What is “Cool Japan”?Posted: March 28, 2010 | Author: Doug | Filed under: Japan | 6 Comments »
This phrase is something I’ve seen more and more in recent years, and I have to admit I’ve given it a lot of thought, because of my own interests in this culture. Since my childhood in the 3rd grade, when we learned about Japan in our social-studies section, to our field-trip to the local Japanese import store at age 9, to movies as a teenager,1 to Japanese-language self-study books I borrowed from neighbors at sixteen, all the way to my lame efforts now to learn the language, there is something ineffable about Japanese culture that has always fascinated me. But I could never really articulate it until I heard the phrase above.
The first time I heard this was of all places in a hotel in Paris, where my wife, daughter and I crashed after a long day’s walk in muggy June weather. We flipped on NHK, which was available at the hotel, and they had an english-language show called “Cool Japan“. The topics included things like anime, fashion and so on. Generally, topics I didn’t like anyways, but the phrase still stood out for me. Then I started hearing the phrase elsewhere,
It occurred to me lately though that there are plenty of japanophiles, francophiles, anglophiles, sinophiles and so on, so being interested in another culture is nothing new, but I also take comfort in knowing it’s not just me. I was recently reminded of something Lafcadio Hearn wrote in his book Kokoro in 1890 while attending an exhibition:
Among Western nations, France offers an example. Her wealth is not due to her ability to underbid her neighbors. Her goods are the dearest in the world: she deals in things of luxury and beauty. But they sell in all civilized countries because they are the best of their kind. Why should not Japan become the France of the further East? (pg. 54-55)
After reading Donald Keene’s book on the life of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, I believe I begin to see what Hearn is talking about. There’s no lack of impressive cultures in East Asia (China alone can fill volumes and volumes), but in the minds of many, one can draw some parallels between the two countries in terms of luxury, refinement and so on.
Granted, day to day life in Japan is probably no different than any other country (e.g. work sucks, never enough money, you grow old, etc, etc.), but it’s the romanticized image that sticks in people’s minds. I have no idea how or why this is so, but it just seems that way.
Having known my wife now for 12 years, I don’t have quite the same romanticized view as I previously did. On the other hand, through her I learned a lot of good habits, and viewpoints and an appreciation for the Asian approach to viewing the world, which I like to share here. So “cool japan” for me is a little different now than when I was a silly teenager, but I appreciate the cultural exposure I’ve had through my wife, her friends and family.
1 Which also led me to Buddhism.