As with everything, we need context. In order to pursue something, an idea, a thought, a question, we need a bit of background, the below is such background, for both the project I've decided to name 'Japan:Creative' and for myself, to try and justify why I am doing this, what it will mean, and what I want to achieve out of it. As a pre-note; though I will be talking a little about the history of Japan, I want to largely avoid Japanese imperialism and any acts committed in the name of Imperial Japan, it has little to do with the objective of this project, and whilst it cannot be completely ignored, any depth on this particular subject is not required here.
To explore modern Japan, Japanese culture, and creativity in Japan in the context of this project I will start back in 1635AD, here we have the beginning of the Japanese Sakoku, or literally 'Locked Country'. A form of self imposed isolation under a Shogunate government of the Tokugawa or Edo period. This isolated period was in place from 1635 to 1868 - yes over two hundred years - and in short, was imposed to, and specifically designed for, keeping the West out. Spain and Portugal were being particularly colonial at the time around Asia and the Japanese didn't like it. The Sakoku, alongside other things, also banned Catholisism as a dangerous ideology (always knew I liked the Japanese for some reason) and restricted Japanese subjects from leaving Japan on penalty of death. There were a series of other economic reasons as well, but in short, it was to maintain a distinct 'Japanese' state of mind within the nation and to protect the Shogunate (government) and the Emperor. It was precisely this policy of isolation however, that had such a dramatic affect on modern-day Japan, with an insanely quick and dramatic 100 year or so turn around, and why I believe we need to start here in order to lay the background for this project.
It was during this period of isolation when Europe and America entered the Age of Enlightenment, great minds moving quickly away from the 'Dark' middle-ages of religious persecution, and into a time of civilization backed and pushed through the exploration of science, philosophy, literature, art, and all other forms of brilliance that previously unless complied with the church and God's way, were quashed quite dramatically. This enlightenment of Europe and America is important as we come to look at the modernisation of Japan, and in turn the mushrooming of creativity, its import and export from the country today.
It's 1635 in Japan, under the Tokugawa shogun a form of government called Sankin-kōtai is imposed, this is a way of better handling the Diamyo, or traditional lords of Japan, but also for the first time in Japanese history it helps provide its citizens with a form of national identity as a whole. The Sankin-kotai also helps kick-start a national market economy which would pave the way for the epic economic growth and modernisation of the 19th and 20th centuries. 'National identity' is critically important at this juncture as something to remember as we move forward, national identity is something Japan has for a long time, and into today, been at odds with.
At this point I also want to mention the stratification of the Japanese people during this time, the lasting effect of which - I believe - still has a resonance in modern Japan. At the very top you have the Emperor, who provided the edict to the Shogun, essentially the head of the government, head of the armed forces, a General, which was then a hereditary title. Then came the Daimyo, who were lords and vassals of the Shogun. After which you have the Shi-no-ko-sho stratification, which would determine your position and status in society. The Samurai at the top, the well known warrior class who kept the people in check, only they were allowed to carry swords and followed Bushido, or the warriors way. Then once you get down to the normal population, you have farmers, artisans and finally merchants. The point in raising this is three fold; firstly the system was justified and aligned with neo-Confucian principles helped by philosopher Hayashi Razan, which placed importance on piety and loyalty, loyalty being particularly important here in trying to form an idea of Japanese society. Secondly, the stratification of the Japanese and position within society based on your job and career was carried on into modern times, despite the eventual fall of the feudal system, examples of which can be seen with the likes of Sararrimen - literally, Salary Man. This stratification and in-turn position within society ultimately affects creative goals and foresight of the populace, also standing of a ‘creative’ within the society which we will look at later. Thirdly, there is Bushido, the warrior way, and the Samurai. The Samurai are obviously one of the most famous symbols of Japan, representing a warrior spirit, honour and again loyalty, but also a traditional side of Japan which has been, and continues to be, in conflict with modern Japan, and continues to affect the creative output of its people, sparking on going debate amongst academics.
