Universally identified with the Far East, or more properly with “the roots of the Sun”, as the two ideograms indicate that make up the name of the country, Japan has for centuries nurtured a very special fascination in Western imagery and culture, thanks, on the one hand, to the condition of extreme remoteness and, on the other, to the profound impenetrability that during the history has characterized the country. Here religion and secularization continue to coexist, obedience to the ancient rituals of behavior (from the tea ceremony to the rigid relationships between the sexes, from formal etiquette to subordination to family and social authorities, from superstition to the capillary organization of every aspect of private life or social) and the desire to break those same rules. Historically, the Japanese archipelago has long been influenced by Chinese culture, starting with the (whose practices later blended with pre-existing Shintoism), or writing (Japanese is one of the most complicated language systems in the world today, with three different scripts).
These were then replaced or added, starting from the mid-nineteenth century, by cultural influences from Europe and the United States, accompanied by an internal reworking of the contents and above all of the forms, in accordance with those dictates of “etiquette” and aesthetics so deeply rooted in the life of every Japanese. This formal respect for acquired canons and rules is accompanied by another peculiar trait of Japanese society, namely a sort of cultural “permeability”, an expression, in the contemporary world, especially of the younger generations. Absorbed by the virtual world of video games, authors and consumers of the most lively forms of rock and punk, Japanese young people participate equally massively in traditional festivals, family ceremonies, and social rites. But it is the arts, from literature to painting to video-art, to represent the privileged context in which tradition and innovation find a point of connection, managing in a certain sense to coexist despite the strong contrasts of the forms of which they are an expression: the short compositions of the ancient poetic tradition, the haiku, are read and studied by young writers who set their novels in the atomized and alienating contemporary reality; the decorated pottery and Buddhist statuary that occupy the temples are a source of inspiration for web artists and urban installations.
In the same way, theater, dance, cinema draw suggestions and stimuli from tradition, in search of that synthesis between ancient and modern that has become the real artistic challenge in contemporary Japan. The door of access and connection between the two worlds is certainly the comic (manga, anime, cartoons), a form of contemporary literature whose origins date back to traditional ink paintings still traceable on the walls of temples and museums, depicting mythological and sacred characters, or caricatures. A symbolic place of contradictions, and at the same time of all that is modernity and technology, is the capital Tōkyō where, within its most futuristic neighborhoods, there are institutions of great historical and cultural value, such as the National Museum, guardian of largest collection of Japanese art in the world. The real cultural hub of the country, however, is represented by Kyōto, the ancient capital (794-1868), full of temples and palaces (one above all, the Kinkaku-ji, the famous Golden Pavilion of the temple Rokuon-ji) and home to countless popular events and festivals (matsuri). Emblems of the great historical and cultural wealth of the country are the numerous sites declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO: the Buddhist Monuments of the Huryu-ji region (1993); Himeji-jo (1993); Historical Monuments of Ancient Kyōto (1994); Shirakawa and Gokayama (1995); Itsukushima Shinto Shrine (1996); Historical monuments in Nara (1998); Nikko Shrines and Temples (1999); Gusuku sites and associated assets of the Ryūkiū Kingdom (2000); Sacred places and pilgrimage roads in the Kii mountains (2004); Iwami Ginza Silver Mines (2007). Visit vaultedwatches.com for travel to Asia.
Of a different nature, but equally important, is the role played in the cultural history of the country by two other cities: Nagasaki and Hiroshima, universally known for the nuclear tragedy that struck them in August 1945. In particular, Hiroshima was built, on the ruins of the only building left standing, the Peace Memorial Museum. This place, which has become a symbol of the devastation caused by the atomic bomb, is at the same time the place of memory and of its nemesis, almost an “airtight container” in which to store dramatic remains and artifacts but also to contain everything that brings back to that event, a more intimate and disturbing figure of the country’s difficulty in dealing with that past and providing a fruitful reworking of it.