Westernization of Japanese Culture

The Japanese people, have always been recognized for their rich cultural history. With rising concerns regarding population problems and pollution that culture may not be around for much longer. It is no secret that Japan is considered the technological Mecca of the modern world. With the race toward artificial intelligence, can too much of a good thing be a bad thing? How does one thing relate to another?

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With all the technological breakthroughs seen from Japan in recent years, one can only imagine that these advancements would benefit a society as diverse as the Japanese. With incredible pioneering advancements in robotics and technology such as Honda’s ASIMO, and the Lexus LFA, research and scholars believe that it may be losing its rich cultural history. One can follow Japanese culture back centuries. Having been influenced by its natives as well as foreigners has developed into one of the most diverse cultures in the world. When one thinks of Japan and may think of high-speed magnetically levitated trains, fast cars and vending machines with Wi-Fi. However, much of Japan is still stuck using old technology such as fax machines and computers from the late 1990s. It is not uncommon to see people who traveled to Japan return claiming that most of the technological advancements made in Japan are often enjoyed in the Western world more than they are in Japan. Perhaps this is a sign of a culture realizing that it is advancing and morphing far too quickly.
When one hears the words “population problem” overpopulation immediately comes to mind. However, Japan has the opposite problem. In 2013, Japan had 238,632 more deaths than births. Japan’s population decreased by over 210,000 compared to the previous census. As it stands Japan has a population of 127.3 million people, but studies suggest that this population may shrink to as little as 86 million in the next 50 years. Court’s cause of death in Japan is cancer at nearly 30% followed by heart disease and 15% and pneumonia at 10%. Japan’s unwillingness to accept its own technology may be its downfall, as many of these diseases are considered preventable, and many times treatable by Western medicine, given that many of the advancements in Western medicine, are a direct result of the contributions Japan has made to medical imaging and diagnostic machines.
Another predominant issue affecting the decline of Japanese population is suicide. In 2013, suicide was singled out as the leading cause of death for the age group 15 – 29. It was also determined that twice as many men as women died in that age group. With only 1,029,800 births in 2013, researchers determined that this has been the fewest amount of live births on record since World War II. There has yet to be an increase in births since 1973, called “the second baby boom of Japan.” The most obvious cause for this decline in population is the total fertility rate. In 1947, at the end of World War II, there were nearly 4.5 children for every woman in Japan. As of 2013, the last official statistic, there were only 1.5 live births per woman. In order to keep the population steady, there needs to be at least 2.0 live births per woman. The number must be higher, however Japan hopes to see an increase in the coming years, rather than a decrease. The marriage rate has also seen a decline. 661,000 marriages were recorded in 2013. Again, a record low since World War II. It is evident that women are hesitating time married at a younger age and are delaying the process. In 1993, the average marriage age was 26 years old. In 2013, the average was nearly 30. Women are delaying having their first child as well, as the average age for the first child is now close to 31, instead of the age of 27 it was approximately 2 decades ago.
Ironically, it is young Westerners were more open and susceptible to accepting Japanese culture than the Japanese themselves. Many believe that this is actually because Japan is westernizing its own culture. In the 15th century, Japan passed a law forbidding the Japanese to leave the country and severely limiting the negotiations that it could have countries outside of Asia. This is largely been attributed to have been done out of fear of westernization. Western countries began having relations with Japan once more as a result of the invention of the steam engine and advances in transportation. Early attempts were made by King William the Second of Holland to establish negotiations by sending a letter to the show gun of Japan in 1844 advising him that keeping this ban in place would affect the economic and cultural advancement of the country due to the astounding increase in agricultural, technological, and industrial advancements. While the implications of this letter was deliberated among Japan’s highest ranking officials they decided to take no action. And it was not until 1853, when President Millard Fillmore sent Commodore Matthew Perry as an arbitrator in an attempt to begin negotiations and commercial relations with Japan. This prompted Japan and the United States to sign the treaty titled the “Treaty of Friendship”. Nearly 2 decades after the treaty was signed Japan began implementing more westernized styles of education and was recognized by many as “the first and most striking example of westernization in the non-Western world.” It was