All over the world, people have been focusing their attention on contemporary Japanese culture. Since the 1990s there has been a burst of creative energy in the fields of manga, anime, gaming, art, architecture, design, literature, food and fashion. This has now blossomed into a Japanese contemporary culture whose influence reverberates around the globe and which fascinates so many people, particularly from amongst the younger generation.
After the collapse of the ¡Èbubble economy¡É, Japan underwent a period of economic recession throughout the 1990s. However, in the world of popular culture, there was a constant flow of enormously varied and striking images and works from a group of Japanese creative artists. This cultural activity developed a dynamic of its own which enveloped not only the creators but also the consumers, and now, even at this very moment, is being given more overseas exposure. This
phenomenon of recent years, which is in sharp contrast to the former exotic images of Japan as the
land of Mt. Fuji, geisha and kabuki, is stimulating the formation of a new image of Japanese culture.
But let us look more closely at the historical background that gave rise to the perception among
young people of contemporary Japanese culture as ¡Ècool¡É. The truth is that subcultures have often
arisen during the significant periods in Japanese history. As they matured, they went on to form a
complex multi-layered culture. For instance, the tea ceremony became fashionable in the Azuchi-
Momoyama period (1568-1600), while ukiyo-e prints were popular in the Edo period (1600-1867).
These tangible and intangible cultural treasures were stored up as assets which, through being
passed on to subsequent generations, have blossomed again in contemporary culture.
So what are the elements that constitute contemporary Japanese culture? Japan certainly absorbed culture from mainland Asia in ancient and mediaeval times. In modern times Japan absorbed culture from the West, and in the post-WWII era particularly from the USA. But we see our contemporary culture not only as absorbing elements from other cultures but also as interpreting them from a unique perspective, then re-shaping them into a new style and fusing them with something completely different. It is a culture in which the old and the new co-exist, one that appeals to the general population and that anyone can enjoy.
And what about the character of the people who give form to Japanese culture? We were brought up surrounded by beautiful natural scenery and landscapes and from olden times have honed a sharp appreciation of beauty. We approach the creation of objects with a love for their beauty and, with a long tradition of diligence and dedication, go about the task of creation with an uncompromising stance: while striving for simplicity and the eradication of the superfluous, we do not neglect attention to the tiniest detail. At the root of this approach lies a spirit of harmony which is evident in our philosophy of co-existence with nature.
It is impossible to fully convey here the magic of contemporary Japanese culture, which draws on a creative tradition with unbroken links to the past. However, we offer this brochure in the hope that it will enable people from other parts of the world to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of Japanese contemporary culture.
Adviser to the project: Yasuki Hamano (Professor, Graduate¡¡School of Frontier Sciences, University of Tokyo)
Copyright 2007 - Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan