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  2. Japanese Culture and Tradition
  3. Understanding Japan: A Cultural History

Project35 consults with curators and art-related endeavors, while also facilitating the "Transoceania Symposium" occasionally in Japan to bring Pacific specialists particularly Pacific Islanders and Indigenous people of Japan and Asia together in conversation. Research Grant Embodiment:Research Grants.

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Special Research Project S "Transoceanian Trajectories: Tracing Global Flows of Representation and Resistance among Pacific Islander Artists" was designed, proposed, and executed as a preliminary phase to a larger project planned for onwards, a joint research and curatorial project which will entail a symposium, exchange, and exhibition around issues of art, identity, memory, environment, gender, and self-determination between the Pacific Islands and Japan.

For this special project, I attended the Venice Biennale of contemporary art in August , where I engaged with Pacific artists there who have succeeded in showing their art internationally, and other non-Pacific artists who work with themes surrounding Oceania.

With each of these artists and curators, I conducted visits and interviews, while also viewing how various international audiences engaged with their work. I also viewed the overall exhibitions in Venice and Florence as a way to gain more contextual knowledge of the international art world. This research led to a profound understanding of how difficult it is for indigenous artists, especially artists from the Pacific Islands region, to gain access to international audiences-- but also, how effective art can be when they do succeed in communicating their messages.

For instance, Lisa Reihana's work, "Emissaries," won many awards and communicated a devastating history of European colonization in the Pacific Islands which is not easily relatable through mere textual or archival knowledge. These art interventions, together with more creative but rigorous academic work, are required to cultivate better, equal, transoceanic, trans-regional alliances between Japan and its Pacific neighborhood in the 21st century, and this initial research sets the stage for further programs that bridge historical and contemporary understandings of place around urgent themes of climate change, militarism, and globalization.

Profile Dr. In addition, I look at themes of gender and sexual minorities in Japan to consider problems of human rights and social issues inside and outside Japan in contemporary society. And this feeling of theirs, though not all their concepts, percolated down to the common people.


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Their culture must therefore, even in out- Introduction 3 line form, be studied through all avenues of art, religion, and economic and social life as well as through the avenues more classic in the West, such as political and military history. By trying to recount the outward events of Japanese history always with an eye to the attitude and stance of the chief actors and of the common folk, we may be able to obtain a truer and more rounded view of the whole. One thing is certain: there were other races, of a non-Japanese character, living on the islands of Japan before the arrival of the Japanese themselves.

One of these races, the Ainu, has survived, though precariously, to the present day.

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The Ainu are of Caucasian type, with white skin and profuse beards. Their totem is the bear, and their way of life that of hunters and fishers. For centuries they dominated the northern section of the islands, but they are now reduced to a small group living in Hokkaido. The Japanese, on the other hand, are of Mongolian race, smaller in stature, with the typical Mongolian features of the fold in the eyelid, a yellow tinge in pigmentation, black hair, faces on the whole flatter than the Caucasian type, high cheekbones, and limbs proportionately short in relation to the trunk.

This last feature helps to conserve body heat, which would otherwise be dissipated by long extremities. This, along with the eye fold, which may offer protection against snow glare, is thought by some to point to a reservoir of Mongolian peoples living in prehistoric times in the Siberian north. But within the Mongolian family at least two more exact areas of origin may be distinguished for those peoples who mingled to form the Japanese race.

The first is central Asia. The evidence for this is to be found not only in the physical type already mentioned but also in the language. Japanese in its syllabary consonant followed by vowel and in certain roots shows some similarities to Hungarian-Magyar and to Finnish. All three probably stem from a common central Asian source.

The second area of origin for one of the Japanese strains is the South China region. Certain items of diet, notably the use of wet rice, also point to a South China origin.

Japanese Culture and Tradition

There is a third possible strain in the Japanese people, namely one stemming from Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands; but this is controversial. The main argument for it is found in the form of architecture used in old Japanese farmhouses and in the Shinto shrine buildings, for example at Ise.

In all these, and in the huts of the dwellers in Malaysia and Polynesia, the main roof beams at the gable ends are not sawed off but allowed to project at the top for a considerable distance in the form of an X. One objection to this theory is that the islanders could never have covered the distance from the South Pacific islands to Japan in open boats and without navigational aids.

But the use of a simple coconut shell device for a sextant, with a water level within it to maintain the artificial horizon, might well have allowed adventurous mariners to complete the journey to Japan successfully. Present-day Polynesians in outrigger canoes with similar navigational devices are known to be able to sail immense distances with remarkable accuracy. What of the land itself in which these people mingled and established themselves?

