TRADITION AND MODERNITY
A beautiful blend of ancient and modern. One of the most curious thing about Japan is despite being a small geographical country, there’s not a city or a town, small or big, that doesn’t have anything to offer. Therefore, you can go to cities like Kyoto and Osaka for a traditional scene surrounded by shrines, castles, and temples, take a bullet train from Osaka to the modernity of Tokyo and to the electrical world of Akihabara, and then even a flight to the tropical beaches of Okinawa.
A wonderful thing about traditional Japanese culture is that it is still plays an active role in Japan – it is mostly not rare and is readily available, making Japan one of the fewer countries that stays in touch with its ancient past traditions and allow it to be present in their present lives without it being unfamiliar. This is easily demonstrated when festive occasions, a matsuri, is celebrated as girls usually wear yukata/kimonos, food stalls sell traditional Japanese food, a merchant booth selling relevant souvenirs, etc.
When I was with my Akashi homestay family, we set up a doll set to celebrate the Doll Festival known as hina-matsuri (雛祭り). This is the day for the girls’, where family can pray for the happiness and prosperity of their girls and to help ensure that they grow to be healthy and beautiful.
With my Oda homestay, I had the opportunity to wear a yukata and participate in one of Japan’s better known traditional culture, a tea ceremony, an ochakai (お茶会). The website Japanese Tea Ceremony accurately describes it as a “choreographic ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea called Matcha, together with traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea.” I really enjoyed this and wish I could stay longer to learn it!
That’s another thing. Ancient and traditional arts are still being taught and passed down to be available to the younger generation. When we were at Hikimi, I was so pleasantly surprised to see 13-15 year olds playing traditional instruments like the kato and wadaiko. They even know how to perform kagura at such a young age! I’m almost positive that Australia nor other countries do this as much as Japan does.
Globalisation. However, now with easy access to global information through technology and the internet, an array of choices opens up for the younger Japanese. Will they still continue to preserve and take up these traditional arts or are they going to leave the bubble of Japan and explore to expand their horizons?
Japan is not immune to the rapid movement of globalisation. Although it hasn’t had much influence on traditional shrines and temples, it has seeped in their fashion, architecture, food, technology and even in social paradigms. Fusions and blending of Japanese and Western styles and concepts, also known in Japanese as wayosetchu (和洋折衷), are also prevalent in these areas.
Cultural sensitivity. Japan being a rule-driven country, many tourists can unintentionally dismiss these rules and customs wherein they can be perceived as rude and insensitive. Although it is easy to make one or two or even ten mistakes without meaning it, it is important to be alert and to be aware of what is happening around you. Definitely one thing that makes a better tourist in Japan is by adapting to the Japanese. If they are quiet, you should be too. If they are loud, you can also be loud. This may or may not be true, but this was an observation that I found interesting. However, gaijins are usually able to get away with it due to being a foreigner, especially if they look Western. I call this the gaijin pass. A good rule of thumb is to do research beforehand on customs and social etiquette and to have a pleasant attitude.