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Japan Mix

Posted July. 22, 2006 03:12,   


“Japanese culture has many similar aspects with Korean bibimbap, rice with assorted mixtures. The greatest portion, or rice, comes from China, the colorful vegetables come from various Asian countries such as India and Tibet, and Korea is like the red pepper paste that decides the most important factor, which is flavor. What Japan does is adopt such cultures in a large dish and drop a few drops of sesame oil before mixing them together,” said Japanese graphic designer Sugiura Kohei. Just as he said, Japanese culture is bibimbap.

They accept different cultures and mix them, converting them into their own style.

Just as Koreans call Japan “a close yet far away country,” Koreans know about Japan, but at the same time, don’t know it well. Although Koreans are proud about the Korean wave, also known as Hallyu, that hit by storm the Japanese archipelago, in reality Japan is also a cultural powerhouse just as it retains the reputation as an economic powerhouse. The concept of Gross National Cool (GNC) was coined in order to explain Japan’s cultural power, just as GNP shows a nation’s economy.

The book “Books, Text, and Design in Asia” analyzes the origin of the force that elevated Japanese culture to a world level in eight fields that range over novels, fashion, animation, movies, architecture, haiku, and cooking.

The strength of this book is that it deals with a wide variety of subjects, yet it is concrete; in depth, but at the same time not difficult to read. The articles carefully chosen by Japanese expertise authors of similar quality add reliability to this book.

If the essence of Japanese culture is a bibimbap trend, those who advance to the global stage and made Japan known excelled in counter-intuition. In 1970, fashion designer Takada Kenzo opened his first boutique in Paris named “Jungle Jap.” He used Jap, a derogative term used by westerners to call the Japanese, in his boutique’s name.

His idea to use Asia’s peripheral image, which might be a weakness, as a strong point, opposite to common sense, was also applied to his fashion designs. The design concept of Issey Miyake, one of the most famous Japanese in the world fashion industry, is different from westerners’ concept that clothes should fit a multidimensional body in that he starts thinking about how to slip on a single piece of cloth, and how to make and use the space between the cloth and the human.

The analysis of Japanese novels also has significant implications. Some say that the reason Japanese novels almost took the entire Korean market was because of trendy subjects and sensible writing, but Japan is such a literature powerhouse that the literary magazine “Shincho” is publishing its 1,200 issue since it was created 100 years ago, which is quite unprecedented in the world.

While mixing like bibimbap and adopting other cultures, how do the Japanese carry on their own culture? The answer lies in Japan’s traditional culture. Ise Jingu, one of Japan’s three major Jingu, or shrines, is demolished and reconstructed every 20 years. Twenty years is the period cycle of generation change. The skillful maestro constructs the entire building from scratch with the next generation and therefore is able to completely pass on all his skills, and that is the secret for the preservation of the same shape throughout hundreds of years.

While reading about Japan’s cultural power that preserves through dismantlement, mixes to create new things, and communicates with the world through deviation, we come to ponder about our own culture. This book is recommended for those who think that they know up to a certain level about Japanese culture.

Hee-Kyung Kim susanna@donga.com