Nippon Bunka: the introduction

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Michael Smith
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
This is the first article in a commentary series highlighting the unique and distinct Japanese culture (Nippon Bunka).

Japan... For most people around the world, just reading or hearing this word triggers a plethora of common thoughts; sushi, technology or maybe even samurais. Why? Is it from movies and TV shows? And, if so, why do the same words or ideas associated with Japan's distinct culture hold up so strongly throughout generations? To understand the answer to this question I think it's best to take a look back at Japan's history as a nation.

Sakoku, meaning period of national isolation, was the foreign relations policies in Japan for hundreds of years. Japan enacted various laws beginning in 1633 forbidding most foreigners from entering the country and Japanese citizens from leaving on penalty of death. This period led Japan to have a very distinct culture without any foreign influences. It wasn't until the Meiji Restoration, under Emperor Meiji's rule in 1868, that the open trading of goods and culture began once again.

National Foundation Day celebrates the accession of the first emperor of Japan in 600 B.C., meaning Japan had about 2,468 years to develop its unique culture and beliefs with little to no outside influence. The impact of this type of isolation on a nation as a whole makes Japan what it is today.

When exploring Japanese history and culture it's difficult not to reflect on my own American culture. There isn't a distinct culture in America, but a mixed-up bowl of fruit salad consisting of different ethnicities and beliefs that come together, for the most part, as a whole. Japanese culture, as described by my Japanese coworkers, is a homogenous bowl of natto (fermented soybeans), where most are expected to fit the mold or be avoided. This contrast of cultures is what makes Japan so interesting, so follow along as I experience the world of Nippon Bunka.