Understanding Japan: A Cultural History

Japan consists of four large islands, running from north to south and then bending in a curve to the west, as follows: Hokkaido, Honshu the main island , Shikoku, and Kyushu, as well as innumerable small islands. Their total area is about the size of the state of California. If superimposed on the east coast area of the United States, Japan would extend as a narrow sickle curve from the Canadian border to the northern edge of Florida. Honshu greatly exceeds the other three main islands in size, so much so that on the superimposed map it alone would run from the latitude of New York to that of Atlanta, Georgia.

The climate exhibits differences corresponding to this long north-south range, from deep winter snows in Hokkaido to semitropical vegetation in Kyushu.

A large proportion of the country is mountainous, leaving only 17 percent of the surface area available for agriculture, with a small extra margin to be squeezed out of the hill slopes by terracing. The last two are each only about one-tenth the area of the Kanto Plain. Abundant rainfall and assiduous industry have enabled the Japanese to survive on the products of their farming, but these have always had to be supplemented by the produce of the sea—fish, shellfish, and edible seaweeds.

A study carried out by Japanese scientists during World War II demonstrated that seafood and a small amount of meat, rice, and vegetables, especially the vitamin-rich daikon or giant radish, would provide an adequate diet at extremely low cost. It has been noted that the island situation of Japan is similar to that of Great Britain and that, as a consequence, there are certain parallels to be found in the history of each.

Both are islands near enough to a great conti- 6 Japan: Its History and Culture nent to receive cultural stimuli but just sufficiently isolated to evolve their own ways of life, tolerably free from hostile invasion. Both have developed strong navies, doubtless from reservoirs of skill gained in fishing and trading.

Finally, both in modern times have had to make strenuous efforts in manufacture and export trade in order to feed their island populations. In one respect Japan differs geographically from Britain; her islands with mountains two miles high are perched on the edge of a cleft in the ocean floor five miles in depth known as the Tuscarora Deep. Stresses appear to be thus set up which make Japan extremely liable to earthquakes, some of great severity. There are also a number of active volcanoes on the islands.

The perfect cone of Mount Fuji is that of an extinct volcano the last eruption occurred in ; but Mount Asama, for instance, is still active, and alarming sulfurous jets of steam pour out of many fissures in the mountains of central Japan.


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In mineral resources Japan is comparatively poor. It has very little iron or oil. Coal is scarce and not of superior quality; only copper is fairly abundant. Premodern Japan was, however, amply supplied from the forest slopes with the woods of various kinds it needed for the construction of houses, temples, and the mansions of the great, in addition to boats and implements of all kinds.

Its short, fast-flowing rivers give little help in transportation but provide modern Japan with ample sources of hydroelectric power. Japan is a comparative latecomer in the development of civilization, since cultural movements reached her after passing eastward from central Asia and China. There are three sources of information about ancient Japan, namely, archaeological evidence; Chinese written records, which are reliable but scanty; and Japanese mythology, which is voluminous but difficult to interpret, since the undoubted historical traces within it are hard to disentangle from the legendary material.

There are only a few evidences of Old Stone Age remains in Japan. The first major culture is dated as mesolithic or Middle Stone Age in its earlier stages, beginning around b. The Jomon people used stone weapons and lived in sunken-pit dwellings of a kind that are also reported to have existed in early China. They did not practice agriculture but lived by gathering roots, nuts, and small game from the forests and shellfish from the shore. Large mounds of discarded shells are associated with their sites. These sites are most plentiful in the east and north of Japan, a probable indication that the Jomon people survived longer in these regions.

The next culture group appears much later, between and b. They produced wheel-made pots and certainly practiced agriculture of quite an advanced type, in irrigated rice fields after the Chinese manner. They apparently used both bronze and iron together, and thus Japan cannot be said to have gone through a separate Bronze Age.

Presumably Japan, being on the edge The Origins and Early History of the Japanese 7 of the Asian civilized area, received bronze metal techniques slowly and late, while iron, with its immense technical advantages for weapons and tools, moved more rapidly and caught up with bronze in Japan. Among the Yayoi archaeological remains are mirrors, bells, swords, and spears of bronze, the last being ceremonial weapons; but a few tools and actual weapons made of iron have also been found. The Yayoi people still used pit dwellings and left shell mounds behind them; but in two respects they showed a remarkable affinity with historical Japan, namely in their method of agriculture and in the thatched roofs over the primitive dwellings.