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Topic section: Looking at you, looking at me
TOPIC SECTION:
Looking at you, looking at me
Picture: 10308200rs3embed.jpg
Japan-British Exhibition catalogue, 1910.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

Cultural identities change over time. But the roots of Japanese culture lie deep. Despite an increased exchange of ideas and technologies Japan has maintained the essence of its identity. Common understanding has been harder to attain.

The western view of the Japanese people is still influenced by stereotypes in the popular media. Historically, Japanese men were seen as efficient, strict workaholics. Japanese women were timid and courteous with a selfless dedication to their families.
Picture: 10425634s2embed.jpg
Woman from a dignified social position, Japan, 1867.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library


In the popular imagination of the nineteenth century Japanese people wore traditional costumes and lived in the stylised landscape depicted in Japanese woodblock prints. Once photography was introduced more realism was achieved. But even after the rapid industrialisation of the late nineteenth century, the Japanese were still caricatured. Puccini’s production of Madame Butterfly in 1904 did nothing to modernise perceptions.

The Japanese themselves have attempted to redress western dominated stereotypes. Between 1862 and 1910 Japan took part in 36 of the 88 international exhibitions held worldwide. In 1918 a group of ‘important men’ formed the Yamato Society to explain Japanese culture to the West. Yet these efforts were short-lived and stereotypes persisted.

The biggest influence on Japanese views has been David Beckham

Ironically, views have been changed most by cultural exchange, not official intervention. The British Council actively promotes British culture in Japan. The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET)Programme has brought many young westerners into direct contact with the Japanese. The 2002 World Cup influenced perceptions significantly. The biggest influence on Japanese views has been David Beckham. ‘Without doubt Beckham has helped to create a different, softer, and more modern image of Britain.’

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Japanese woman on a bridge, about 1925.
Credit: NMPFT
Japan today is a dramatically different country. Some traditions remain, but the assimilation of western cinema and television has produced a different culture. Japanese youth have embraced western styles, but in a distinctive Japanese way. Television audiences now interpret Japan and Britain through a host of television programmes. Yet these often focus on the quirky or unusual. 

A recent survey found that attitudes are changing. Westerners recognise Japan as a technologically advanced country. They admire its railways, especially the bullet train (shinkansen), and its people are no longer viewed as belligerent. In fact, Japan is now seen as a safe and friendly place, something that might have been unthinkable fifty years ago.
 
 
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Topic section: Homelife
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There are strong traditions associated with Japanese homes, but Western influences, such as using dining tables and chairs, have had an impact. Western homeowners adopted Japanese ceramics and prints, and are now also likely to own Japanese electronic goods.  > more

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Topic section: Leisure
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Japanese food and sports are both very healthy. It is now easy to find Japanese restaurants and judo classes in Western cities. Meanwhile, the Japanese have eagerly taken up Western sports, such as baseball, and go to American-style fast-food bars.  > more
 
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