Monday, October 6, 2014

The Past Within Us (Janae)

Movie Poster (original link here)
It feels like I've been seeing this movie poster (for ‘Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno’) everywhere in the city: at 7-11, in the mall, in the train station.  I feel like there must be even more samurai movies in Japan than there are World War II movies in the U.S., and they've enjoyed popularity since the times of Akira Kurosawa.  This particular movie is based on an anime and is loosely set in Meiji era.  I think cultural appreciation has allowed these films to (generally) have an impressive amount of accuracy too.  Traditions like kimono-wearing and kendo are still practiced and respected, especially in schools, so the creators and viewers both have a great appreciation for the history shown in films like these.  This contrasts to what I've heard from some international students about how many of their traditional practices are being looked down upon in their country as backwards and quickly replaced by the modern by anyone with means.

Taiko drums in Akita City.
I've also noticed many different traditional clubs and practices in Japan.  I've seen martial arts demonstrations in the mall and heard students practicing on taiko drums for the festival club, and I have many friends who have joined tea ceremony, calligraphy, flower arranging, kimono, and kendo clubs.  It’s interesting how much more widespread and popular kendo is in Japan compared to something like fencing in the U.S.  And how many clubs for traditional dress do you see in the U.S.?  People are very enthusiastic about and dedicated to keeping traditions alive here. 
Calligraphy-style writing on a shopping bag.
The above two examples just come from traditions I've seen in everyday life here.  Even though in the present day simple font is much more common than the elegant and precise brush strokes of calligraphy, I still see calligraphy inspired fonts on everything from restaurant signs to shopping bags.  I think this means that using calligraphy still makes customers feel that a product or service or event is old-timey and/or authentic, so it’s useful in the present day as a marketing tool.  Do good memories from calligraphy club in high school really influence a person to go to a ramen shop with calligraphy in its title?  I can’t say for sure, but, in any case, I think there is an enormous amount of nostalgia and respect for the past.

I think these references to the past in Japan, whether through samurai movies or calligraphy on shopping bags, also serve to create and nourish a Japanese identity that is often used to support social norms.  The themes of honor and loyalty in samurai films can inspire salarymen to be completely devoted to their company, and the precision and elegance women are taught to wear a kimono correctly with can teach them a traditional Japanese woman ideal that is actually a modern creation itself, constructed from jumbled elements of the past.  It might just be my imagination, but when I look at a lot of old black and white photographs of women wearing everyday kimono, their kimonos sometimes look a little disheveled, or at least not as impeccably perfect in the way that kimono are worn today.  It makes me wonder if this whole idea that everyday kimono must be worn in a very precise fashion, with not a fold out of place because precision is a Japanese value, isn’t one that has been constructed in more modern times.

1 comment:

Crystaline Hoover said...

The point you raise about traditional symbols in marketing is an interesting one. Even though the past may not be quite as important in the US, I think that we have similar things to the calligraphy. A lot of places go for "quaint," aiming for reminiscence of an earlier period when things were simpler and we lived in small, friendly towns. I wonder if the same connotation exists in Japan. What is it about the past that appeals to them?