Japanese culture and tradition Ė what is it that makes the Japanese culture attractive and how can this countryís cultural traditions be conveyed to people living overseas.


To me, to live as part of Japanís landscape is to be aware of the connection you share with your neighbour. I remember one sense of this when walking down a suburban street in Tokyo. The picture of rows of houses, built wall-to-wall and yet seemingly happy to fit in tightly against one other, colourfully displaying their residentsí washing tools, bicycles, plants and other various day-to-day objects along the front. This reminded me of two things, firstly the freedom to not worry about the nuisance of strangers stealing anything not chained to the ground. Secondly, the notion that although most of the hundreds of people who might walk by a familyís home each week would never be able to witness the life which revolved around the front of the house and its objects, the second that someone who had some business arrived they would be instantly welcomed. To be part of such a bustling scene is to be part of a neighbourhood, I thought. After that, I could not get the image out of my head, that each individual on the street carried with them a similar way to invite you into the space where they live. With the right opening conversation there was always the possibility being invited to share in a bit of the colour in their life, even for as long as the moment could afford. I imagined with awe the detail with which their lives, like the rooms they lived in, would be decorated with. Every individual was surrounded by portable Ďspacesí, a permanent glow they invited others to share in.


I always felt Japanís greatest tradition has been its love for drawing the onlooker into the vivid life-experiences of the maker, the aesthetic of warm detail in design. The ability of knowing how to communicate oneís life to another who is willing to listen is the greatest sign of inner-contentment, the zen philosophy that should stay with you and keep you strong in the face of any situation. There is no doubt that the international fascination with all of Japanís traditional art and social systems stems from this recognition of the strength obtainable from belief in oneís self and in oneís friends.


Yet, the puzzlement of the ordinary foreign traveller most likely arises from that same source, namely that this strength could result in such a great wall blocking out the will of those eager to learn about it. So many friends of mine who have read enough about Japanís unique culture to go and live there for a while have ultimately turned away and claimed it could never be a society they identify with. Added to this are countless more comments in articles published around the world which fail to connect the perceived contradictions in Japanese behaviour, and donít hesitate to vent their disbelief and lack of interest to learn anything further.


This is why I believe the key to the communication of Japanese culture and tradition lies in recognition of the audience. It is a vital step in the conversion of traditional customs to contemporary ones to re-evaluate the signs which identify a personís qualities at listening to your stories and sharing the feelings which you do. Without this in mind, I believe efforts to present the richness of a countryís culture will always be hindered by endless attempts at explaining things. The uniqueness of Japanese culture is not lost on the millions who have been exposed to media images commonplace today, instead their uncertainty is whether or not Japan ever stops to see the effect it is having. The easiest way to add to an outsiderís vocabulary is to listen to the words they are using at the moment, and then ask how they are different to new ones. This allows the listener to become involved personally. Some of the most controversial social issues could even be addressed this way, a major stopping point for foreigners coming to grips with todayís Japan.


I feel that the strong sense of invitation in Japanese everyday culture should be highlighted and compared with other cultures around the world. The sort of experiences conveyed in serial television dramas easily demonstrate the underpinnings of how Japanís cultural aesthetic is delivered everyday, where the audience is always invited to ask which character and situation they identify with. On a word of mouth level, it is the way travellers are treated in Japan which will make the difference as to whether Japan is perceived to be interested in international views or not. An outsider will always need an insiderís view of a society. That is why ensuring that the simpler pictures of Japanese life are offered along with the grander ones is necessary for making us think what it is which connects us.

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