A fantastic example of the ongoing cultural impact of the Samurai is the story of the 47 Ronin. If a Samurai lost his master - the Daimyo - then he became Ronin or 'failed soldier'. In this story, a Daimyo was slain, 47 Samurai planned and plotted for two years to avenge their master's death, eventually they did, and were then forced to commit Seppuku - ritual suicide by disembowelment - for having committed the crime of murder. The tale went down as national legend, emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence and honor that all ‘good’ Japanese people should preserve in their daily lives, and the Samurai code of honor, Bushido. This story becomes increasingly important as we move forward.
To recap, this is a 200 year period in Japan that was peaceful for the most part and saw a great deal of growth, but was a victim of its own success, as the nation began to grow stagnant in terms of culture and society because of the closed walls and the isolation it was suffering from. A quick note should however, be given to the later stages of this period. At this point the Samurai were falling out of favour with the populace, they were bleeding dry their income supplies in the new, urban pleasure districts, or ‘floating worlds’. It was within these floating worlds that some of the most famous art forms of early-modern Japan blossomed, including the Ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) and certain types of theatre, these however also saw a vast increase after the isolation period was ended.
As a platform to move forward on, looking at Japan at this time; we have a slow moving country, one which has heavily stratified positions for its people and one which has wholly rejected interaction with outside nations in order to preserve its own cultures, traditions and government.
It is at this point we have United States Commodore Matthew Perry enter the picture. He delivers a message from then President Fillmore, which 'asked' Japan to start to open its borders again on a trial basis. This message included allowing resupply of American ships, safe passage to shipwrecked sailors and trade between the two countries. I say 'asked' because after Japan realised the military superiority of the US - Perry arrived on ironclad steam powered ships - they understood they were left with little choice in fear that their borders would be opened using military force if they did not comply.
Perry left, Japan agreed and he arrived back a few months later with all manner of technology, demonstrating a miniature locomotive, the telegraph and giving revolvers and rifles as gifts (and a keg of whiskey to each government representative - nice touch). This happens at the beginning of the end of the Tokygawa shogunate whom were forced to sign the Convention of Kanagawa, which quickly lead to the United States-Japan Treaty of Amity and Commerce, and the opening of the country. The treaties on which this major change were based are particularly important as they were soon to become known as the 'Unequal Treaties'. This was because they were not exactly negotiated, but rather forced on Japan and encroached on sovereign rights of the nation. For instance, US imposed particularly unequal advantages to their trade, developing monopolies, and their diplomats, giving them complete immunity of prosecution on the mainland. This in turn caused a great period of tension within the country, strong opinions lay on both sides of the coin, for and against increased international cooperation and trade. Eventually the Tokygawa fell, the Meiji period begins, leading to the Meiji Restoration in 1868.
Meiji translates into 'Enlightened rule' and sees Japan begin to move into its modern form with extreme speed. The most important thing to understand here, is the promulgation of the 'Five Charter Oath' of Japan. This, as you might imagine, has five charters, the most important of which at this point is number five:
"An international search for knowledge to strengthen the foundations of imperial rule."
From the closed Japan under the Sakoku which protected its national identity, the Emperor, government and tradition, the country is forced open, and reacts thusly, by turning the policy upside down. From this point the situation complicates further as the period of Bunmei Kaika or Japanese Civilisation and Enlightenment comes into play in the late 1800's. Now, as mentioned before, with 'enlightenment' or at least the western definition anyway, comes a move to advance society through art, science, culture, and a move away from ‘uncivilized’ notions such as religion and superstition. This is important when considering the vast majority of the country is either Buddhist or Shinto and the potential reaction against such a move. The west's impact on Japan is even further increased as trade increases, and even the government is changed. For the first time in its history a western style government with cabinets is adopted. Capitalism and the market economy really begin to take off, the Japanese greatly enjoying the idea of Social Darwinism - jaku niku kyō shoku or 'The strong eat the weak' - which proved to align with other Japanese ideals and helped push industry and further down the line, imperialism. One critical phrase which came into fruition and use at this point in time and needs to be highlighted is 'Wakon Yosai' meaning 'Japanese Spirit'. It is this Japanese Spirit that becomes so greatly debated, and with arguments both for and against its protection and its development by accepting outside influence. This argument, I believe, is critical in the on going cultural and creative development of Japan, from this point in time, through to present day.
