Sorry to be gone for so long…chalk it up to a crazy busy life in my non-writing world. But let’s step back into things, and take a look at something unique about Japan–the continuous fusion of foreign elements into Japanese culture. It’s something that’s been going on since Japan opened its doors to the world in the mid-1800s.
If you ask almost anyone from Western cultures, they can probably point out a variety of things that mean ‘Japan’ or ‘Japanese’ to them. But most people probably wouldn’t list the mastery of assimilation and blending to create something new and uniquely Japanese in that list. Yet many of the most iconic symbols of Japan have been imported, adopted, and blended into a new fusion of quintessential Japanese.
Look at food, for example. Chefs are always experimenting, but where masters of, say, French or Italian cuisine might look down their noses at anything but the ‘pure’ form of their craft, Japanese chefs look to enhance traditional recipes with a new spice, a new ingredient, or even a blend of East and West. Take the omelet, a breakfast standard here in the US. Japan has omurice, an omelet draped over a bed of rice, and frequently topped by ketchup or something equally unusual.
And then there’s Valentine’s day. Here in the US, Valentine’s day is dominated by women expecting their men (or significant others) flowers, chocolates, jewelry, dates at fine restaurants, all in the name of romance and love. In Japan, on the other hand, women do the giving, mostly in chocolates, to the men they hope will acknowledge them. Men return the gifts to that special someone on March 14, White Day, a holiday unique to Japan.
Japan’s habit of assimilation and fusion goes back centuries, and includes centerpieces of their culture, like rice, shoyu, and kanji. Yet every time the Japanese adopt something from another culture, they shape it and mold it, creating something new and unique, and quintessentially their own.
One more reason I love Japan, and all things Japanese!