Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Fading - A Japanese Soliloquoy

(NOTE: The following is NOT autobiographical, though it is based on true-to-life examples.)

When the soroban (abacus) clubs disappeared from the schools, I didn't mind. Calculators do the job better anyway.

When the hōgaku (traditional Japanese music) clubs also went away, I didn't really care. The punk rock played by the "folk rock" clubs is much more fun anyway.

When the music classes replaced kotos with recorders and harmoniums, I said fine. Kotos are bulky and expensive anyway.

When the kids started using English words as their "hip slang", I just went along with it. Kid culture never makes much sense anyway.

When the news said kids were rapidly losing the ability to speak and write their own language, I wasn't surprised. They're more interested in video games and the internet anyway.

When they held a Hyakunin-Isshu (a traditional card game from more than a thousand years ago) tournament at the school and only a few kids showed up, I said it figures. That old poetry is just boring anyway.

When they held the Torioi (an annual children's event) in our neighborhood a few years ago, and it turned out none of the kids knew the traditional song, I laughed. They should just ditch that old thing anyway.

When all the local tatami makers but one disappeared, I didn't notice. Anyone who is anyone uses carpeting anyway.

When the shops in the old town hub started shutting down, I wasn't even there. The big, one-stop supermarket down the street is so much more convenient anyway.

When they announced that yet another long-historied street market in Tokyo had been eliminated, I paid no attention. The big, multi-national shopping and entertainment districts like Shibuya and Shinjuku are a lot cooler anyway.

When the high-quality sake went undrunk at the neighborhood parties, I didn't give a damn. I was too busy drinking cheap low-malt beer anyway.

When people stopped wearing yukata (summer kimono) to the summer festivals, I was perfectly happy. Changing clothes is a pain in the butt, and I feel silly wearing those things anyway.

When people stopped having traditional boat weddings in Itako, I was not concerned. I think I'd feel stupid doing something like that anyway.

When the famous Ayame Matsuri (Iris Festival) in Itako announced that it was terminating its long-historied Yatakebi Fune (Parade Boat) event, I just laughed. People would rather stay at home and watch ball games on TV anyway.

When my neighborhood stopped holding a Bon Odori (Bon Festival dance) every year, I happily helped them throw all the gear away. That thing was such a bother, and no one gives a damn about it anymore anyway.

When the Bon Festival came around last year, I didn't bother going back to the old family homestead or visiting my family's ancestral graves. It was so much easier just to order a gift for my grandparents online anyway.

When I had a vacation, I traveled to Hawaii and Guam and stayed at Western-style tourist hotels. The old-fashioned inns at the hot spring resorts here are small and crowded with drunk, old men anyway.

When they asked me if I'm proud to be Japanese, I said of course. No other culture in the world is as rich and unique as ours anyway.


  • this is an interesting post.... i like it.

    sounds like places/events/festivals are dying out rapidly... but i guess they do that anyway.

    ;) yeah, a bit lame.

    By Blogger Um Naief, at 3:30 AM  

  • Well, if cultural traditions were all a pain in the ass as you describe..........


    Oh shit, my cell phone doesn't work anymore. Doesn't matter anyway.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 1:05 PM  

  • Careful, somebody ^^^^^^^^ might accuse you of hating America.

    Tradition is a dying tradition.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 3:24 PM  

  • Nothing stays the same forever though sometimes we wish some things do. Interesting post, MM. Thanks for the insight on life in Japan.

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 3:50 PM  

  • IMHO - Things will come back, though maybe not in same form, as we transition form gobalization to a post carbon localized world. I for one will welcome the change.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 5:25 PM  

  • I think the overwhelming majority of Japanese are still very proud of their traditional culture. The problem is that people can't be bothered. It's always someone else's problem.

    Consider the Bon Odori I mentioned. Our neighborhood used to sponsor one every year, held at our local elementary school. The year we moved into this neighborhood, my wife and I both dressed up in yukata and attended. Except for the dancers, we were the only ones there in traditional costume. The funny thing was that people made such a big deal about it. We got inundated with comments of, "Oh, it's so great that you're doing this! You're wonderful!" I was also given plenty of free beer and munchies by well wishers. But I couldn't help wondering why no one else put on yukata, especially since they're so easy to wear, so comfortable, and so universal (since they are customarily worn after taking a bath in summer). The same thing happened the following year and the year after that.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 7:42 PM  

  • I'm of two minds, love traditions but human civilization is not static, it just isn't. Heck even the Scarborough Fair, started in 1253 only lasted until 1788 (competition from other fairs, population shifts, etc.).

    Environmental, social and economic needs/factors just don't favor centuries long "traditions" - which often subtly change ...but people always adapt and invent new ways to be together.