The story of the 47 Ronin is a particularly important example of this. Japan is a nation that is steeped in tradition and is forced open, and as a matter of necessity begins to adopt, at an extreme pace, the technology and philosophy the West has been developing for the last 200 years. Large parts of the populace begin to place emphasis on the 47 Ronin as a demonstration of what it is to be Japanese. The warrior way, Bushido is continually highlighted, which, again, includes loyalty, sacrifice, persistence and honor. All of which are still significant within modern Japanese culture and have varying affects on the creative capacity of a country and can be interpreted in many different ways. Loyalty and sacrifice for to you employer and for your family of the Salary Man, giving up creative pursuits, or the persistence and honor in creating fantastically detailed anime with rich and moving stories? Both are points which have been raised in various discussion about creativity in Japan.
The late 1800's and early 1900's see great change as you can imagine, but the prevailing point that I'm interested in here, is the cross and clash of East and West, of Japan growing and assimilating western technology, art, culture, philosophy, etc, whilst maintaining its own deep and powerful meaning and stance. ‘Nihonjinron’ became particularly popular during this period, these are essays on ‘Japanese Uniqueness’, and helped drive thoughts on 'freeing Japan from the Imperialism of the West' that prevailed amongst the populace and largely related back to still being bound by the 'Unfair Treaties' imposed by the West.
Now, we're entering into the last 100 years or so of global history. From 1912 - 1926 things start to really take off, we enter the Taisho period of relative stability. Massive industrial growth is fueled by the Great War in Europe, which also helps the Imperial Japan take holdings across China and other parts of Asia. However, concentrating on what is necessary here; increased urbanisation and economic growth, we see the rise of a new middle class of Japanese people, the creation of the 'Sararimen' – as mentioned, the Salary Man, the ubiquitous white shirted male - and 'Modan Gaaru' or 'Modern Girl', jazz and baseball and other leisure pursuits become popular. The increasingly important point at this time develops from being centered around protecting 'Japanese spirit' into questioning what in fact Japanese Spirit actually is, especially in the face of such massive influence from across the waters and ever increasing adoption of other cultures by the general population. Japanese philosophers and novelists begin to question and raise points on individual and cultural identity during this time, for instance, Akutagawa Ryunosuke, one of Japans most celebrated literary minds, contemplated Japanese identity in the face of a society rapidly changing around him, eventually taking is own life.
The global economic collapse of the late 1920's and early 1930's has its own individual affects on a Japan that was already in a depression after the spending bubble of the Great War was popped and faced the tragedy of over 150,000 dead in the Kanto Earthquake. At this point, the dark underbelly of modernisation and capitalism began to raise its head creating a period of political strife as more arguments for and against western influence on Japanese interests ignite. During this time the Showa Kenkyukai was established, this was a body charged with drawing up plans for new order in East Asia and which relates back to Japanese Imperialism. This was followed by the drawing up of the 'Shin Nihon no Shiso genri' or 'The Intellectual Principles of the New Japan' in 1939, which was charged with maintaining 'Eastern spirit' whilst challenging imperialism of the West.
Whilst not going into depth on the Japanese Empire, what is significant about this is how Imperial Japan was 'imperialism fighting against imperialism,' amongst philosophical and political papers and debate this was essentially the idea of an anti-imperial Empire. They wanted to maintain the spirit of the East, and protect it from the West, and at the time, the Japanese thought they knew how to do this best, so went about colonizing vast parts of Asia in the name of this particular ethos. The point of raising this, is again, the logger heads at which Japan is with itself, and now it’s neighbours and soon the world with the advent of WWII. At once, embracing the west and denouncing it at the same time. Though as I mentioned, I won't go into any depth about WWII here, focusing more on what came out of this period for Japan, rather than what took place during it. The point to look at is Japan attempting to maintain its cultural spirit whilst at this point in time, now trying to impose this on others, and simultaneously embracing modernity. East vs West and the idea behind that in a Japanese light continues to carry on into today.
