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Herald Tribune asahi
Japanese People Do Not Know Japan
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Influence of Education
I usually write this series of columns in Japanese, and my text has been kindly translated into English through the good offices of Mr. Nobuhiko Kuwahara, president of Finex Co., Ltd. (www.finex.co.jp). I wrote my opinion about postwar education in Japan and it was translated into a sentence that read
 
"The cultural naivete can also be attributed to a distortion of postwar education that has led us to believe that Japanese tradition caused WWII,"
 
in a first draft for a piece on July 25th. Ms. Chihiro Yamada, staffer of the English Media Group of the International Herald Tribune / the Asahi Shimbun, worried that the sentence could not convey my intention exactly and spoke up about it. Thanks to her advice, the translation was revised. (reference)
 
As this example indicates, translation has its limitations. Japanese is different from other languages (including English) and is sometimes complicated and less logical. I will write about characteristics of "the Japanese language" in future articles. What I wanted to say in that article was that Japanese tradition and culture have been partly suppressed in postwar education. I feel that such an education system is somewhat responsible for Japanese people thinking that they can live without Japan, as I wrote at the end of the previous piece. (reference)
 

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True Recognition
After Japan's defeat in the Second World War, what Japanese people saw was the U.S., which enjoyed a materialistic way of life. Its information and images were dazzling for Japanese people who had lost confidence in the defeat. During the occupation, U.S. propaganda instilled the notion that American things were good and Japanese things were bad. Unfortunately, this notion had an affect on some Japanese manners and customs that have been cultivated for over 2000 years.
 
Japanese people accepted American things with resignation. They dreamed of an American way of life with unlimited resources as depicted in American movies and they have continued working hard to realize such a life, while ignoring Japanese culture and tradition. Prioritizing American things over Japanese tradition was in line with American occupation policy and also the Japanese government's policy. In such circumstances, Japanese people became unfamiliar with traditional craftwork and began to lose traditional knowledge.
 
Now, 60 years after the war, most Japanese people seem to think their own culture and traditions are too old and worthless. As a result, Japanese people began to regard justice and personal morality as less valuable. Only foreign readers of this series of columns who live in Japan and intellects overseas praise the Japanese virtue that is seen in our culture and traditions.

 
Abandon Self-interest
In pre-war Japan, not everyone was educated in high schools or colleges. Some of them served apprenticeships in craft studios or with merchants, and they emulated professional skills. This system is called an apprenticeship system. Most apprentices were 13 to 20 years old. They learned the spirit of producing and pleasure of service through labor when they were at the most impressionable age. They were proud of and satisfied with their job, regardless of educational background and income. Moreover, employers taught courtesy, manners, ethics and principles on behalf of their parents.The word "apprentice" must sound feudalistic to those who are or were educated in the postwar education system.
 
The apprentice system may be associated with an image that apprentices had to endure awful treatment in a clear hierarchy. However, such an image is somewhat overstated by novels and movies. The apprentice system was not something they just had to endure. There is another word to express Japanese labor style; "Ŏ." This word is usually misunderstood to mean "to sacrifice yourself for the nation." The true meaning of the word is to abandon self-interest and serve society.
 
Re-recognition of Japan
Japanese people have long forgotten their own traditions and culture. In the traditional craft industry, this causes a decline of skilled workers and lack of successors. The younger generation, who do not use traditional craftwork have no aspiration to work with traditional crafts. They, who have a mistaken understanding of freedom, may feel uncomfortable with the formality and seniority system present in the craftwork industry. On the other hand, from a teacher's perspective, teaching everything from A to Z about the mind-set of production to such young people requires intolerable patience.
 
There are vocational schools and art colleges all over Japan, and many private institutes offering adult education classes hold classes to teach traditional crafts. They may be enough to merely preserve the basic skills of the traditional crafts. I, however, aim to preserve professional skills and the craftsmanship mindset.
 
To foster successors and to improve the traditional skills, I developed "Honkin Maki-e" wineglasses. With the new idea of integrating maki-e onto wineglasses, which can be used in a modern life, I aim to give young craft workers dreams and jobs. I also hope that the increase in demand will contribute to the stability of their life and improve their skills and awareness. What I most want to achieve in this project is for Japanese people to know the beauty of Japan and Japanese products, to reaffirm our traditions and culture, and eventually regain confidence and pride in our country. (To be continued)
 
Please send your comment or opinion to H-ADV@asahi.com
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