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History of Modernisation and Westernization in Japan

by Daniyal

Westernization in Japan dates back in the 19th century. The European exploration, precisely the Portuguese and the Spanish people were the first to arrive in this Far East Country. This was during the reign of Tokugawa. The reign of Tokugawa was composed of different leaders and all had different impacts on the absorption of the explorers and their expulsion (Nakamura 186). Before Tokugawa Ieyasu ascended to power, his predecessor welcomed the explorers only because he wanted the sophisticated weaponry the explorers had come with (Nakamura 186). The effect these adventurers had on the locals through Christianity, though, was great and was seen as a challenge by the Tokugawa administration (Nakamura 186). The administration agreed to expel Christianity and terminate it. This prevented outsiders from accessing the territories of Tokugawa. This being the case, for almost two hundred years, the outsiders remained trapped outside Japan (Nakamura 186).

The advent of Meiji, however, signalled the end of the Tokugawa period and thus introduced a new level to accepting Japan’s westerners (Nakamura 196). Japan’s modernisation, or more westernisation, was characterised by the beginning of the Meiji period (Nakamura 196). The Meiji period inherited a prosperous economic and prosperous government from the rule of Tokugawa, making it easier for the young leader with his wealth to open the early modern Japan to the west. Farming was booming and the rationale for modernization was not economically driven.

History of Modernisation and Westernization in Japan

The Meiji reign contributed to modernization by changing the country from a feudal nation into an ultra-modern Westernized state (Nakamura 196). However, since it was already established, the nation modernised under its own terms. The biggest purpose Japan decided to modernise was to protect itself from being taken over by the West. Japan tried to be like Western nations and to colonise other Asian nations (Nakamura 196). Japan, more specifically, colonised Korea. Japan also needed to modernise so that allies with the US could be established. The US was searching for a trade union with Asian nations and it was strategic for Japan. So, Japan grabbed the chance easily. Japan also wanted to develop scientifically and required countries to coordinate in this area (Nakamura 196). It was for this area that it opened the world’s weapons and quickly tracked modernization. Currently, Japan deals directly with NASA, the US organisation for aerospace research. The citizens of Japan remain very significant to the country in many of these ties and foreign partnerships. Between the history of the Japanese people and modernization, a compromise needs to occur. Japan was not overrun by modernization and lowering it would not damage the economy.

In the 20th and the 21st century, the Japanese have borrowed some habits from the west regarding their beauty (Nakamura 206). The need for the Japanese women to be in control of the way they appear physically has also led to the Japanese to them imitating the western way of life. To maintain the color they want on their faces, the women undergo plastic surgery. They have also borrowed eating habits from the west so that they can loss or gain weight as they wish. The Japanese, especially from the affluent families, have adopted the western way of eating.

Looking the influence of the westernization on the architecture of the Japanese people, there is evidence in the modern Japan that confirm influence from the west architecture (Nakamura 210). In 1853, it marked an entry of the western countries in Japan officially through Commodore Perry’s. Commodore Perry not only brought the message from President Millard Fillmore, but also came with the architecture which had been introduced to Americans from Europe (Sumner, et al 186). After Mathew Perry succeeded in establishing a treaty between the Americans and the emperor of Japan, the Americans began flooding Japan. This transformed the architecture of the country. The architecture was actually a fusion of the traditional Japanese techniques with European sources. The elements used during this era were mostly Victorian Gothic and Italianate. Precisely, Giyofu was designed by highly experienced carpenters. The Giyofu had carving exteriors. The main duty of putting these unique features on Giyofu was an imitation of the masonry work in the western world (Sumner, et al 200). The buildings also had coloration. The coloration was used specifically to replicate other materials. The architecture not only borrowed from the western world, but also from China. The ornamentation brought the Chinese presence into the Japanese cities. A balanced mix of the west and East was manifested on the doorways, which were stylishly clouded with dragons.

At the very initial instances, Japanese towns were filled with a mixture of conflicting mosaic that reflected on the building styles. The haphazard mosaic resulted from inadequacy of professional architects (Sumner, et al 200).   

The history of architecture in the Japanese cities also reflects a mixture of tastes. This is not because the Japanese did not have a culture of their own, but when they opened doors for the rest of the world to come in, they invited foreign technology which their own population could not provide. The contracted architects came with the designs of their home countries, hence making the Tokyo and other cities reflect diversity.

However, the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, from the US analyzed the traditional Japanese style of architecture (Sumner, et al 213). He had prior knowledge of the Japanese architecture even before visiting Japan. An aspect he noted is that the Japanese architecture was connected to nature and had articulation of space. With reference to the Imperial Hotel of 1923, Frank L. Wright successfully blended the American and Japanese architecture (Sumner, et al 214). The ornamentation and the rectangular space were direct Japanese aspects. Nevertheless, the forms were not culturally Japanese. The Imperial Crown style was a Japanese identity in global platform. The structure had a look of the Japanese structure (Sumner, et al 216). However, during the World War II, this architecture was abandoned. The modern Japanese architecture owes much to the post war effects (Sumner, et al 210). Designers were on look for designs which were simple, light and open. On record is The Peace Museum designed by Kenzo Tange. The structure is elevated from the ground using pillars. As a memorial museum, the structure, which is long and narrow, attracts no attention of whatsoever kind.

The reason of Japanese architecture being amalgamated by the western technology is for the purpose of modernization and spirit of nationalism. The Japanese wanted only to borrow what is good from the west and retain what was good to them.

In the realms of art and painting, Japan had influence in both Europe and Asia (Jesty 508). The Japanese art is known to manifest in many ways. Among these ways is the art of painting, which includes ink, calligraphy, ukiyo-e and lately cartooning. Japan also received some artistic features from Europe. Cartooning is the latest of all the tactics of art borrowed from Europe. Manga and Anime is representation of a few artistic works from Japan that found influence in Europe. Nearly all the arts in Japan are intertwined with Confucian practices (Jesty 510). These practices are self-cultivating. Chado and Shodo refer to tea ceremony and calligraphy respectively. The interconnection extends beyond self-cultivation practices to include intellect. These puts the arts in Japan at a superior level than those in the western world and it is for this reason that most of the arts were borrowed from Japan to the west and not vice versa. The term normally used to describe this phenomenon is Japonism (Jesty 510). It spans from decorative arts to expressions of fine arts in French. Ukiyo-e has influenced a lot of European impressionist painters.

Japan colonized Korea and all the aspects of art and painting in Japan have been adopted in the Korean art industry (Jesty 516). The amalgamation of art and painting fusion is easier among the Japanese and the Koreans because most the arts in Japan are a collection from immigrants who settled at the formation period of Japan. Jomon art came with Jomon people and is used in decoration of clay vessels. Yayoi art is from the Yayoi people and is modified by Kofun art. Kofun art was responsible for development of metal symbols.

In conclusion, the Japanese have a sense of self-reliance in all their operations. For many years, the early Japanese were locked out of the world, but yet were able to get their things done. During this period, they achieved political and economic stability. When they opened up to the world, they only absorbed what was important to them. This is reflected in the spirit of nationalism, their architecture and art industry.

List of References
  • Jesty, Justin. ‘The Realism Debate and the Politics of Modern Art in Early Postwar Japan’.Japan Forum 26.4 (2014): 508-529. Web.
  • Nakamura, Hajime. History of Japanese Thought. London: Kegan Paul, 2002. Print.
  • Sumner, Yuki et al. New Architecture in Japan. London: Merrell, 2010. Print.

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