Beautiful Contrasts

Japan is a startling clash of the deeply traditional and the spiritual. The intensely current and the superficial. It’s ancient but futuristic. Conservative, yet hedonistic. Sleek skyscrapers graze the clouds like trees seeking the sun in a man-made rain forest. Their concrete foundations often fertilized by the bodies of locals run afoul of the yakuza. It’s a homogeneous island nation with a quaint surface and a Twin Peaks underbelly. The polite, insular, and eerily innocuous, living symbiotically with the perverse, extroverted, and bizarre. Fashion-forward and fashion-retarded. You could make similar generalizations about most cultures of course, but Japan’s beautiful contrasts were better than most.” ― Robert Jung

I could not agree more with Jung’s quote above. Japan, and especially Tokyo, is a mix of cultural practices from all over the planet with the local practices that were adopted over the Edo period (江戸時代 Edo jidai)  — also known as Tokugawa period (徳川時代), it is the period between 1603 and 1868. The period was characterized by economic growth, strict social order, isolationist foreign policies, a stable population, “no more wars”, and popular enjoyment of arts and culture.

In general, it seems to me that Japanese culture leans more towards intuition and emotions rather than clarity of analysis, however, if you judge only by the development in Japan after World War II it seems totally the opposite: progress, lean industry processes, engineering, robotics, etc. seem to be the landmark of Japanese culture.  According to Zen “essential truth is incommunicable” so the concept of ambiguity (Aimai) is essential to the Japanese culture, and it’s regarded actually as a virtue in so many cultural aspects of Japanese life. 

This photograph, to me, reflects this blending of the western and traditional Japanese cultures that for foreign people can be blatantly obvious. I remember in anticipation of this trip I made to Tokyo, I expected to find a totally uniform culture and manifestations of it, however to my surprise ― an awesome surprise I should say ― I found an amalgam of multiple cultures, people, foods, architectures, all of it under the unique umbrella of the Japanese way of life.  

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