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Japan, the country of Ukiyo-e or Kawaii culture?

I read an article which said the love of the Japanese toward fictional characters were something influenced by the religion in which we believe that all the objects that exist in this world possess a spirit.

That must be possible partially because I guess it would be easier for us, the Japanese, to empathize with objects, even with some stones in riverside, than other people who have no belief in this type of religion. But, if so, why don’t we see anything like Hello Kitty in Ukiyo-e “pictures of the floating world”, a genre of woodblock prints and paintings flourished in Japan in Edo period (from the 17th to 19th centuries), when people were more near to the religion than now?

Few days ago, I visited Edo-Tokyo Museum to see the Great Ukiyoe exhibition, “A Journey Through the Floating World” with more than 300 pieces of Ukiyoe works but found no Mascots or characters…

 

ukiyoe

This exhibition is until 2nd March in Edo-Tokyo Museum. I had never seen so many important pieces of work at one time!
Don’t miss it!

 

I personally think that one of the factors would be the inferiority complex that we, the modern Japanese, have. ‘Modern’ I described which I mean, after the 19th century.

You may all know that before the Black Ships arrived in Japan in 1853, the official gate of Japan to the world was kept closed for more than 200 years and most of the people knew nothing about what was happening in the world after the Industrial Revolution.

I can easily imagine the shock that our ancestors had at that time. They were doing all right without problems but suddenly, they confronted the moment in which they felt that they were backward, underdeveloped, primeval and barbaric.

For about eighty years, the clear-cut goal of Japan was to westernize the country and the people. But in 1945, Japan went back to the start and the westernization was accelerated. Western culture seemed brilliant, full of joy and wealth to our ancestors at that time who were at the abyss of poverty.

Moreover, after the war, we were educated to deny what our ancestors did and it gradually become even a taboo to talk about it. Denying the ancestors or falling away the respect for the own history makes people to loose their self-confidence and delivers inferiority complex. The recomposed self confidence which our ancestors had lost in 19th century disappeared again after the war. So, within 100 years our ancestors lost their self-confidence at least twice, which could mean our self-confidence had been destroyed completely. Surely it will take time to rebuild it.

 

After a great effort, Japan was back on its feet but I assume that the inferiority complex to the western world rose up to the surface clearly in regards to the opening of information to the nation. One of the examples would be the concept of ‘beauty’.

TV broadcasting started in Japan in 1953. In 1966 the first animation for girls Sally the Witch (Mahōtsukai Sarī) started, followed by Himitsu no Akko-chan and Attack No. 1 (Atakku Nanbā Wan) in 1969. ‘Candy Candy’ followed in 1975. Most of the characters in the animations have very big eyes rather than almond-shaped eyes with some  in blond. Nobody can tell that they are Japanese. (Candy in ‘Candy Candy’ is American as an exceptional!)

One more important thing would be a doll. We have many types of traditional dolls but the most popular doll which first appeared made in Japan for girls to play with is Licca-chan doll which started to be sold in 1967 until today.

So, in these recent 50 years the characters or icons that the Japanese love do not represent their own Japanese people. It can be said this is one of the factors affecting our modern Kawaii culture too.

 

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Another interesting exhibition you ought to see at Yamatane Museum.

 

On the other hand, we see many characters and mascots in business in Japan, for example every city has Yuru-chara, a mascot that advertises the city for public events, regional events and specialties instead of mayors nowadays. Yuru-chara is an abbreviation for “Yurui Character”, ‘Yurui’ meaning loose, not serious, or playful. Yuru-chara, such as Kumamon_(mascot), even appeared as a character to represent Japan in Japan Expo in France.

In addition, there are many companies which use characters or mascots for their advertisement instead of human models or human actors/actresses.

This syndrome could be categorized as ‘strange’ to those outside Japan and to quite many Japanese who do not favor such phenomenon as using such procedures is not the only way for promoting or advertising. One of the factors of this choice would be, I assume, the risk avoiding. In advertisement world the risk of the client would be the scandals of models, actresses, or actors; as a whole, ‘human beings’. Human beings are not stable. They can be sick and will get old. Human beings can make mistakes and can also make an unfortunate slip of the tongue… Human beings will fall in love to inappropriate person. But if the character is fiction, there will be no worries on these negative factors.

Psychologically speaking, the people who don’t have self-confidence to themselves tend to be demanding to others and very strict to the defects of others. So I think it is natural that the media has to do something for a risk hedge.

 

There is a famous proverb, “A frog in the well knows nothing of the great ocean but knows the height of the sky.” The Japanese are not living in a small fenced pool any more. We can swim out into the ocean. In the great ocean, there will be sharks or shepherds and there will be impetuous heaving waves. But we may find a beauty in the great ocean or we may see the new world over the ocean that we have never known.

In fact, our ancestors’ great artistic works, such as Ukiyo-e, were saved by western people when we were about to destroy and burn them or just abandon them when Japan opened its doors to the outer world in 19th century. Because our ancestors were dazzled by the intense light of ‘advanced’ western culture, they were shocked and could not find their own importance or their beauty any more on what they had been placing high priorities on.

 

We are situated in Far East and our way of living or the way of thinking is different to those in far West. Until now, for about 150 years, we have placed the standard onto the Western culture and we have been suffering from the prejudice that we were backward, underdeveloped, and primeval compared to the West.

Is this true?

Maybe not. We are just different.

 

Nowadays, there is a discussion whether to anticipate the start of English education in schools or not. I have no idea if the early starting as their mother tongue not yet fluent is an effective way but I’m sure that changing the mind from ‘passive’ into ‘active’ would be the key. English would not be only a means of obtaining advanced information any more. It is also a means of transmitting information toward the world.

It is a pity that there are still many Japanese who cannot use English even though they study it in schools for at least 3 years, more up to 6 years. In Japan many would say ‘making mistakes’ is a shame. But I think there is nobody who makes no mistakes in their lives. If making mistakes were a shame, a person like me who is writing a blog in not-perfect-English would be like someone walking on a big street with chocolate or jam all over his face. It might be messy but he knows that the taste is good. But maybe I’m too bold but in another aspect I have balls (actually I don’t)!

 

I want my countryfolk to make a new judgment. Therefore we need to develop the ability to judge by ourselves and abstain from blindly accepting opinions of someone else.

The era of being passive is over. Now the time has come to become active and self-motivating!
にほんブログ村 歴史ブログ 日本の伝統・文化へ

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