) but the real last samurai, Saigo Takamori (read a very interesting book on it). The Meji and Heian periods ( oh and tokugawa). There is very interesting stories from all of these. These are just some examples.

This is history, not culture properly speaking. Japan's history, especially the Meiji era to which Saigo Takamori belongs, is the most interesting part of the "Old Japan". I have written a few articles about important Meiji characters in JREF's Glossary. But please don't confuse culture and history. At best we could say that a branch of history studies the traditional culture of a country (like Arts History), but not the other way round. In other words, a country's culture is part of its history, but its history is not part of its culture.

I'd say that Japan's history has some interesting periods, and more boring ones (or interesting but very limited in content), while Japanese traditional culture is mostly boring (ukiyoe are the only thing I can really appreciate). This is just my personal perception.
 

imiss2004

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OP, Maciamo,Fanttt,Ewok you are wrong.
Japanese culture is not boring. It has a style that is a unique sense of the basics of Japanese peoples identity. It is varied , it isnt repetitive and lacking or un-cutting edge.
And that should be respected.
"Kabuki, Noh, pottery, sado, etc. "
That reeks of ignorance, the fact that you have not even fully explored their other works and dismiss all Japanese culture as boring is stupid. but even still, we are both foreigners, their culture is their sense of identity, just because you have seen something, does not mean you understand it, just because you have seen some of their arts, does not mean it should be dismissed as boring and should be immediately thrown away and erased. Maciamo, your statement does not mean everyone automatically agrees with it, I most certainly do not.
As for the Japanese youth finding it boring, they are wrong and they are underlooking the value of it, it is interesting, but they unfortunately are being exposed by too much globalist foreign material alot.
Fanttt.Japanese works are not worthless, they all have some worth, even if some worths are small.
"Should modern "culture" only be defined by that which excited previous generations? To completely overlook new media seems relatively snobbish."
It is not snobbish. Its just that modern culture has been exposed to Globalist clone culture. There is also a currently weak and deteriorating social system in japan which can explain why their culture is dying, and that is causing even Japanese natives to forget about their own customs and their own sense of unique identity. That,"new" media may just be Foreign non-Japanese styled material.
"that which excited previous generations"
And why cant it not excite current ones? There is no reason why it cannot do so. It is a sense of unique identity that was added to the shared pool of Japanese culture and just because it is old does not mean it is evil or boring.However, alot of current media in Japan however is unique and truly Japanese innovative material and that should not be overlooked, but one must be cautious of foreign material and they should not classify that as Japanese culture since their not Japanese.
The current culture of Japan is not just the old but the new mixed in with it together.
 
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Wardie1993

長い英国と日本の友情はラ Cブ!
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to be fair i take me hat off to the Japanese for keeping such ancient traditions alive, well thats me personal opinion anyway
 
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