Just two decades ago, Japan’s image in the world was of an economic juggernaut, challenging America and other industrialized nations with its push for dominance in everything from microchips to supercomputers. Discussion of Japanese culture typically referenced the traditional and offbeat worlds of, say, Kabuki or sumo.
Today, Japan sets the trends in what’s cool. Sarah Palin’s famous glasses came from a Japanese designer. Tokyo has the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, with eight of them earning three stars. Even America’s favorite food show, “Iron Chef,” is a Japanese import. Japanese women are pushing the limits of literary pop culture with blogs and cellphone novels. Japanese comics occupy ever-greater shelf space in bookstores, and animé-influenced movies like the “The Dark Knight” and “Spider-Man 3” find huge audiences in the West.
By Amelia Newcomb
Christian Science Monitor
Japan’s industrial design supremos are gearing up for a global offensive with a Paris show introducing the planet to Tokyo’s latest designer concept — “kansei”. Blending traditional crafts with high-tech innovation, the show is next due to travel to the United States and China and highlights the special influence of Japanese culture on its products. AFP
What all these media share is a nuanced Japanese aesthetic that has infiltrated global sensibilities – a sort of new “soft power” for Japan. In the process, they’re challenging delineations of good and evil from the world’s main purveyor of pop culture, Hollywood, as well as American ideals of the lone action-hero.
“The American 20th-century ideal of the individual superhero is wearing thin,” says Roland Kelts, professor at the University of Tokyo and author of “Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S.” “The Japanese model is of self-denial and the sublimation of selfish desires for the sake of group harmony. This is becoming a multipolar world. The desire to be a part of something harmonious rather than the leader of a pack is growing.”
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