Traditional Japanese cultural paradigm is no doubt under a serious threat with the arising of Japanese independent mind westerners, who do not claim any inherent trait in being Japanese. If this is not the case, Japanese art history must not have suffered at the hands of cultural politics of Euro-Americans who are most likely prefer to compare Japanese traditional iconography with other cultural groups.
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Many scholarly writers and neo-traditional artists support this notion by providing insufficient reasoning of being Japanese or foreigner, they believe it does make no difference to characterize Japanese traditions akin to comparing with Americans or Westerners in general.
I don’t chime in with them and opine that comparing Japanese culture with that of any other is not worth to concern the contemporary modernization in Japan. Unlike others I don’t believe the onus shoulders onto the significance of ‘change’, but it is the technologically driven society that has taken place rapidly and has intervened with intrepid lifestyle of the Japanese, marking the culture towards a panorama, asunder apart from the traditional Japanese shift.
It would not be right to claim that Japan has lost its cultural significance at all, and that all it is left with is the debris of the electronic revolution. Instead, what I have realized is that Japanese post modern societal trends have failed to realize the altruistic striking feature behind Japanese studies on pre-modern art, especially when it comes to Japanese lacquerware products.
Yiengpruksawan suggests the difference between traditional and modern day imagery of Japan, (Yiengpruksawan 2001, 105) as traditional picture presents a grotesque view telling epics of Japanese warfare whereas the modern day Japan contradicts it.
I don’t believe in this stance either, for the reason that traditional urushi art and craft in Japan is itself a memento of pre-war era, which has left its vestiges of the nineteenth-century European template in the segmented art form of painting and sculpture that now is renowned as an amalgamation with the American decorative art, particularly lacquerware.
The process of commercialization in the nineteenth century Japan has made the Japaneseness less viable in the art and crafts, which to this day, have phased out gradually by the modern day masterworks of Japanese art. Withering away traditional Japanese art to contemporary culture governed by the refinement of electronic era is a plight, particularly to those who are engaged in the profession of reuniting traditional art with modern one, and even to those who want to conserve what antique craft history has bestowed on us.
The fact not much has been written on the Japanese lacquerware, is itself an answer to the dubious question whether or not the urushi has been retained in the contemporary Japanese society? From the beginning of the naturalization of lacquer implant, as a monument of Japanese art history, the government was supposed to make intricate measures so as to avoid its unnecessary availability to the European countries as well as the United States, which it had not derailed.
However with the phasing of the government policies in to the adoption of the 1870s epoch (Yiengpruksawan 2001, 105), it was aimed to enhance the exports of lacquerware to Western countries. Such a welcoming note and exposure of Japanese handicrafts and monuments kept up with the pace of the economic competition until it was marketed by certain change of ‘modernization’ by the Western countries.
By modernization, it is meant to be enhanced, economically available to Westerners as a result of vying with one another, and ultimately lost its value in the Occidental world. The buyers manifested a line of what today can be called as distinction between the old art and the new one. And so the Japanese lacquerware lost its traditional heritage that once it had over the world.
Another reason of phasing out lacquer products goes with the chronicles of Hayashi who in 1980s used his apartments as galleries and shops to display and sell his bronze and lacquer ware products to Paris (Merritt 1990, 13), but as soon as it dawned upon him that his clients had more interest in prints than in lacquerware, he started merging and derailed a coalition of prints with other lacquerware products.
In all the process, Japanese authorities helped to sell out the best of prints to foreign collectors, and never showed up any enthusiasm in marketing the oriental lacquerware.
The manufacturers and the retailers of such traditional art are now use to what we see as a new attitude of pluralism. This attitude has its own significance in the sense it markets whatever it feels can be blended with the recent globalization trend. Diverse cultures, inheriting art and crafts, and countless heritages, all are blended well with the global cultures of mix and match traits.
All this inherited from the West has brought along with it unique repercussions that add up to the loss of original Japanese lacquerware and handicrafts. McCausland mentions “There are now museum collections and university departments of world art that are better redefined as ‘the universal museums’” (McCausland 2005, 688). By universal museums, what I perceive McCausland wants to point out is the contemporary plight of our generations at the hands of our heritage destruction.
