Western Influence


I was taking a study break outside Tisch and I looked out over the President’s lawn.

Tall bare trees

Extend countless twisting branches

Into the clear dusk sky


This week we learned about the modernization and westernization of Japan. When Japan was opened to the West, the cultural mentality had to shift from Japan as the world, to Japan in the world (Lecture 3/6/13). I found it very interesting to learn about how assimilating into the world changed everything from perspective, art, government, to even evanescence and form. The most drastic change that occurred was the shift in evanescence from samsara to progress (Lecture 3/6/13). Evanescence as progress differs from samsara in that the change has “a specific direction” (Inouye 105). This change was made to accommodate the fact that Japan needed to modernize to catch up with the rest of the world. Evanescence became linear, change became “either progress or regression” (Inouye 95). I found this concept somewhat contradictory. To me, it seems like form is being imposed on evanescence. We are helpless to evanescence, but instead as accepting it as just change, we categorize it on a linear scale (from regression to progress). I also thought this shift was sad in a way. Before Japan opened up to the rest of the world, its culture evolved in its own unique way. The Japanese were focused on the order of here-and-now, but the influence of the West put sights more on the future and things that are not present. I found this sad because I think that focusing solely on the present was a beautiful notion as the present moment is all we really have. However, even with western influence, Japan still kept much of its uniqueness. Inazo Nitobe tried to explain Japan’s uniqueness to the West in Bushido: The Soul of Japan. In it, Nitobe described bushido or “the way of the warrior.” It emphasized “justice, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, loyalty, practical education, and self-control” (Inouye 115). Bushido remained part of the Japanese mentality even though the country was going through drastic changes. In fact, bushido is still influential in Japan. In this way, I see bushido as a kind of form that resisted evanescence. In the past, all samurai lived by bushido and breaking from this form was looked down upon: “Nothing is more loathsome to him [samurai] than underhand dealings and crooked undertakings” (Nitobe 46). While evanescence itself was changing, the Japanese still recognized the importance of form and lived by a strict code. Overall, Japanese culture is still very different from that of the West. My favorite description of the differences between the West and Japan was Nitobe’s comparison of the rose and sakura. The Europeans find the rose beautiful while it hides thorns “as though loath or afraid to die rather than drop untimely; preferring to rot on her stem” (Inouye 115). The Japanese find sakura beautiful “which is ever ready to depart life at the call of nature” (Inouye 115).

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