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Herald Tribune asahi
Japanese People Do Not Know Japan
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Fine Art

In the previous 10th chapter, I wrote that many art works and craft works are sold as made in Japan, but, in fact, they are copies of Japanese design made in other Asian countries. To be sure, even works such as these are similar to Japanese art works, as both have an "Oriental atmosphere" for Western people, and it is difficult to recognize the difference if they are copied precisely. In a broad sense, both works are in the same category of "made in Asia." However, our shop and I stick to made in Japan and made by hand. This is because art works and craft works of each country are a product of the climate and history of the country, and have been preserved and handed down for centuries by the people of the country, and as such represent the tradition and culture of the country. In other words, art works and craft works of each country are spiritual creations of the people of the nation, formed from their own blood.
 
Meaning of Art

Most art works and craft works in the world have their origins in Ancient Egypt. Techniques of Ancient Egypt spread to other places in the world, fused into the local climate and materials, and changed and developed with the local tradition and culture, through natural selection. Therefore, ceramics are called "china" and lacquerware is called "japan" in English, because these industrial arts flourished in China and Japan respectively.
 
As I wrote in the previous article, Japan and Japanese people have the unique characteristic that they accept and adopt information and culture brought by people from the continent and refine such information and culture to a new level. It is partly because Japan is an island country located at the far easternmost limits of Eurasia. This fact has also influenced the development of art works and craft works. As seen in the treasures of Shoso-in of Todai-ji Temple in Nara Prefecture, Japanese people have developed many things imported from other countries along the lines of their unique sensibilities. With their receptive mind, Japanese people have accepted many people and goods from the continent and have adopted their culture and techniques since ancient times.
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The Japanese Way

Art works and craft works are similar to food culture, which also has deep ties with the culture and tradition of each country. Cuisine is strongly influenced by the local ingredients and climate, and, as a result, there are various types of cuisines, such as French, Chinese and Japanese. These ingredients and foods are a fusion of the natural energy of the land and local people's energy. I call this the "Energy of Food" in the same way that I used the term "Energy of Beauty," which I wrote about in previous articles of the Fifth Series. Many foods from all over the world can be eaten in Japan, especially in Tokyo. Recently, in many big cities like New York, French, Italian, or Chinese food cooked by Japanese chefs has been available, too. However, I believe dishes cooked by Japanese chefs are Japanese cuisine cooked in French style, Italian style or Chinese style. Of course, there are many pseudo French or Chinese foods in the world that are merely superficial imitations. In contrast to these, other country's dishes cooked by Japanese chefs become different dishes from the original ones thanks to their ingredient selection and innovations, regardless of the climatic aspects and ingredients of the original food.
 
From Real Article to Essence

For a long time, it has been said of Japanese people that they are good at imitation, but they also have a special talent for accepting things and developing and refining them in their own way, as I wrote above. This is true in art works and craft works. Japanese people have accepted various things and techniques from overseas, adopted them into their own culture and tradition, and eventually produced improved and original things. One of the reasons for this is that Japan has not been occupied by a foreign country for as many as 2,000 years, and also was closed to the outside world for a long period during the Edo era.
 
Sometimes we see images in the media in which high-end European brand watches or bags imitated in Asian countries are rounded up and thrown onto a scrap heap. Even though these pirated goods are sophisticatedly imitated, imitations are only imitations and fakes are only fakes. Such imitations or fakes do not have energy of people who create and foster the brand, and also do not embody the concern and skills of creators who care about the users or owners of the product. These imitations have a mean spirit aiming only to make a profit. I have no objection to the notion of more people becoming able to purchase higher-quality products at cheaper cost. However, because imitations and cheap products spread in a disorderly way, traditional crafts and skills have been lost in many countries, and tradition, culture, pride and spirit of the nation are also disappearing. One reason I have continued writing these articles is to sound a warning about such situations.
 
Please send your comment or opinion to hadv@asahi.com
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