Is There a “Minimum” of Japanese Culture We’d Like the Next Generation to Inherit?
As we Nikkei and ijusha folk, incuding parents, get older, we begin to feel that we have to pass on to our children and other young ones around us something, however vague, of Japanese culture that we have inherited from our forebearers. Whether it’s values like respect for the aged, or language and other aspects of culture or customs, lifestyle and so on, this feeling is only natural. Then a question arises: it may be difficult to communicate such things we cherish to the Canadian-born, English-speaking young generation of the global internet age, but is there such a thing as a “bare minimum” that we must try to pass on?
Chances are we ourselves at one time might have resisted against cultural values that our parents tried to inculcate in us. The above question, to which there is no clear-cut answer, is thus a conundrum that Japanese and other immigrant societies in the Americas and elsewhere have always faced..
When I was young, say a half-century ago around the 1960s, the influence North American culture had on Japanese people via TV, movies and print media was enormous. Conversely, the influence Japanese culture had on the people of Western countries seemed practically limited to maybe pocket-size transistor radios and The Seven Samurai and other Akira Kurosawa movies When Kyu Sakamoto’s song Sukiyaki (originally Ue wo muite arukoo) hit the top of North American pop charts, we got all excited because “they actually liked it!” When the ex-Nankai Hawks Masanori Murakami pitched for the San Francisco Giants, it was an un precedented, epochal event. We “more or less” joined the ranks of the leading industrial nations by successfully staging the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, but continued to fret for many years thereafter over whether the North American and European nations were giving us “due recognition.” We got seriously upset when a critical British newspaper article likened Japanese urban dwellings to “rabbit hutches.” As for our eating habits, raw fish was practically considered unsuitable for human consumption in Western countries.
And today? One of Japan’s two big automakers Toyota and Nissan, namely the latter, has merged with France’s Renault to become a giant multi-national led by Carlos Gosn, while “Hello Kitty” products and the anime culture have been widely adopted by some young Westerners so that “kawaii” has become part of their everyday vocabulary. Turning to the world of sports, we see Ichiro, the future Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, now thrilling New York fans as a member of the famed Yankees, while in soccer Kagawa and Nagatomo are respectively playing for Manchester United and Inter Milan, two of Europe’s elite clubs. Sushi is of course considered a delicacy among large segments of Western populations, and in some densely-populated North American cities like New York, imitations of Japan’s mini-sized apartments and even “capsule hotels” are cropping up.
With the advancing globalization of economies, concepts like national economy and national border feel less important, and as international travel has become easier, the flow of students, young business people and even some middle-class families crossing the Pacific has picked up.?Apart from a large proportion of Japanese people, particularly the men, who still seem unable to cope with the “shock” of globalization, people from Hong Kong, South Korea and China are arriving in droves just here in British Columbia alone, and many young Canadians like students, teachers and businessmen seem to be happily going out to Asia. The biggest difference between now and half a century ago is that back then, improvement in the standard of living usually meant people going over from the Asian side to North America, whereas nowadays, things like employment opportunities appear to be more abundant in economically vibrant major Asian cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai and even Singapore.
Major Japanese corporations are today looking to overseas markets like China, India and even parts of South America for their very survival, but according to media reports, there are too many men up and down the ranks from “salary men” to executives who have no stomach for overseas assignment. It’s understandable in the case of distant, Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking South American countries, but they are apparently unwilling to go even to China, Southeast Asia or India. Consequently, employment opportunities for Nikkeijin and Canadian-born Japanese who grew up speaking Englsih but can also manage some Japanese are apparently on the rise.
I’m unable to grasp statistical trends in recent times, but cases of young Nikkei people and offspring of of ijusha, raised in Canada, going over to Japan to study or work have apparently been far from rare since way back in the old days. Personally, I know of, for instance, an ijusha’s son who is teaching English at a university in Japan, or two brothers who graduated from the university in Canada with the elder one staying in Canada to pursue a professional career and the younger going to Japan to pursue a career in education, or student who transferred to a Japanese university from UBC and decided to stay on and finish his university and find employment with a Japanese multi-national company. I’m sure you readers know of a wide variety of of similar cases.
For the offspring of us Nikkei and ijusha folk who live on the interface between two cultures it is becoming more difficult to select future careers compared to the old days, when it used to be challenging for different reasons including remnants of racial prejudice, precisely because there are now more options as studying or working in Japan has become a relatively easy proposition.
In the complex world of the “borderless era,” is there still something “above everything else” about Japanese culture that we would sincerely like our children and young ones to inherit?
Looking for even just one little thing to share with you readers, I chanced upon one of my favorite columnists, novelist Shizuka Ij?in, being asked “Where do you think lies the strength of the Japanese people?” in his weekly column Nayamu ga hana (“What, Me Worry?” NO, NO, WRONG TRANSLATION… more like “Worrying Can be Nice Too”). I’d like to quote below a part of his reply.
“…I’m sorry but all I can do is ask you to study our nation’s history thoroughly once more, and find the root cause of why this nation has continued to exist for well over one thousand years. I happen to believe that clues that reveal the root of Japanese history lie in things like family mottos and sayings passed down from the ancestors that have that have mostly disappeared now.”
Apart from the challenge of the none-too-easy Japanese language, it is practically unreasonable to ask young people who grew up in Canada to go as far as to “reveal the root of Japanese history.” But English being a perfectly adequate medium as well, why don’t we ask them to read up on some aspect, no matter how little, of Japanese history or the history of Japanese immigration to North America? If you want to combine Japanese language lessons in the process, there are also graphic comic books on history, Japanese “salary man’s” existence, whatever. Rare in this world is a nation of people that has continued to exist for well over a thousand years. Why? How? Why not get them “hung up” on that to start with?