Three mini-essays of 3~4 double-spaced, typed pages are required. Prompts for the essays are as follows:
Mini-Essay #1: We often think of Japan as a monolithic culture, but in fact there are many Japanese cultures with interrelated but diverse historical roots.
Note that each prompt consists of two propositions connected by “but.” In your mini-essays, devote approximately equal space to each proposition. The point of this exercise is to give you the opportunity to think about the material covered in the previous weeks and especially the dynamic operating in Japanese culture and society. Your grades will depend largely on how well you capture this dynamic.
Thanks in advance for any feedback!
Throughout Western Civilization, the Japanese people are seen as one racial people, without separation or boundaries. Although the Japanese culture is a close knit one, there have been many different distinct groups of people throughout Japanese history, and the Japanese people are not one distinct culture, but a conglomeration of a wide variety of different peoples.
Due to its specific geographical location, Japan has for many centuries had the ability to control its borders more easily than most other countries. The ability to close or open borders at will has provided for a very different kind of diplomatic negotiations with other peoples than almost anywhere else in the world. Additionally, cultural barriers the Japanese implement serve as a second “boundary” that foreigners must cross before being accepted into the culture of Japan. Due to both of these “layers” of protection against outside influence, there are several major differences between the cultivation of Japanese people and culture and that of anywhere else in the world.
One of the major differences between Japanese culture and that of other cultures is the united face that they often provide to the outside world, especially to the West. Although there have been civil wars in Japan in the past, such as the Genpei Wars (Discussion 2/14/03), even during troubled times the Japanese show a united front to all outsiders. An example of this is presented during the Merchant Period as well. All trading with Europe was conducted via one isolated island on the south end of Japan, and the Japanese were only willing to trade with Dutch merchants. During this time there was no other point in which Western Civilization could trade with the Japanese (Lecture 2/18/03). This type of united front was commonplace throughout Japan's history. Even during the turbulent times of the Warrior Culture, the Japanese people were still able to maintain one national culture, despite significant splintering into local feudal governments (Lecture 2/6/03). All of these cases are examples of how Japan has, for many years, presented a single, unified front to the Western world.
Japan's ability to open and close its borders at will has always resulted in a very different diplomatic structure than most countries. The isolated location of Japan has made it difficult to attack or take over from outside. One of the few physical attempts to attack Japan did not even result in battle. The “Divine Wind” of Japan succeeded in preventing enemy ships from ever arriving on the island (Lecture 2/11/03). Although this situation is obviously a special case, it is representative of the difficulty which some visitors experienced in trying to travel to Japan. Island nations are notably difficult to reach. Although modern technology has changed this, Japan for many years was isolated from most of the world (Lecture 2/4/03), which allowed the country to develop a single culture not seen in many places in the world. All of this leads to a view of Japan as being highly separated from the rest of the world as a singular entity.
Although Japanese culture may seem monolithic in many respects, this is not actually the case. Japan has a wide variety of cultural influences over the centuries. There are several different areas of Japanese life where these influences are obvious. The religion of the Japanese reflects a worldwide influence, and the cultural aspects of every day life have been influenced by many different sources over the centuries.
Approximately 75% of Japanese people surveyed claim they are not religious, yet over 75% of Japanese people also claim they feel that their lives are watched over by spirits (Lecture 1/28/03). The definition that most Japanese people have of religion is vastly different than the definition used by many other people in the world, which is what allows for this statement to seem possible to the Japanese people (Lecture 1/28/03). The variety of religions that people practice demonstrates the influence of the numerous other cultures on the Japanese religious experience. Shintô is the only “native” Japanese religion, however, it is often celebrated more as a “side” religion than a primary one (Lecture 1/28/03). Buddhism arrived in Japan around 550 CE (Course Website: Japanese Religions), and is now one of the major religions celebrated by the Japanese people (Lecture 1/28/03). The practice of Buddhism traveled to Japan from China through Korea, demonstrating quite clearly that Japanese people follow practices based on many different cultures. Buddhism also had a very heavy influence on government of Japan during the period of Court Culture: the capital of Japan actually shifted due solely to the overpowering Buddhist lobbyists of the time (Lecture 2/4/03). Additionally, much of the architecture in Nara was copied directly from the Chinese capital city of the time (Lecture 2/6/03). Other religions have also been adopted by the Japanese. Christian missionaries have created some limited following in the Japanese. Most of the followers of religion in Japan follow more than one, however, so even the practitioners of Christian religions also participate to some extent in the older religions such as Buddhism and Shintô. All these religions are practiced to some extent by a large population of Japanese today, and each religion evolved during a very different time period and came from very different cultures. This is one demonstration of how Japanese culture is not monolithic, but instead influenced by several different cultures and able to include and support each of them equally.
Japanese culture features many influences from outside of the country as well. Each different group of people that traveled to Japan brought with them a different set of cultural values and different knowledge, and all of this knowledge has been integrated into the daily life of the Japanese. In 1600, the end of the Warrior Culture period was brought about primarily due to a change in technology. A new people invaded Japan, and brought with them new skills as well as horses. This type of life-altering change caused the end of the Warrior Culture and the beginning of Merchant Culture (Lecture 2/18/03). Even small changes in the technology of the time were accepted into the culture, and the Japanese people would welcome any people into their midst. Because of this, Japan is a country of widely varied people and cultures, peacefully co-existing. People have come to Japan from India, China, Korea, and more (Lecture 1/21/03), and all of these cultures peacefully coexist in the country.
Japan often seems like a monolithic culture to outsiders. The country will most often present a single, unified face to those outside of it. However, internally, Japan is as varied as any other country. Other cultures have influenced everything from the religion, to the technology, to the very makeup of the people themselves. Japan is a flexible and accepting country which has in the past allowed for anyone to become a part of it. For these reasons and more, it should be clear that Japan is not monolithic, but quite the opposite: a cross cultural mixing ground for many of the people of Eastern Asia.