One point I would like to mention however, before moving forward beyond the WWII period, is on the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and in part, the justification of the bombing by the West. A key tenant of this justification was the ferocity that, whilst facing certain defeat, the Japanese people kept fighting. In this regard there is the honor, pride, persistence of the Japanese people that is characterised by the Bushido way of the warrior, and has had such a dramatic affect on the people to present day. In the final moments of the second world war, before the unconditional surrender by the Japanese, the spirit of the people to fight their invaders only seemed to tighten, during the Battle of Okinawa over 250,000 Japanese were left dead, more than 150,000 of which were civilians who fought off the Americans and other Allied forces with anything they could, including rocks, sticks and even bare fists. It was this unwillingness to contemplate surrender which helped justify the use of nuclear weapons, and as mentioned, this persistence and stoicism still visibly exists in today's Japan which, in part has fueled my curiosity about the country and has its effects on today's culture.
I digress, the main question raised during the pre-war debates concerned what is greatly important to the understanding of modern Japan, its culture and creative outlet and was principally; how could Japan pass through the hegemony of Western Modernity and into authentic modernity of its own? Again, highlighting a country at odds with itself and the outside world.
Post war Japan maintained the ethos of embracing Western technology whilst continuing to try and understand how to fulfill Japanese spirit, a postwar address by the Emperor even reflected this. Postwar we have the Constitution of Japan put in place, it is only now that a committee recommends increasing the rights and duties of the people, trying to finally eradicate the highly stratified and hierarchical nature of Japanese life. The idea of being born into an occupation and class needed to go, though it is this considerably 'late' consideration that sees elements still apparent in today’s Japanese society. The importance of your position of work in turn can and does have affects on the creative capacity of a nation, depending on just how the creative industries, artists, musicians writers, etc are characterized and looked upon. The new constitution is now 70 years old and still going strong, unchanged for the most part. Postwar Japan also sees its great economic boom, which really brings Japan into what we can see it as today, between 1960-1970 we see the Japanese economy triple, and again, the emergence of an even larger middle class. The American - Korean War drove massive American military spending in Japan, which helped facilitate the boom and bring ties between the countries even closer, economically and culturally. With this boom though, again, and as with the Meiji period, there are the troubles of Japanese spirit vs Western technology and culture. Though, for the first time in Japanese history, during this period, the direction of Japanese culture is seen to be in the hands of the people.
Tension begins to mount, the uniform availability of education and the opening up of Japanese universities for the first time brings with it a highly educated youth, which not only helps to serve the nation in technological and political advances, but also brings with it anti-establishment. As early as the 50's, only 14 years after Pearl Harbour, the formation and emergence of Zoku, or tribes was a significant move for Japanese culture and moving forward, its creative outlets. Some of these - extremely well named - tribes included 'Kaminarizoku' or 'The Motor-cycle riding Thunder Tribe' and Erekizoku or 'The Amplified-Music-Loving Tribe'. In particular, we have Shintaro Ishihara's infamous 1950's novel, Season of the Sun, which gave rise to a reckless and carefree expression of youth during this time, and in turn anti-establishment movements began to rise. This is important again, when looking at the nature of the establishment itself, at this point it was largely in cahoots with America, massively in fact, it was America that wrote up the new constitution, they were huge trade partners and the cultural influences flowed over the Pacific. The call of the anti-establishment movement was anti-American - pro Japan in nature, though it continued to fight against any backward steps toward an Imperial Japan, they encouraged and fought for economic stability and pacifness. Still more examples of a country at loggerheads with itself, and the outside world, trying to find itself, culturally and spiritually amongst a powerful and resonating past, and colourful and erratic present.
