2013 was a year in which worldwide interest in Japanese culture grew as UNESCO designated Mount Fuji as a World Heritage site and added washoku (Japanese cuisine) to its World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. When considering a nation’s “national power,” soft power, which includes things like cultural influence, is incredibly important. Boosting a nation’s cultural influence not only enriches the lives of individuals, but also benefits the country politically. We want the appeal of Japan’s traditional culture to be broadened and Japan to be turned into a cultural superpower.
1. Traditional Crafts (Ceramics, Textile, Lacquerware, etc.): Increase Opportunities for Children to Experience Traditional Culture from an Early Age
The protection of traditions is often skewed toward supporting the purveyors of traditions and providing subsidies to related associations and organizations. In other words, it tends to focus solely on the “suppliers” of tradition. However, if traditions are to be truly protected, it is far more important to nurture “consumers” of traditions. This is because unless a tradition is required by people, it will eventually die out.
One suggestion for achieving this is to increase, through school education, opportunities for children to come into contact with traditional crafts from their local regions such as ceramics, textiles, and lacquerware. In the U.S., for example, art galleries are used for lessons. Classes in the French language are conducted in an art gallery. The students learn about French culture by looking at impressionist paintings and eating reasonably-priced French cuisine. Later, they submit an essay about impressionist art. Similar initiatives are also happening in Japan. In Kyoto, for example, there is a project to send craftsmen from fields such as Nishijin silk fabrics and Kyoyuzen dyeing to elementary and middle schools to explain their crafts. Government-approved school curricula should be revised to include hands-on lessons involving traditional crafts in order to give people more opportunities to come into contact with traditions from childhood.
In addition, art galleries and museums around Japan house traditional crafts and cultural assets from their respective regions. It is vital that local governments and the private sector work together to make art galleries and museums more welcoming to visitors in order to transmit traditional crafts and cultural assets to the next generation.
2. Traditional Performance Arts (Kabuki, Noh, Kyogen, etc.): Make Traditional Culture More Accessible and Establish Business Models That are Suited to the Modern Age
Bunraku, traditional Japanese puppet theater, which is now considered part of Japan’s traditional culture, actually started life as a pop culture among the common people of Osaka during the Edo Period. Now it is regarded as high-class traditional culture, and would be unable to survive without subsidies. Ultimately, cultural artifacts that are no longer needed by the people of that era die out. Protecting culture and art is not about using subsidies to prolong their life. Traditional culture needs to be made more accessible. As has already happened in the world of kabuki (initiatives include “super kabuki,” which breaks free of the art’s traditional shell; performances overseas and in English; and the appearance of kabuki and kyogen actors on television, which boosts the number of fans), the purveyors of traditional culture need to make an effort to create business models that match modern times.
3. Traditional Culture (Tea Ceremony, Flower Arranging, Kimono, etc.): Get Japanese People to Relearn Traditional Culture and Seize Every Opportunity to Tell the World about it
In 1906, during the middle of the Meiji Period, Kakuzo Okakura published The Book of Tea, bringing a knowledge of wa to the world. Okakura felt that the fundamental approach to the tea ceremony was based on the celebration of the beauty to be found in everyday life, and that it reflected a uniquely Japanese world view. With the tea ceremony as his primary focus, he introduced Japan’s traditional spiritual culture to the world. Besides the tea ceremony, he also wrote about Taoism, Zen spirit, flower arrangement, architecture, Japanese garden, Japanese clothing, ceramics, and Japanese painting. The traditional culture of Japan that Okakura described a century ago is once again being appreciated by people around the world. It is important that we Japanese relearn Japan’s traditional culture and endeavor to pass it on to future generations. To that end, events that foreigners are invited to, such as official events organized by the national government or local governments, important private-sector events, and so on, should always feature elements from Japanese traditional culture. For example, participants could appear wearing traditional Japanese clothing. In this way, every opportunity should be seized to convey wa to the world.