Japan’s strength, and future, is rooted in their ancient connection to nature

In last Sunday’s Japan Times article, To realize its cultural potential, Japan must celebrate its strengths, Kyoto-resident Roger Pulvers hits a positive chord when he asserts that Japan must celebrate its strengths, but says that they’ve already missed the opportunity to capitalize on manga, anime, sushi and karaoke. (See my published letter to the editor here.)
But Japan’s strengths don’t stop at cultural expressions of art and design. While Japan has every reason to feel proud of its creative artistic heritage, the country’s real strengths going forward will be displayed as Japan shakes off the unsustainable mantle of the Western consumptive paradigm it adopted 150 years ago and rediscovers and revitalizes its traditional connection to the land.

The Japanese have lived in a tightly self-sustaining interrelatedness with the ecological environment from the Jomon times through the Edo period, and this sacred interdependence is reflected throughout the culture.

This nourishing connection to the Earth has gradually diminished over the last 150 years as Western values and consumptive behavior have displaced it. Its no mistake that now, as this imported paradigm is showing its obsolescence, we’re seeing in Japan the symptoms of this alienation from the culture’s traditional roots: depression, loss of direction, disillusionment with empty acquisitions and brands, etc.

Isn’t it fascinating and cause for hope that recent polls show more and more Japanese youth are looking beyond materialism for meaning and happiness?

Even the Japanese government is seeing the handwriting on the wall as they’re developing with the United Nations the so-called Satoyama Initiative to preserve the traditional socio-ecological production landscapes. This is great news!

And for all the hand-wringing about growing numbers of herbivorous men and the loss of “animal spirits” in the younger generations, rather than a civilization going down the tubes, what if we are seeing the early contours of a new Japan preparing for its transformation into a self-sustaining land of peace and ecological harmony?

No transition will be easy or painless, but I see a tremendous future for Japan as it draws on its past with an eye toward the future, and becomes an exemplar for the rest of the world of how a developed country transitions into being a model of sustainability and resilience.

I second Roger Pulvers’s call for Japan to cultivate their “cultural entrepreneurship” but not by marketing Japanese-branded social fluff to the world, rather by forging a new identity as green society that knows how to be at one with the earth community.

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