During this period two famous Japanese names are worth mentioning. Firstly we have Yasunari Kawabata, he was the first Japanese citizen to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968. This was said to be largely for; "his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind'. Many of his books would point to the natural and traditional beauty of Japan sullied by the modern world of 'The West'. Secondly we have Mishima Yukio, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature three times, though his work took on a largely different stance, rather than concentrating on the natural and traditional beauty of Japan, it represented other Japanese ideals of violence and martial valor. He was typified by Bun Bu Ryo Do, or 'Way of the Warrior and the scholar' and asserted that the war-time Kokutai or 'Funding principles of the national polity' – Imperial Japan – was the true Japan, he believed America had eroded Japanese spirit and he went on to found a secret paramilitary society, he eventually committed seppuku at after a failed Coup-de-tate. Here we seem to have two of Japan's leading literary minds, ever, both trying to establish a Japanese spirit, in different ways, opposing the influence of the West and maintaining the Wakon Yosai. One representing natural beauty, tradition, the other representing valour, honour, loyalty, which route does creativity continue to take in modern Japan? A question I want to search for the answer for during the course of this project.
The vast majority of the identity crisis of Japan during the 60's and 70's was in the face of returning to or maintaining traditional Japanese values whilst challenged by the juggernaught of consumerism. Though at this point, the problem mentioned earlier begins to develop further, what exactly were the traditional Japanese values that were prized so much? Wabi Sabi, Bushido, natural beauty, martial valor, honor and tradition all at logger heads with each other and the west. We see populist books in the 80's in Japan bringing together connections between Japanese work ethics, their stoicism, pragmatism, combined with Confucianism and Confucian orgnaisation with the spirit of Bushido to understand the unprecedented business success of the country at that time and just slightly before. The Japanese and indeed, the west were trying to unravel the riddle of the success, where it came from and what the values and skills that must have been there, actually were. Again the Nihonjinron - essays on Japanese uniqueness - saw a massive boom during this time. And so, bringing it back, now, not only do we have a country at odds with the west, trying to maintain it's own unique attributes, but we have a nation that, post-war, post imperialism, post industrialisation and in the midst of consumerism isn't even sure what the true Japanese values are any more. How does this affect the artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians of a country? Especially when they can see the unbridled output of the West, for the most part, secure in its past and its present.
A new species is born out of this time, called the 'Shin Jinrui' or 'the new breed'. This is a person that is no longer content with quietly and selflessly dedicating their lives to Japans economic growth, a person that pushes off the 'shackles' of extreme discipline and social consciousness that defined the post-war era. Though, that being said, there is still a higher level of social consciousness alive in this country today than any other I've ever visited. Out of this we have the development of identities that no longer relied on work, on a mass scale, for the first time. Perhaps the most recognisable of which would be the Otaku, or 'geek' typified by massive manga and anime collections, card collections, etc. All of this is in unison with continual expansion of the Japanese creative industries, which fed off of and into the development of consumerist subcultures. Many of which actually argued this represented the hollowing out of Japanese culture. Again, this uphill struggle continues, but as we move forward even further, Japan moves into post-modernity as its people begin to move away from material possessions, and are free to define the meaning of their lives for themselves.
Though, this is where things begin to become increasingly complex. Post-modern Japan isn't about the identity of Japan at all, rather the identity of the individual, and from a creative stand point this can cause a few substantial questions. Individuality of course, often regarded as a key tenant of Western creativity, the ability to express oneself, the ability to have ‘self’ and to be ‘individual’. Looking back at Japan, the question is, where does the new required individuality come from? Where are its roots? In the West, with its influence over modern Japan? Or a in a traditional Japan, with traditional values? And indeed, what are those values, the natural beauty and tradition of the nation, the martial spirit, or both? And furthermore, in a country that is largely Buddhist, do Buddhist teachings of 'no self' effect this situation at all?
What we see emerging by the 1990's is a lost country, there is still no 'coherent national identity' with which the people can associate themselves, and the Japanese place in the international world itself seems a little lost. Japan is now a passive nation, protected under the US-Japan Security Treaty, which prevents Japan having an army and places its protection under the United States, though they do maintain a highly mechanised and extremely advanced 'Self-Defence Force’. Though, despite this passivity in a military capacity, Japan became a world power in its own right, without the need for weaponry or any vast army, though not a superpower, Japans presence on the international platform was undoubtedly massive, as (at the time) the second largest economy in the world, but what they ‘represented’ was unclear as the requirement for 'high-politics' diplomacy and debate was not needed for the most part. Japan had, and continues to have, no active army, slight contitution changes and bits of new legislation allowed the Self Defense Force to be deployed as part of UN peace keeping envoys, but, protected under the US-Japan Security Treaty, there was never any need for Japanese presence in ‘war’ based diplomacy.
