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Herald Tribune asahi
Japanese People Do Not Know Japan
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Fine Art

The time quickly goes. I have written 23 pieces of this series of columns under the general theme of "Japanese people do not know about Japan," (all of which are available on www.fuji-torii.com.) Through these articles, I have endeavored to have readers become more aware of Japanese culture and Japanese people's mentality, which have been retreating as globalization advances. This trend, however, is not limited only to Japan, and may be seen in other countries. In the fifth series, concerned mainly with the concept of "Beauty," I have been explaining how much we have been led astray by false values that are foisted upon us by various types of "Imprinting."
 
Several years ago, when a person who was associated with the Japanese government was buying a gift that was to be presented to a foreigner by the prime minister, he was reminded that Fuji-Torii knew personally the producers of goods that were sold at our shop. Our shop has been particular about "made in Japan" since its establishment. Most creators and artisans of our shop's products have worked for us since my father was the owner, and I know most of them as well as related persons in producing districts. It is regrettable that recently, some sources send made-in-Japan samples to other Asian countries to make copies and then have them sent back to Japan only to package and sell. According to the government official, they cannot use such goods as government's gifts because they are sometimes sold at extremely low prices in China Towns or other places overseas.
 
Meaning of Art

In fact, many Japanese craft works and works of art are copied in Asian countries. It is becoming difficult to find fancy goods made in Japan. Sophisticated fakes of early Imari ware or Satsumayaki pottery, which ordinary Japanese persons cannot recognize, are sometimes seen at overseas auctions. Regarding Japanese tansu (chest of drawers), which are popular among foreign people, already you can no longer find old and authentic ones on the market. Until several years ago, we saw imitations of Japanese tansu in the Japanese market that were made in Korea, using old timber for faking antique tansu. Now, most of them are made in China. If you buy such Japanese-style tansu, knowing these facts, there is no problem and it is reasonable because the price is probably lower. However, some shoddy goods warp or become misshapen due to present-day air conditioning, and in the worst case, some of them are no longer usable after just one winter.
 
Actually, selling such shoddy goods to foreigners has always been done. Some dealers for foreigners have been selling shoddy goods which have an easy-to-understand design or theme for foreigners, such as "Mount Fuji," "Geisha," or "Samurai Warriors," saying that foreigners cannot recognize whether they are authentic or not, anyway. The situation of souvenirs for foreign tourists is worse. Pictures or craft works whose nationality is unidentified are sold. Most yukata cotton kimono or kimono sold for tourists are made of cheap chemical fibers made in other countries, and I believe that most Japanese people would not buy such clothes even if they were asked to by somebody. It is all the more imperative that we sell authentic goods to foreigners, because they may not have much information and knowledge of Japan. As a Japanese, I am ashamed of such activities.
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The Japanese Way

When we Japanese people go to Hawaii, at local shops we often buy magnets that we use to put memos on refrigerators, and on the magnets "Hawaii" is printed. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that they are made in U.S. We simply buy them as one of the mementos or souvenirs that we have to buy with a limited budget. In Japan, I heard recently some Japanese tour guides lead tourists to 100-yen shops. But I am leery of such a situation because I have seen a quasi-Japanese-style painting depicting a beautiful woman at some such discount shop. The woman in the picture looks like a geisha whose hair is done up elaborately with many chopsticks, but she wears Korean traditional dress as she walks with Mount Fuji in the background. Her nationality is unknown.
 
Guides may not have any reason to stop foreigners from buying such a picture if they like it and its price is low. However, if guides do not show any authentic Japanese craft works or works of art to foreign guests and the guests do not have opportunities to choose, it is, I believe, a form of bad manners on the part of guides. And the worse thing is that such pictures and craft works are distributed around the world as "made in Japan."
 
From Real Article to Essence

Non-Japanese readers might be amazed and chuckle at these situations. However, in fact, such things may be happening to you. This is because in the course of some 60 years after WWII, information about Japanese craft works and works of art has become quite dubious. Some non-Japanese customers of our shop have Japanese spouses, but even such customers are not well informed about Japanese culture and art. Even though their spouses are Japanese, and even though they have been living in Japan for a long time, if the information they get is wrong, it is meaningless.
 
Japanese people do not know as much about Japan as non-Japanese people think they do, and what is more, they have little or no knowledge of craft works and art works. This is due to the following reasons: history and culture of Japan have not been taught in the postwar educational curricula; traditional culture has not been passed down from generation to generation as the trend toward nuclear families has gained momentum; and many people do not have opportunities to see and appreciate authentic art works because such things have also not been taught. All this has led to Japanese people's indifference to their own country. Therefore I believe, it is impossible for foreigners to get good information about Japanese craft works and works of art from Japanese people, and in many cases, the mistaken information that a Japanese person provides as a makeshift response to foreigners' inquiries takes on a life of its own among foreigners.
 
Please send your comment or opinion to hadv@asahi.com
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