Defining the Roots of Japan(s)

If you’ve ever wondered about what makes Japanese culture unique, this brochure Roots of Japan(s): Unearthing the Cultural Matrix of Japan tells it all. Published by Japan’s Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry, this publication marks a shift in how the country promotes its creative industries, from its previous “Cool Japan” to “Creative Japan”. The aim: to communicate to Japanese and the world its unique brand of culture.

The book establishes the notion that Japan is made up of diverse cultures and briefly traces their history. What comes out of these lyrical pages edited by the Editorial Engineering Laboratory (a research institution “providing pilot models for the information age“) are exciting connections of Japan’s past, present and future. For instance, cosplay, an act of representation to bring a fantasy world to life, is traced to Japan’s Byobu screens, which once carried images of Chinese landscapes to the country’s hotel lobbies and banquet halls.

Besides outlining distinct Japanese traits, the book also theorises how its culture is generated, giving extremely fascinating insights to Japanese philosophies. Tarako (cod roe) Spaghetti, an Italian dish unique to Japan, is an instance of the trinity of concepts Shin-gyo-so, which are three basic styles of calligraphy that represent formal-casual-punk. As explained in the book:

“The pasta is cooked al dente, following the shin (authentic) Italian method, and sprinkled with dry seaweed according to the Japanese gyo (way). Eat with chopsticks rather than fork, and you’ll be so (grass) in style.”

Roots of Japan(s) was given out during the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in Bali, and there’s no information if you can get them anywhere else. However, you can hear the laboratory’s director Seigow Matsuoka talk about this book at the recent Creative Tokyo event website (with a voiceover in English translation; start from 22:40). You can also look at images of the book and read notes in Japanese about it here and here.

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