Discussion on the 'real' Japan was required; some considered the treatment of Japans past, particularly its immediate past during the war, as pathological. This lack of identity and coherent community was seen by many as the reason behind the formulation of Aum Shinrikyo, a religious sect who were responsible for the Sarin gas attack in the 90's. The peculiarity of this group is almost as significant as the attack itself, as they were and continue to be represented by many leading intellectuals and not just a 'bunch of crazed individuals,’ people sought shelter with this group as they had no understanding of who they were, or what the larger community they belonged to represented. At this point, there is a quest, to solidify a coherent identity for Japan on an international scale and leading right down to the individual. Here, it's worth asking perhaps not where does Japanese creativity come from? But perhaps, how does it relate to the Japanese past, and how does it feed into helping solidify an identity for themselves, their souls, and their nation? Is there a need for the conglomeration of individuality and previous process of thought to create the identity of a nation and in turn provide the identity of the 'new Japanese individual'?
Moving forward we have Ozawa Ichiro come onto the scene with his 'Nihon Kaizō Keikaku' or 'Blueprint for a new Japan’ that in turn called for Japan to become a 'normal country' with responsibilties on an international stage relative to its economic power. Pulled from underneath the patronage of the US - Japan Security Treaty and into the open, post Cold War, Japan was for the first time post WWII required to answer for the atrocities committed during this time. Now, again, as mentioned, this is not something I want to dwell on too heavily, but this begins again, to call into question national identity, and what it is to be Japanese.
A Japanese psychologist famously described Japans condition as ‘schizophrenic’. The county’s personality, its inner and outer self are seen as being at odds with each other, as has been demonstrated throughout this piece, and by this point, Japan had effectively adopted two identities. The outward, passive, protected by the USA, inline with international policy, friendly, economically powerful and 'public' personality. And the inward, nostalgic, traditional, stoic and aligned with the imperial period, ‘private’ personality. The country was said to be 'mentally ill' at odds with its past in many regards, its own identity and the identity of its individuals. This is when the 'Rekishi Shutai Ronso' or 'Debate over History' was called. This debate looked principally at the Japanese 'illness' and at how the umbrella provided by the USA post-war prevented Japan from forming a coherent and modern subjectivity about their war past, with which their people could face what had occurred. The acts committed by Imperial Japan during WWII become critically important here, and whilst I won’t go into depth on what they were, they are universally recognized as atrocities. The public and private Japan is unable to honestly and openly negotiate this past, and they needed to find a way.
There is a point here, that says a country must first heal itself before it can truly feel penitence for the acts it has committed and can sincerely apologise. Japan needs to mourn its own war dead before it can provide a meaningful apology and integrate fully as a modern and healthy international agent. I feel these points, this 'schizophrenia' of Japan has importance in looking at the creative aspects of the country. Being at peace, or indeed, at odds with yourself and the country in which you live, and how much you identify with that country, with the zeitgeist of the people and its cultures is imperative to a creative environment, for good or bad. This again gives me basis for the project, on looking where Japanese creativity comes from, what it contains, how it perhaps is a healing agent for the county, and again how it helps form this national identity.
The 90's are considered a 'lost decade' by Japan, this, for the most part is due to the massive contraction of their economy, an increase in unemployment and the eventual halt of huge consumer spending that the 80's saw. However, I'd care to suggest the 'lost' definition has more than just economic meaning, the Japanese were at a severe international juncture again, and at this point, whilst also trying to recompense for their past and providing massive amounts of aid to the East, though such aid was seen as just a 'new form of imperialism'. Apologies made by the Japanese about their past were brushed off as insincere and indeed, even their own intellectuals forwarded the idea that it was impossible for the Japanese to truly apologise as they were at still at such odds and at a loss with themselves and their own identity. And then lost in the other-way, that because of this social strife, things got away from them, with the economic downturn the people lost their energy and enthusiasm, a combination of being perturbed with their own affair's and out of sync with the rest of the world.
