The Tokyo Olympic Games of 2020 might still be a while off, but discussions have already started on what aspects of Japanese culture will be featured when the country showcases itself to the world at large.
The 2008 Games saw China stage a huge state-sponsored extravaganza, designed to impress with spectacle and create an image of China for the world, while 2012 London featured a heart-warming love letter to all that is brilliant about Britain. So, what about Japan?
Japan Today previously covered an early effort by the Japan Olympic Committee to find out which music act Japanese people would most like to see included in the opening ceremony. The comments after the story by Japan-based foreign residents reflected horror at the high placement of Arashi and AKB48.
This is, of course, something only folks who are intimate with Japan can grasp. The appeal of Arashi and AKB lies in a dominant Japanese urban culture that, although it has audiences around the world, is often something that has to be understood in context. Plenty of people around the world simply do not get it.
So what part of its rich culture will Japan choose to showcase at the Olympics?
Well, one obvious candidate would be “Cool Japan.” The campaign to promote Japanese pop culture around the world receives significant backing from the government and various campaigns have already taken place, all designed to bring to the fore the wealth of work by Japan’s anime, manga, fashion and pop makers.
The trouble here, though, is that it represents only one part of Japan and again, for foreign audiences, it can be an acquired taste. The domestic market for anime is very different from the international one and while there are plenty of big international hits such as “Akira” or “Ghost in the Shell,” which government official is going to choose to feature those works over something like, say, “Sailor Moon.”
There is traditional Japanese culture, which offers an incredible wealth of art, beauty and humanity to discover. However, I would say that here, too, are problems. Japanese people are justifiably proud and often eager to introduce aspects of Japanese tradition to people around the world, but again, unless you understand certain contexts, this can be baffling or exclusionary to the outsider coming to Japan for the first time.
So what does that leave? There is a real gap in modern Japanese culture that communicates easily with people around the globe. The cultural Olympiad of London saw events such as Artists Taking the Lead, Discovering Places, Film Nation Stories of the World and the World Shakespeare Festival. But what does Japan have to offer the world that can communicate its own values and its own unique take on the human condition? Usually when the wider world is interested in taking anything from modern Japanese culture, it is usually limited to something urban and pop … not the sort of thing that reflects well on Japan as a whole.
I would say that one asset Japan does have in its favor is its hidden art scene. It doesn’t get a lot of coverage outside of certain niches but once you make your way in, you can find an incredibly rich and rewarding scene. I am referring to the hundreds of Japanese artists and craftsmen who are at work around the country creating some incredible thought-provoking and beautiful works but who do not usually warrant a mention in the mainstream of Japanese media. My own site looks at art and culture in Okinawa, just one of the hidden gems that lie within Japan and can resonate with folk of any background.
What would you like to see showcased in the 2020 Cultural Olympiad?© Japan Today