Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sept 11, 2013

        My experience with Japanese culture is, well, limited and impure.  Though I've been a participant in the Japanese pop-culture crazes that have floated across the Pacific, this is a very small, and not necessarily representative portion of Japanese culture which has been stripped of some authenticity.  As Benedict stressed, Japan is a culture of greatly varying practices, embracing both the sword, and the chrysanthemum.  While my understanding of Japan’s tendency to endorse shame, debt, responsibility, and a militaristic and aesthetically focused culture (Benedict) is solely based off of Benedict’s writing, I believe the variance between the sword and the chrysanthemum is where Japanese identity is located.  Japanese culture likely lies somewhere, and everywhere between the sword and the chrysanthemum.  It is because of this cultural variance that I am unaware just how often I am interacting with Japanese culture.  Cultural exports of Japan may be produced with what are now considered stereotypical traits of Japanese media (spiky haired characters with minimally detailed eyes), or they may be unidentifiable as Japanese in origin due to their original design, or localization.

 Like many western cultures (or all cultures, if you dig far enough back), Japan is, or was, an immigrant culture.  As an immigrant culture, Japan relied on both the population and ideas from outside countries in order to build its cultural identity into something that has become uniquely Japanese, or “Nihonjinron” (S. Ryang).  The process of constructing an individual culture out of many contributing sources in Japan was a much more gradual process than in North America.  For hundreds of years Japanese culture was slowly molded by the ideas and peoples of the mainland.  The fusion of practices from different groups over hundreds of years will naturally produce a very diverse culture, creating varying practices among geological locations, age groups, political systems, etc.  One of the vital features of the Japanese culture is their ability to appropriate ideas from external influences, improve upon them and reintroduce them to both the Japanese, and the global market.  Japan’s Three Cycle Response (Prasol) of imitation, adaptation, and improvement has not only shaped Japanese culture, but provided industrial Japan with a global niche in both technological and pop cultural exports. 

Japan’s ability to reinterpret cultural features, and improve them to their maximum usefulness (Prasol) has establish Japan as a large provider of cultural exports to the industrialized world.  Many of the products and cultural features released by Japan to the world contain Japanese cultural odor (Iwabuchi), laced with cultural features of the country of origin.  This cultural odor, which may or may not be instilled in an export, aids in the identification of an item as Japanese to the consumer.  While this odor can often be invoked by cultural features that may be stereotypical to a country, they do assist in making the consumer conscious of their product’s birthplace.   Japanese video games, technologies, and cartoons continue to have massive success on the global market, and provide the world with a taste of Japanese culture, though this taste, and odor is impure.  Very similar to Japan’s adaptation, and improvement of external cultural and technological influences, Japanese exports, especially cultural exports, often must be adapted by the destination culture.

Much like ideas that are subject to Japanization (Prasol), cultural exports of Japan often go through the process of localization, where the subject matter and language of the idea or product is adapted by the importing culture so that it is more appropriate for the consumer.  This two cycle response of adaptation and improvement partially strips the cultural export of its authenticity, providing consumers with an impure import.  It is due to this process of localization that I've likely had very little conscious interaction with authentic Japanese media.  When the text of media is interpreted by an outside source, much of the original meaning may be lost or misinterpreted.  Benedict's misinterpretation of the concept of debt, as represented by "on" spreads inauthentic cultural ideas of Japan to the reader.  Localization of game content in Dead Rising (2006) has created a game with minimal Japanese odor, and text that has been well adapted for a North American market.  This localization, though necessary, may cause misinterpretations of the original text, and misrepresentations of the intended cultural export.

Benedict, R. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946)

Ryang, S. Chrysanthemum's Strage Life: Ruth Benedict in Postwar Japan. (2004)

Prasol, A. F. Modern Japan: Origins of the Mind: Japanese Traditions and Approaches to Contemporary Life (2010)

Iwabuchi, K. Recentering Globalization: Popular Culture and Japanese Transnationalism (2002)

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