    However I won't speak about the nightmare madness that is twitter... :P

    By Blogger ladybug, at 11:13 AM  

  • Ladybug-
    You do have a very good point.

    I guess one point I was trying to make, albeit more indirectly, is that the Japanese are still proud of their cultural identity while at the same time seemingly trying to Westernize everything (e.g. hip slang consisting largely of English words, Western dress replacing traditional festival wear, Western drinks replacing valued indigenous drinks, etc.). It's like they are saying, "We're proud to be us, but we're just like them!" That always struck me as being a double standard.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:32 PM  

  • moody, i'd have to say that it's really rather disappointing that it's happening and so many things are going western. i love traditional things.. makes good memories and warms the heart... plus, it's fun.

    i loved this post...

    By Blogger Um Naief, at 4:28 AM  

  • What a super post! Long list of change. Well in Fiji those who do hold to keeping traditional ways are copping it from the military dictatorship! Homogenize everything - even the name 'Fijian' is for everyone!

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 4:57 AM  

  • My traditions consist of chasing and eating squirrels, rats and mice. CLAW CLAW SWOOSH! Generally I sleep all day until the postman comes and shoos me away. SCRATCH PAW PAW! I bet you wish you had my life. YEEEEOOOOW!

    By Blogger Badger in a Mail Box, at 1:16 PM  

  • Um Naief-
    I just think it's a shame when the world winds up losing a little more of its color in favor of "global gray".

    Ditto above. It's especially bad when the loss of culture comes at gunpoint.

    You know, I think I can almost read the name on the side of that mailbox, and it looks a lot like someone I know!

    You know, if you dig under their house and growl a lot, especially at night, you might wind up becoming a supernatural legend like this one!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:16 PM  

  • Teehee, the animal sounds like a badger all right! SWIPE PAW CLAW! A witch you say? Nah. SWOOSH GNARL GNARL! But my mail box is very far from yours, so you can sleep well. BADGER BADGER! I'm off to get my daily squirrel ration. PURRRRR!

    By Blogger Badger in a Mail Box, at 3:05 AM  

  • Perhaps the saddest of the examples I mentioned, at least from the standpoint of personal experience, was the Torioi children's festival. They hold that every year, and the local families take turns hosting it.

    Every year I noticed that the overwhelming majority of the kids weren't singing along when they did the traditional song. Every time I'd ask, "Are you sure they know the song?" Every time I'd be told (very condescendingly), "Of COURSE they know the song! They're just shy!"

    When it was finally my turn to host the event, just before we sang the song I asked the kids, "Does anyone here not know the song?" My wife and the other parents there immediately tried to cut me off, reminding me again (condescendingly) that OF COURSE the kids knew the song; they were just shy! I repeated the question. The kids loudly and overwhelmingly admitted that they DIDN'T know the song. I therefore taught it to them, and after that they sang it loudly and appreciatingly for the first time in years.

    The parents were embarrassed, and they damned well should have been. Once again, they all just assumed that someone else had been taking care of teaching the kids their traditions. Sadder still that it was up to a gaijin like me to blow the whistle and fix the problem!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 5:58 PM  

  • That is pretty revealing, Moody.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 4:33 AM  

  • Oops, sorry! *blush* I'll put on something else.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:20 AM  

  • I enjoyed reading this catalog of the old ways that have given way to the new ways. Not because I'm glad that the traditions are dying but because your list is rather poetic. Wistful, despite its disclaimers.

    One thing I'm not happy about in the U.S. is the gradual erasure of regional accents. When I go back home, I hear them. And I hear them from visitors in the gallery. But there's certainly a movement towards sounding like newscasters. And I don't believe that's a good thing.

    And even though Santa Fe is my adopted city, in the almost 16 years I've lived here, I've noticed that fewer northern New Mexico restaurants serve posole as a side. For me, that's an indicator of a slide towards the mainstream. A gradual one but a slide nonetheless. And don't get me started about the proliferation of chain stores on the southside, which used to be replete with big empty spaces and mountain vistas. Oh well, if everybody didn't move here, like I did, the change would be slower.

    By Blogger San, at 6:52 AM  

  • good for you for blowing the whistle.. but sadder yet that it's ending..... no wonder.

    i look forward to teaching traditions to naief...

    i don't like this global gray...

    By Blogger Um Naief, at 3:43 AM  

  • We have a dialect-erosion here. There are about five or six main dialects that Immigrant Chinese here speak though some of us have slowly but surely moved away to either Mandarin or English. The sad part of it is that some of us can barely speak the family dialect.

    Good of you to restore some tradition back.

    WV has picked up English: pants

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 7:53 PM  

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