not until 1872, however, that Japan passed a formal law titled the “Fundamental Law of Education” Which set forth the standards for the Japanese education system. During the interim twenty-year period, there was much trial and error regarding the types of educational systems and at times Japan seem motivated to revert to its original Eastern – based educational system. This trial and error was exacerbated by attempting to mimic the educational systems of many different countries including Holland and Germany. The foundation of the educational system finally found a compromise with predominantly French influences. In 1890, the “Rescript on Education” politicized and organized the 1872, law by appointing teachers as servants of the state. A system titled the Mombusho, devised by Japanese Statesman Mori Arinori, widely considered to be the father of the modern Japanese educational system, was established to dictate which textbooks and standardized tests would be part of Japanese curriculum, very much like the French and American education system.
The negotiations of Commodore Perry in 1853 sparked a change in Japan that paved the way for the changes it still sees today. In 1872, the same year the educational legislation was passed, a regulation ordered that the court nobles wear westernized clothing. Japanese commoners began to take after the rulers of the nation as they changed their hairstyles from the traditional topknot to shorter hairstyles. Dental hygiene in women increased as well. By the 1890’s, it was uncommon to see women with diseased teeth. The rich began wearing wool coats and accessorizing with umbrellas and pocket watches, a practice that was considered taboo before the arrival of Commodore Perry, as the educational system before then taught that Japanese men and women should not preoccupy themselves with matters is trite as the time. The transformation, however, was not yet complete. Japanese officials were said to wear their Western clothing to work and then change into their kimonos and traditional Japanese clothing after they went home, again, showing that Japanese culture was still somewhat resilient and resistant to change and in the early years it may have been purely for a political purpose.
Japanese construction is an area that saw major change in the late 19th and early 20th century. Tatami, a Japanese advancement replaced dirt and wood floors. Kerosene lighting replaced traditional rapeseed lighting with its promise of convenience and portability. Before then, most Japanese homes only knew the kitchen stove as the central source of lighting. Sanitation practices from the Western world were being implemented as well as a result of the new, portable lighting. Concrete buildings became increasingly common and architects from other countries were commissioned to design important buildings such as the Bank of Japan and the Tokyo central station. In contrast with the issue of modernity, the integration of Westernization and modernization has a long history in Japan. In the article WITHOUT MODERNITY: Japan’s Challenging Modernization, Dana Buntrock mentions that “leaders accepted that industrialization and Westernization were reciprocal and that both were necessary for development.In addition to actively promoting telegraph, lighthouse, and railroad construction, for example, the government also used Western buildings and institutions to advance its modernization program. Japan employed Western engineers to build the nation’s infrastructure and Western architects to design offices, banks, universities, and schools; these specialists were collectively referred to asoyatoi. In more isolated areas, where Western architects were not present, indigenous carpenters attempted to reproduce the finishes and spatial characteristics of Western architecture, particularly in the construction of government offices and primary schools” These advancements in construction technology began to make Tokyo look more like industrialized Western cities such as San Francisco. The prefabricated style of construction more recently implemented in the United States is also influenced modern Japanese construction. In industrial Japanese areas, it is not uncommon to see buildings erected in less than a week. Buildings are constructed in a piecewise fashion at an off-site factory and then trucked in to the construction site and put together by construction workers. This alleviates the many problems that come along with construction sites such as traffic jams, lower speed limits, noise levels, and inconvenience to residents of the area, given that traditional building construction can take anywhere from two to ten years depending on the architectural complexity of the building.
The largest and most long-lasting change that Western influences brought to Japan is a culture that strives to advance technologically. As Akira Goto says in his study, Technology and Industrial Development in Japan: Building Capabilities by Learning, Innovation and Public Policy, “Japan was the first major non-Western nation to take on board the Western technological and organizational advances of the century after the first industrial revolution. It subsequently proved fully able to exploit and contribute to the broad, sustained technological advances that began in the 20th century, as science became harnessed to technology.”

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