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Of course, the word ‘blending’ that I have used above best goes by ‘destruction’ because any change, addition, or subtraction to a heritage memento, that even fulfils the criteria against which contemporary society is lured to the market is indirect destruction caused by the people of the society. Further it is marked by dignity by the government, when such heritage is placed in museums in collaboration and coalition with the globalized trends.
The metaphor with which original heritage of oriental lacquerware was once considered no longer attracts the countrymen, and why would they do so? When no attempts have been made by the Japanese government to restore their ancestral heritage, often which the nations wonder as priceless have really gone so ‘priceless’, that no Japanese either inspires or admires it.
So for the foreigners, why would they like the classical Japanese monuments, though depicting true stance of elegance when at the same time Japan is producing the finest quality electronic goods and equipment? This is not to say that globalization is the culprit here, but to some extent it must be held responsible for petering out the traditional Japanese culture that once was admired throughout the globe.
Fehrenbach & Poiger mentions the transformation of Japanese metaphor that is a mundane cultural experience which undergoes when, far from their original heritage, “they turn into new, recombinant formations, that take place among groups of diverse geographical and cultural origins” (Fehrenbach & Poiger 2000, 149). This is what exactly happens when theoretical persuasion exceeds pragmatic notions that our youth needs to ask where such valuable monuments come from, and why have we preferred to use periodic names instead of centuries?
When our generation asks as to who has the power to make these nomenclatures available as valueless misbegotten instances and why they have been labelled as vestiges in the museums of the nineteenth-century Europe as demonstration of elitism? What would then justify our youth when they see Japanese decorative arts and craft, ceramics, and lacquerware in context with the ‘Europeanization’ tag. The Japanese style is no more in the globalized arena except that which is prevailed in the museums.
Many claim that the Japaneseness has been taken over by the American cultureless diplomats with an aim to distract Japanese youth away from their cultural heritage, which is already enriched in electronics and weaponry.
This might be true as according to (Lancaster 1963, 18) “when in 1852, America was assigned with an objective, commencement of a treaty with Japan to provide deliberate protection for American seamen and property in Japan and Japanese waters, and the opening of one or more ports for supplies and trade”, America at that time took this opportunity to deprive Japan of its own heritage, but behind closed doors.
The influence of the European and American hierarchy of fine arts has ‘enhanced’ Japanese lacquerware to the extent that today it has no longer remained and reckoned as the original ancient arts that once used to specify Japan (Tamaki 1999, 127). The bronze-lacquer which used to exist as the emblem of friendship and was given as a gift to international aides is no more part of that traditional norm, because contemporary Japanese history shines out through the influenced ‘globalized’ arena, and not what it used to be (Jones 2003, 41).
Be it Japanese history and culture or Japanese warriors, the fascination of lacquerware and other handmade ceramics must not lose its significance (Busch 2000, 1), even if every other culture loses impact under the shadow of globalization.
Busch Richard. September 23, 2000. “Japanese Potters Continue a Tradition of Kiln- Fired Beauty.” The Washington Times: 1.
Fehrenbach Heide and Poiger G. Uta. 2000. Transactions, Transgressions, Transformations: American Culture in Western Europe and Japan. New York: Berghahn Books.
Jones Susanna. February 24, 2003. “Bright Lanterns: Susanna Jones Enjoys an Illuminating Insight into Japanese History.” New Statesman 132(4626): 41.
Lancaster Clay. 1963. The Japanese Influence in America. New York: Walton H. Rawls.
McCausland Shane. 2005. “Nihonga Meets GU Kaizhi: a Japanese Copy of a Chinese Painting in the British Museum” The Art Bulletin 87(4): 688
Merritt Helen. 1990. Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Early Years. Honolulu: University of Hawaii.
Tamaki, Bert Winther. 1999. “Yagi Kazuo: The Admission of the Nonfunctional Object into the Japanese Pottery World” Journal of Design History 12(2): 127.
Yiengpruksawan, Mimi Hall. 2001. “Japanese Art History 2001: the State and Stakes of Research” The Art Bulletin 83(1): 105.