Where does this lead to? The 21st century is seen as a time of reflection, a commission into what should be the goals of Japan in the 21st century was established, called the; 'Individual Empowerment and Better Governance in the New Millennium'. To quote the preface:
"The Prime Minister established the Commission on March 30, 1999, appointing sixteen leading private citizens from diverse fields of expertise as its members. The mandate of the Commission was to produce a report for the Prime Minister on the desirable future direction of Japan to which the next generation of Japanese can aspire in the new century, thus encouraging a broader national debate on the subject."
There was an intense belief at the time, that if there is an American Dream, then there should be a Japanese Dream too, but given everything that has just been discussed, what should this 'Japanese Dream' consist of? One stark contrast between Japan and America which would cause a huge issue with such an idea / ethos is homogeneity within Japan, and the powerful reign of individuality in the US. The source of this homogeneity - I believe - can be largely to be their passed ideals, that of Bushido, alongside the social consciousness and stoicism in facing the rebuild of the country post WWII, with an education system that is said to create servitors instead of innovators, ideals of frugality and piety, though as has been discussed there is a move away from this today, but still, not in great numbers. If, even in the 21st century, one of the pervading images of Japan is white collar workers being crammed into a Tokyo subway, then where can they turn next to help erode this image? I personally, don’t believe this is any longer the strongest image of Japan, I believe that the governments will and forethought in needing to heighten and develop Japans creative capacity has been, as with seemingly everything they put their minds to, an unbridled success. Even with a single point, this can be demonstrated; 60% of all animation consumed globally is anime, a form of animation specific to Japan. When you think that more kids watch Japanese style animation than they do Disney, they you begin to think of just the breadth and scope of Japanese creativity and the global impact it can and does have.
Though, the problem of homogeneity continues to be a problem, to such an extent that the above named committee even put forward a recommendation of a three day school week, leaving the rest for creative exploration. This continues to be part of an undertaking, unlike any other modernized government, to shift focus wholly onto creativity and innovation. A new generation is now bustling in Japan, I’ve seen it, they have greater tolerance to risk and are looking to innovate real change in the world, so where has this new generation come from, and what Japanese ideals based on all of the above are they taking into the future?
Japan today wants to be the world’s creativity engine, and is currently staring success straight in the eye. Its last nationwide drives saw it become the global leader in electronics and automobiles, but of course, creativity is different from building cars, can you have a creative ‘production line’ mentality?
Between March 30 – April 9, 2012 and on behalf of Adobe, research firm StrategyOne conducted surveys of 5,000 adults, 1,000 per country, in the US, UK, Germany, France and Japan. The research was designed to identify attitudes and beliefs about creativity and provide insights into the role of creativity in business, education and society. One significant result, showed that globally, Japan is regarded the most creative country, by all except the Japanese themselves. 36% voting Japan the most creative nation and 30% voting Tokyo the most creative city in the world – ahead of New York with 21%. However, when asked the question; which of the following words best describe you? 52% of US respondents said ‘Creative’ where as only 19% Japanese gave the same answer. When asked; do you consider yourself to be someone who creates? Japan had the highest results in both ‘No’ (29%) and ‘Not sure’ (27%) that's close to 60% of respondents who believe they are not creative. One particularly significant result from this survey was in response to this statement: Being creative is reserved for an elite community. The average across the other countries was that 24% agreed with this statement, in Japan, the response was 52%, almost more than double that of France, Germany and the US, the second highest agreement being the UK with 29%. And when provided with the statement; The ability to create defines me as a person, whilst the global average saw 61% agree, Japan agreed the least with this statement with just 41% agreeing.
