Our guest blogger, Caitlyn, is half Japanese. She writes about her first-person perspective on navigating the enigmatic world of Japan and her identity as a Japanese-American.
Guest Contributor | Caitlyn Waldman
WHAT IS TRADITION?
When I was young, my mother and I would travel to Japan often to visit friends and family.
My grandparents lived in a small fisherman village. No one locked their doors, floors were all bamboo mats (tatami) where everyone slept. We often went out to do fishing where I managed to catch the smallest fish I have ever seen, but they were delicious. Festivals were held in the streets. When someone passed away, everyone stood outside their homes to mourn the passing hearse.
Whenever I go back to Japan, I visit a shrine. I toss in some coins and pray, and get my fortune told (it's "worst luck", always). It's a spiritual action rooted in habit, something my mother passed on to me, which was passed to her from my grandfather – who wakes up at 6 am every morning to pray at a massive altar in his living room.
Tradition is a generational muscle memory.
Our friends in Tokyo all live in condos overlooking city streets. Everything in their homes – from their floors to their bathrooms, from the bedrooms to the kitchen – are all western-style with hardwood floors and beds that are set up on frames. The biggest connection to the quiet town my mother grew up in is the entryway where you remove your shoes and where you hang your clothes to dry.
This modern-traditional aesthetic has become a common scene among Asian architecture. Tokyo's major districts are lit up like the Vegas Strip. Venturing out from the city center, the buildings begin to shrink until they're single or two-story homes with traditional clay shingled roof, quiet and still when everyone goes to sleep.
When the West began to bleed into Japanese culture, certain things came with it. Outside of architecture and political standings, Japan produces thousands of products – mostly electronic – to the world. Most people will have at least one Japan-made item sitting in their home at all times.
Materialism is a common sight in modern Japan. Working late into the night, pumping out product after product to the point where some salarymen will fall asleep at their desks. But the materials that they work so hard to bring to the world isn't about the money – well, no people still work for the check – but about respect and reputation. Pride.
Clothing style has gone from modest to form-fitting to the outrageous. Although, schools still have their standard uniform and no make-up, colorful hair policy, it doesn't stop the kids. Outward respect to their elders have slowly drifted and they are more likely to voice their opinions to the people around them.
The meek Japanese caricature is no more.
MEANWHILE, IN THE WEST…
Japanese culture has taken a life of its own in the Western world.
Fanime is one of the largest anime conventions in America. People dress up at their favorite anime character and meet various artists. Toys are bought and sold. Autographs a-plenty.
Anime isn't the only aspect of their culture westerners have embraced. Calligraphy, origami, television, and the like have picked up popularity. There are classes for traditional flower arrangement and tea ceremonies. Japanese classes are offered in multiple schools and jobs that require/prefer language proficiency have grown.
As Japan begins to create new traditions, intertwined with Western sensibilities, the West adopts the classic traditions of the East.
As cultures shift and adopt those from others, new customs are formed. We affect the East, as we also affect the South, and North and in turn, they shape us. What some may think of as appropriation is a way for the world to go from separate beings to a whole.
Tradition isn't dead, it's changing.
Banner Image Credit: Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash
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