I was very interested to read Koichi Iwabuchi’s article, “Taking Japanization Seriously: Cultural Globalization Reconsidered” having studied abroad in Japan. The article discusses the significance of the rise in Japanese cultural exports to globalization and cultural power. Iwabuchi identifies several areas in which Japanese cultural exports have permeated American culture including toys, television, comics, film, fashion, electronics, and industrial organization models.
I feel that Iwabuchi emphasized the Japanese products coming into American culture, but did not really address the influence American/Western culture has had on Japan. I think that cultural exchange still goes both ways despite the concept of American and western hegemony that Iwabuchi wrote about.
I studied abroad in Japan two summers ago as part of a research grant to study traditional Japanese theater. I visited Osaka and Nara, but I stayed mostly in Kyoto for over a month. I had never been to Japan before this trip and I learned a lot about Japanese culture. What really struck me about Japan was the mix of traditional Japanese and “modern” Western culture. One of the most striking examples of this was seeing people walking around on the streets wearing traditional kimono next to people wearing Western-style business suits. Busy modern skyscrapers were built next to ancient centuries-old shrines and temples.
Youth fashion in Japan was very interesting to observe from a cultural perspective. Remember when shirts, jewelry, and tattoos with Kanji characters that supposedly meant “love” or “peace” or “friendship” were really popular in America in the ‘90s? It is very fashionable in Japan to wear tee shirts with English phrases written in large letters. Only the English phrases don’t really make a lot of sense. For example, I purchased a tee shirt that reads in English, “I am now absorbed in dream wings.” The phrase doesn’t exactly make sense in English, but it’s the idea of displaying something Western that appeals to Japanese youth. It really makes me wonder how many Americans are walking around with tattoos, tee shirts, and jewelry with nonsensical characters...