I had to read through Japan at warp speed. But now I have only one country left (yes!). I’ve never been particularly interested in Japanese culture or history, but I found many interesting things during my study. For one, the food:
I made pork shogayaki for this month’s food-spiration. It was amazing. I loved the subtle teriyaki-like flavors. The crunchy cabbage (I opted for that instead of rice).
Then, while in Houston, I went to Jinya Ramen Bar. It was amazing. Real ramen, not those fake noodles you can buy 10 packs of a dollar. My soup was topped with a soft-boiled egg. It was amazing. I could really get into Japanese food.
Japan has a long history of empires and warriors. These are a few of the highlights I gleaned from A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower by Kenneth Henshall:
- 660 B.C. is the beginning of Japanese history, starting with Emperor Jimmu.
- Yayoi immigration to Japan around 400 to 300 B.C. The people start growing rice. This begins the Yamato period, which lasts until about 600 A.D.
- Asuka period follows for next 200 years.
- At about 800 to 1200 A.D. the Heian period characterized by court life and absentee landlords (the aristoccracy) thrives.
- The imperial court wanes and a military, shogun, government rises (Kamakura shogunate).
- While the Kamakura shonuage falls at 1333, another rises.
- Finally, civil war (Onin War) from 1467-1477, destroys government. This period is characterized by samurais and violence.
- It takes about 100 years for Japan to get her feet underneath her, and then leaders decide on isolationism with no outsiders coming in. This lasts until 1868 when America forces a treaty.
- Japan wants to expand and prove itself a world power, culminating in its bombing of Pearl Harbor and entrance into World War II.
- After U.S. forces occupy the island, the Japanese imperial government is gutted and turned into a democracy.
- For the next few decades the economy soars.
What Japan Has Taught Me:
Japan is a completely different culture with different philosophies. While some things are similar, others are different. This is what I’ve learned from the country of the Far East:
- Japan has a long history of imperialism. It’s proven to be both a good and a bad thing. Even now there’s a royal in the government, even if he is only a figurehead (A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower).
- This imperialism culminated in a period of extreme uselessness (on the side of the aristocracy) during the Heian period (The Tale of Genji).
- Ancient traditions of Japanese honor were twisted to suit leaders during World War II. Japanese soldiers would kill themselves rather than face capture, something that the government encouraged and invoked (erroneously) in the name of ancient samurai warriors (Flags of Our Fathers).
- The Japanese were brutal to prisoners of war, more so than any other country. There was no honor in this, just brutality and cruelty (Ghost Soldiers and Unbroken).
- Although many Japanese soldiers were considered war criminals, most escaped fully paying for their crimes because of the need for a U.S. ally in the Pacific with the onset of the Cold War (Unbroken).
- The war has left a scar on the people of Japan even decades later. The U.S. influence has westernized Japan like centuries of trade couldn’t before (Kafka on the Shore).
I’m still not a huge fan of Japan. It’s nothing against them; it’s just that I don’t feel a draw to that country that I do to others. Perhaps it’s the huge chasm between Western and Eastern thought. It’s hard to say. But it is an interesting place with an interesting people who have taken and incorporated the best of the Western culture into their country.