Friday, July 16, 2010

The Opening of Japan

Japan has been radically different from other Asian countries for quite some time. Other than China or Korea, Japan began opening up much earlier, incorporating Western ideas and concepts, as well as Western traditions in order to reject the Chinese world order. Many famous Japanese personalities have been accredited in facilitating this openness. Emperor Meiji (reigned 1852-1912) once said “If only there is a way to accept what is good while rejecting what is not and to make our country second to none in the world”. This concept has been incorporated in many levels of society. Educators such as Okuma Shigenobu, the founder of Waseda University (one of the foremost universities in Japan) made the hybrid of East and West not only a goal but an ideal included in the school anthem.” Boundless is our future/ For we stand, bearing on our shoulders/ The grand mission of our great island nation/ Where the currents of civilizations/Old and new, East and West,/ Whirl in one vortex.
In the educations of children through stories and television shows, this concept of intercultural assimilation can be very evident. One of the most famous anime series in Europe, Heidi-girl of the Alps, is a perfect example of the Japanese ability to take integrating a story which is totally alien to its traditional history into the mind of Japanese children for several generations. The anime series is based on the Swiss novel “Heidi, Years of Wandering and Learning” by Johanna Spyri. In 52 episodes, the story of Heidi is told with a cute Japanese interpretation noticeable only to the trained eye.
Another anime series, famous in Japan as well as in Germany is the Japanese adaptation of Waldemar Bonsels’ “Maja the Bee” called みつばちマーヤの冒険 (Mitsubachi Māya no Bōken, "The Adventures of Maya the Honeybee"). The story that began as a children’s book in Germany, turned out to be a magical tale of a courageous yet lovable bee that does not hesitate to fight for the land and the creature she loves. Numerous children in Japan as well as in Germany saw this television series and cherish its memory.
Lastly, who can forget the famous story of Pinocchio with its Japanese adaptation The Adventures of Pinocchio (ピコリーノの冒険 "Pikorîo no bôken"). A Japanese-German co-production of what is probably the most famous Italian children’s story written by Carlo Collodi. While the original frame of the story remained, a lot of material was changed such as the Pinocchio’s sidekick the cricket was replaced by a little duck named Gina.
The apparent desire to merge the East and the West in the past hundred years, have left their marks all over the country. The metropolitan building’s shape in Shinjuku, closely resembles the famous church of Notre Dame in Paris. Equally the Tokyo Tower looks a lot like the Eiffel Tower in France. Foreign stories, such as the ones just discussed, emphasize the beauty of openness present in a country that has been secluded for so long.

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