Protecting Culture

Kinkaku-ji, a Zen Buddhist Temple in Kyoto. Photos of this blog were taken on a family trip around Japan in April 2017.

Japan is going through a time that raises questions regarding its culture. 

Within the next 30 years, reports show that Japan will lose up to a third of their population, a combination of an aging population and a lack of babies being born has resulted in this. The economy will have a hard time continuing on without openness to immigration. 

I imagine that the Japanese culture will begin to see a certain level of dilution, and this is something I don’t know how to feel about. 

I remember when I was younger, my mom would tell us to tuck in our shirts. It looked orderly and neat. Disciplined. I thought the same. 

But over time, you realized something. All the other kids had untucked shirts. They had baggy pants that fell past their waistlines. Shoes that weren’t even tied up. But that was cool back then. That’s what made a difference between being popular and being a loser. 

I didn’t want to disappoint my parents, so I would leave my house with a shirt tucked in. Then I would untuck it on the way to school. 

An example of the amazing seafood found in Hokkaido. This donburi features uni, salmon, salmon roe, crab, shrimp, squid and scallops.

It’s a small example, but a combination of many of these examples transformed our family. The common language in our household was Japanese, but more and more, my siblings and I spoke English. We would sometimes speak English knowing that our parents wouldn’t necessarily understand what we were saying completely. 

More and more, we brought home western influence. Why do we have to go to Japanese school? It’s extra work and on top of that, we get summer vacation homework there, which doesn’t seem fair. Do we really have to acknowledge and celebrate these Japanese holidays that bear no significance to any of our peers?

Why are expectations so high for us to perform? I can’t get straight A’s. But it’s what’s expected. 

The standards that we have to live in seem to be higher. Why can my friends get away with staying out till this late and we have to come home earlier? Why do we always have to be home for dinner at 5? What’s the big deal if we come a bit later. 

And yet, despite my parents’ best efforts, they were fighting a bit of a losing battle. 

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, a place dedicated to sharing the message, "No More Hiroshimas" through remembering the horrific aftermath of the A-Bomb in 1945.

When I think about who I am now, it’s interesting. To Japanese people, I’m not Japanese. But to all others, I’m Japanese. 

My experience in Japan was interesting. Were people polite to me? Yes, of course. But within two seconds of me speaking Japanese, they gave me a quick look. “How come you’re not fluent? You look Japanese, but you’re a fraud.” 

A subtle look of disappointment and judgment, though never outwardly rude. They quickly switched to English to accommodate. Japanese people are very polite, and will provide you with thoughtful and generous service. But in that split second, I knew I wasn’t really Japanese. It hurt. 

I have a deep respect for Japanese culture. Their ability to dissect things, improve little by little, and come up with something that tends to be better. They are seen as leaders when it comes to Eastern aesthetics, the automobile and tech industries, as well as in discipline and organization. 

If you’re Japanese, you’re seen as having very high expectations. You don’t succumb to pressure. You can learn something and end up doing it better than everyone else, quickly. 

I respect Wabi Sabi, the philosophy that states that imperfections should be celebrated, that they are part of the overall beauty of an object, not to be hidden away, but to even be brought to the forefront. I like that philosophy, it helps me accept myself more. 

Enjoying a tiny can of Sapporo in Niseko. 

But I’m an outsider there. Western culture, especially Canada, has a very open attitude towards outsiders. A Canadian can be any color, any race, any culture. So I’m not an outsider in Canada. And yet, I feel like I lack definition here. To say you’re Canadian means what? 

How important is it for us to protect tradition, to protect a certain style of food, aesthetic, cultural norms and the rules that dictate the differences between cultures? And how important is it to open those up, inevitably, generation after generation, to create a culture that becomes homogeneous, that beats to the same drum and lives by the same rules? 

Openness and acceptance is not a bad thing. But it’s also our differences that make the world a more colorful place, and is also what challenges us to be more open, patient and understanding. 

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