So, what is the significance in these results, and combined with all the history discussed, where does this lead this project? Well, we have to note that the above-mentioned results will be at least in part, affected by the ‘graying’ of Japan. Japans population is aging rapidly, Japan is the ‘oldest’ nation on earth, with 23.1% of its population over the age of 65. To put that in perspective, one in four people in Japan are 65 or over, and the national health ministry believes that by 2050, the population of Japan will have decreased 25%, with over 32 million of its citizens dying off. These stats, whilst not having the greatest impact on the creative output of a nation, there are still millions of young people with bright ideas and strong minds, there are trickle down affects of course, seen in how creative jobs and pursuits are perceived, and how they are dealt with on a generational level, grandparents teaching parents, parents teaching kids and so on about the benefits, and perhaps pitfalls of a professional and personal creative pursuits. Also, there is the obvious supply and demand, if the majority of your audience is old, then what outputs are required of the young creative minds?
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that recent surveys show 80% of Japan still observe Shinto and 70% of Japanese people class themselves as Buddhist. Alongside this, new religions, cults and sects are forming within Japan all the time. How does this affect the creative output of Japan, and its creative minds?
Clearly there is a huge amount to take in. It can be said that today Japan is seen as the world’s creative engine, but by and large, by those outside of Japan. Japan itself continues to pursue increased creative outputs and have put in place governmental think tanks and commissions to help ensure this takes place. We have a nation that has, in 140 years no less, gone from an essentially feudal governmental system, with stratified civilians born into hereditary jobs, kept inline by a warrior class whom held the ideals of loyalty, frugality and honour as their highest, into the worlds most technologically advanced nation, culturally a global player with vast exports and leading minds in animation, fashion, architecture, contemporary art, food, literature, gaming and social media, science and tech. A nation steeped in a rich and deep history, alongside having to come to terms with its own horrific acts in its past, at logger heads with itself and the outside world at the same time.
Based on all the above, I think the mission statement for this project should simply read:
“A project concerned with understanding what it means to be creative in Japan and how this creativity helps drive Japanese culture into the 21st century.”
I think coming to understand and elucidate this statement is a phenomenal undertaking, but one that I believe will be extremely enjoyable and educational at the same time. Also, I believe I need to albeit briefly, define what I mean by creative, as the word itself have become so heavily laden into today’s world and almost passé by proxy. The the case of this project, creativity is anything involving the production of media and the exploration of the human condition, art in any form; music, literature, photography, animation, art, fashion, design, architecture, food, tattoo, dance, theatre, philosophy, and so on. As many facets of the human mind that I can think of, or have the opportunity to discuss. I really see this project evolving and developing as it goes along, talking to a tattoo artist one week, a skateboarder punk the next a classical artist beyond and a Shinto monk after.
I will begin with four, set questions for all interviewees, and then a set of questions that will be individual to person that I will interview. These initial questions will be;
- What does 'being Japanese' mean to you?
- What does being creative in Japan mean to you?
- How, if at all, are you influenced by ‘traditional’ Japanese culture in your work?
- How do you feel the creative output of the nation is helping drive and develop its culture?
After these four questions, I will then go on to conduct individual interviews with artists, musicians, writers, philosophers, and anyone who will let me talk to them (in broken English and Japanese or not) and come back with the results here on the blog, posting the interviews as and when they are conducted.
I’m extremely excited about this project and what it might entail, both in terms of what will come out of the interviews, and what will come out of it on a personal level in regard to my own creativity. Even writing the above has made me ask considerable amounts of questions about myself, what it means to be ‘British’ or ‘European’ or even a ‘white male’ perhaps that would have been a better place to start, but well, I’m in Japan now and I may as well get on with this.
Finally, I am very happy to announce Hiroyuki Hamada as my first interviewee. After reading an interview with him and seeing his art on BOOOOOOOM.COM a few years ago I immediately fell in love with his sculpture, which to me, oozed sci-fi whilst retaining an intrinsic 'Japaneseness' about it. It connotes to me Zen gardens and the post apocalypse at the same time. I'll produce a full introduction post on Hiroyuki soon, and get the interview online once our discussion has been finalised.
Questions, comments and recommendations of potential people to interview are very welcome! Also, anyone who might want to collaborate in some way regarding this project, just shoot me an email ricgalbraith[at]gmail[dot]com.