The West Becomes “Otaku”: Japan Shows the Power of Its Culture | Culture

Japan did. To its economic power is now added a world cultural leadership. He knew how to reinvent himself after the Second World War and become a guide to the global economy, and now he works as a mass entrepreneur thanks to the entertainment industry. With its capacity for renewal and integration, it also adapted the economy to the West and placed popular culture above refined culture. Its cultural products have created a powerful industry in a time of decline and today, while cultural goods are the basis of the most advanced economies, they are the economy’s second source of income.

However, it has not always been so. The change has been dramatic and has occurred over the past three decades. There was a yearning for Japan, an irresistible fascination and attraction to a dream world. A space of desire and therefore of absence. An image to dream in another world (that of the antipodes) deeper, lighter and off-center. That Walter Gropiusfounder of the Bauhaus school, sums it up: “Everything we fought for has its parallel in ancient Japanese culture,” after visiting the impressive Katsura Palace on the outskirts of Kyoto in 1954.

Japan has been desired and continues to be so. Evidenced by the number of publishers who have published titles in recent years, to name a few: Satori, Bellaterra, Verbum, Hiperión, Candaya, Hermida, Siruela, Atalanta, Impedimenta, Gallo Nero, Sans Soleil, Langre, etc. To learn more about this fascination, you can read Donald Keene and especially the translation of five of his lectures collected in The pleasures of Japanese literaturepractically a synthesis of his research on Japanese aesthetics and culture. Japan stuff. Notes and Notes of Traditional Japan collects a list of themes to approach the tradition of the country and verify the theme attributed to it and that few geographies thus confirm: the coexistence between tradition and contemporaneity. The Dictionary of Japanese Culture, with 3,400 entries, draws a map so as not to get lost in culture. and books, Understanding Japanese Societycompiled by Joy Hendry, and The loneliness of the vulnerable country, by Florentino Rodaodisplay sociological and historical questions to correct our ignorance (of unknown unknown).

Two books show the latest fascination about the country. The first is Nekomata, the two-tailed catfrom the Japanese translator Jose Pazo Espinosa. A travel book through the most forgotten geography of the Sea of ​​Japan which is Japaneseized chapter by chapter, with the added success of a narrative voice capable of extracting a myth from each geography, a story to talk about Ancient and contemporary Japan, which the author knows very well. The bow master’s revelations, by the writer Javier Vela, it is a delicate and cultured book that follows in the footsteps of the archers Naoko and Hitomi and deploys them in a fragmentary structure, a mosaic where poetry, essays or aphorisms converge. Archery serves as a reflection on literature: “Is it possible to live in one era and breathe in another?

Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi wins the award for best international film for
Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi wins the award for best international film for “Drive my car”.Getty Images

Japan surely represents the most splendid women’s literature of antiquity, with names like Sei Shonagon, Murasaki Shikibu and Ono no Komachi. Chinese was the language of writing and was learned at university, where women could not go. Japanese was reserved for “minor” genres, such as newspapers or waka, the poetic form they practiced in their private isolation. There they learned the Japanese syllabary with which they “raised” these genres. The most contemporary Japan is in the writers Sayaka Murata, author of a saleswomanand Mieko Kawakami, from breasts and eggs. His correspondence and cinematic affinity would be the trilogy Happy Hour, the best work by galardonado Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, which tells the story of four friends in their thirties. The imagination of filmmaker Naomi Kawase is different and allows us to explore the meaning of insularity, the country’s relationship with its small islands, in calm watersand read, in another affinity, the stories of Atsushi Nakajima.

The name given to the Japanese fascination was japonism. Around 1860, European antique dealers and merchants traded in objects, particularly engravings. ukiyo e (so easy to carry, rolled up), and satisfies the breath for a new aesthetic. Western painting incorporates them and later influences modernism. Mariano Fortuny and Picasso (with a remarkable collection of erotic prints or that’s it) collect them and, along with Manet, Degas and others, influence their works. The catalog of the exhibition of the same name, Japonism. Fascination for Japanese art, describes some of our country’s collections. And the recent exhibition catalog on the kimono, Kimono: from Kyoto to the catwalk, advances in its study as a symbol of Japanese culture and Western fascination. If you want to read and see a representative publication of ukiyo eby Tsukioka Yoshitoshi One Hundred Aspects of the Moon100 prints that summarize Japanese culture in a broad thematic spectrum.

