When I was about 9 or 10 years old we had two expatriate Japanese at my primary school. Ms Ozaki who was our music teacher and Ms Yata our swimming coach. I had just become a boarder at the time so my encounters with them extended beyond the auditorium and swimming pool to the hostel that I called home at the time. It was there that I was fortunate enough to interact with them on a daily basis as they were the teachers in charge of my particular hostel.These encounters ignited my fascination with Japanese culture.
I remember being fascinated by this ‘other’ that seemed to have more similarities with my own Shona culture than the popular culture that I had been exposed to via the western TV shows that were the staple on Zimbabwean TV in the nineties. For one the Japanese language which we did not understand but were sometimes made to sing along to during music classes was morphologically very similar to my mother tongue Shona.That is to say the Japanese language is structured in a similar way to Shona. I first fell in love with Japanese culture through its language. Japanese like Shona sounds beautiful and simple, there are really no harsh sounding words. Not to mention how beautiful Japanese calligraphy is.
From that time my fascination with Japaneses culture has grown. And to this day I am still learning new aspects of the culture that continue to intrigue me. Through my learning I have noticed that the Japanese have embraced modern technology and yet still hold on to so many of their traditions and values.
This is best personified by Japanese architecture. Over the years I have become a fan of both the practicalities and aesthetics of traditional Japanese architecture. It is typified by wooden structures, usually with tiled or thatched roofs which are usually the most dominant feature. Sliding doors are used instead of walls, allowing the internal configuration of a space to be customised for different occasions. Minimalism may be the in thing in most of the modern world today, but it goes back ages in Japan. Efforts are also made to blend the structures into the surrounding environment as the Japanese consider themselves as atune to nature.
When you also look at contemporary Japanese architecture, you will be left in awe. Most contemporary Japanese structures are some of the most futuristic and creatively designed buildings. Certain parts of Japan look like galleries of modern architecture. And they still incorporate many elements of traditional Japanese architecture. Contemporary Japanese architecture manages to cater to the dynamism and mobility of the city’s urban nomads without completely eroding aspects of Japanese culture.
I suspect that this is because the Japanese did not embrace foreign religions and in particular Christianity as fervently as most Zimbabweans for example did at the expense of their own culture. Japanese main religion is Shinto -( God’s way) is a religion native to Japan, and is historically rooted in Japanese ancient folklore about nature with divine spirits, mystical creatures and historical characters with supernatural magical powers. The richness of Japanese culture comes from its ancient cultural heritage and the ability of the people to preserve, cherish and further develop it. This has allowed them to forge forward technologically and yet hold onto their core values. They have shaped their own destiny, borrowing from the western world when prudent and holding on to their identity. The result is a culture that is a remarkably diverse and richly developed. Unfortunately the same can not be said of my own Shona culture, which is now just a caricature of itself.
Learning about Japanese culture has been a unique and horizon broadening experience for me. I love how well that the Japanese have applied technology to their lives as well as hold on to traditional ways of doing things. Whilst it mot be too late for the same to happen with my own Shona culture, it’s not too late for me to apply the same ethos to my own life. I hope one day I wont just be the digital nomad that I am today and will actually have the opportunity to physically visit Japan.