In my opinion the Japanese nation is rather unusual in that its people have long since given up trying to appreciate the charms and traditions of their own background and culture.
Take, for example Harajuku and Omotesando - the area my own shop is located. The streets are lined with signs written in the Roman alphabet; so much so that it is actually hard work to find Japanese language signboards. The majority of these shops are selling 'western' goods such as overseas produced designer brand goods and mass-produced pieces from Asia.
To this end, for non-Japanese, as opposed to native Japanese, to really be able to lay their hands on genuine Japanese items the task is a formidable one but realistically it is perhaps only the foreign residents of Japan who can truly notice this phenomena as only a few shops, my own included, stick to selling genuine goods made in Japan.
In the days after WWII, the Japanese people really stopped paying attention to their own traditions, culture and artwork and this lack of focus on their own background, their own heritage, is proving fatal - as was covered in detail on three occasions last year - here on the pages of the IHT/Asahi; articles still available online at www.fuji-torii.com.
Nowadays foreign tourists visiting my premises often say "Omotesando is certainly a beautiful town but it is no different to New York." Regrettably this is reality in present day Japan and while it may be easy to point to Kyoto and Hida Takayama as 'traditional' Japanese areas, it should be borne in mind that these are what I will call 'staged towns' - not unlike native American reservations in the U.S.
This year Fuji-Torii decorated the entrance to its shop with 'kadomatsu' as part of the New Year celebrations. A few other shops along Omotesando did likewise but I personally see the kadomatsu, the most traditional and important New Year's decoration, as something of a counterpart or counterbalance to the recently imported concept of the Christmas tree.
It must be said that the reasons behind the lack of kadomatsu could vary - religious views, economic issues and actual shop design but with Christmas trees displayed regardless of religion and kadomatsu serving a similarly celebratory role over the New Year why then have kadomatsu been so noticeable by their absence in recent years?
I'm not offering a platform upon which to stand and admire Japanese customs and traditions unconditionally. Some Japanese do not actually like or care about Japan, so, given this sad turn then, why do I bother to put pen to paper in this column? The answer is simple and centers on my belief that the Japanese method of existence, the foundation on which Japanese culture and tradition is based is one of the keys that will permit coexistence on a global scale in the century to come.
Civilization, like the progress of science throughout the 20th century and more recently computer technology is making the lives of human beings easier and easier. At the same time, however, it adds many problems to the mix of life on this planet of ours and as I see it, as is stated above; Japanese wisdom of old serves as one solution by which to start fixing these woes.
This is where an old Japanese expression; "Onko chishin" which could be translated as 'by knowing the past you will understand the future.
(To be continued)