The bone ukiyo e are the antecedent of the manga, and one of the last translated, equally exceptional, is broken flowers by Yoshiharu Tsuge. The comic collects Japanese magical and symbolic imagery, as well as complex human relationships in a context of brutal poverty. so many manga as the animecentral genres of the subculture otaku, opened new windows to present the reality of the country. In any case, formats where, especially parents (who see it as an alternative to Disney), teenagers and children find a language to talk about their emotions and worries. pacifism, Tomb of the Fireflies (1988), by Isao Takahata; the defense of the rural world My Neighbor Totoro (1988), by Hayao Miyazaki, and vulnerability to nature in Your name (2016), by Makoto Shinkai.

Image from 'Your name' (2016), by Makoto Shinkai.
Image from ‘Your name’ (2016), by Makoto Shinkai.

Likewise, the most sought-after Japanese aesthetic values ​​were the so-called medieval ones, from the Kamakura, Muromachi and Monoyama periods (from 1185 to 1600). I am thinking above all of the categories of wabi (austere), said (solitary) and the establishment of the Zen sect, which gave rise to to the Japanese aesthetic that captivates the West, linked to emptiness, austerity and imperfection. A new edition of Kakuzo Okakura’s Book of Teaillustrated by Isidoro Ferrer. It is a poetic essay on the tea ceremony and the Zen ritual, which synthesizes religious and aesthetic elements. In this context, few filmmakers have fascinated so much Yasujiro Ozu, which shares this aestheticism through the division into geometric units and the abstraction of vertical and horizontal lines inside the house. His favorite space and where the history of the country is testified through one of its great themes, the family, which he stages in a context of sublimation of everyday life in unforgettable films, such as late spring.

Family loyalty, a trait that comes from loyalty to the emperor of old, has changed over the past few decades and cinema has picked it up. Kikujiro Summer (1999), by Takeshi Kitano, tells the story of a boy with a former yakuza. a family matter (2018), by Hirokazu Koreeda, shows an atypical family unit and Tight knit (2017), by filmmaker Naoko Ogigami, the life of an LGTBI family. Each of them has its parallel in reading manga, like Under a sky like pantyhose by Shun Umezawa, a brilliant comic that shows the taboos of Japanese society.

Japan is the center of Western sexual fascinations. Repressed desires are projected with the illusion that they can be experienced freely and without guilt. the geisha they would represent the perfect image of it, so much so that they imagine prostitutes. Also, the attraction for the frictions, the caresses and the fetishes which constitute the great sex industry in the country. Kenji Mizoguchi tells us in a very different way in the film the street of shame (In Japan, The Land of Dreams) of 1956. A reflection on the illegalization of prostitution which takes place that same year through the lives of five prostitutes, each one having a reason to defend or recriminate it. A question hangs over the film. What rights do women have to realize their dreams?

A group of geishas prepare for their work.
A group of geishas prepare for their work. KIM KYUNG-HOON (Reuters)

The culture of the bath and the body gives rise to great works. What snow country, of the great Nobel Prize Yasunari Kawabata (Mikio Naruse takes him to the cinema in 1954), who would have his admirable affinity in the film The masseuses and a woman (1938), by Hiroshi Shimizu. It takes place in a spa, where two blind masseuses come to work. There’s Toku (Mieko Takamine, one of the most inspiring actresses in Japanese cinema), which gives rise to a memorable scene when she crosses paths with one of the blind men and he realizes her presence by the perfume on her body. “She smells of Tokyo,” he will say.

Thus, the books and films of yesterday and today show that the repertoire of models is still relevant although updated, since, as David Almazán says, geishas are idols television and the samurai are the heroes of Fukushima today.

Patricia Almacegui She is the author of books such as ‘The Meaning of Travel’, ‘Knowing Iran’ and ‘Lost Notebooks of Japan’.

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