Who Killed Our Culture? We Did (JAPAN AFTER DEFEAT)

Date: 12/3/2005


http://www.time.com/time/asia/asia/magazine/1999/990503/kudoh1.html///// Who Killed Our Culture? We Did //// A Japanese actress mourns her country's obsession with American values //// By YOUKI KUDOH //// I belong to the generation of Japanese whose parents are the children of those who grew up during and after the war, suffering from hunger and poverty. It was our grandparents who really experienced the long and agonizing war. //// Afterward, the people of Japan could gather the strength to get on their feet again only by directing all the frustration they had built up in their minds--grudges, remorse, negative feelings--toward the state. They even refused to sing the national anthem. The result was that we of the younger generation were taught that patriotism is bad. If you express your love for the country, you are called "pro-war," you are considered a right-winger. //// The Americans, meanwhile, had Coca-Cola, chocolate, family life, music and dance--all the pleasures we lacked. The goal of post-war Japan was to catch up with America by every means available. The economy took off; we ran up the ladder and became a first-class economic power, pretending all the while not to see the huge hole in the mind, the distrust of our own country. //// Most of today's young people grew up in the absence of some important values. They aren't positive about being Japanese, nor about their own identity. They are losing their integrity because they always pretend to be like someone else. Whatever becomes popular, they want to follow. When girls put on the platform shoes that are fashionable now, it is as if they are trying to step up to another level, to be someone they are not. These girls want long legs, big breasts and Caucasian features. The sense of beauty has changed. Young women don't recognize what is good about themselves. //// It is good to be flexible and open to other cultures; that is a quality young Japanese have that their parents did not. But at the same time we have to hold on to our own culture. We have become polluted by American culture, contaminated by materialism. We don't love our country, don't respect it. We are negative about our culture: traditional things are seen as old-fashioned, and everything new is good. Social order and moral standards have disappeared. Some people are even obsessed with denying their Japaneseness. Many girls dye their hair and tan their skin. The streets and towns of Japan are made to look like France or America. Our cities were destroyed and re-created to resemble a foreign country. Traditional culture is not even accessible to most of us; it is disappearing into oblivion. This makes me very sad. ///// We are following America, in good ways and bad. The good thing is that people are becoming more independent. It used to be impossible for people to get promoted in a company unless they were the right age, now matter how talented they were. Now that's changing. It's more competitive. Someone with the right skills can advance. But the bad thing is that we are losing all respect for older people. We are copying everything about America just because it is American. ///// I was lucky enough to start working in the U.S. when I was 17. By getting an external view of Japan, I have learned how important it is to hold on to your identity while accepting other cultures. In American film, Asian women usually are cast as either prostitutes or bitchy dragon ladies. This bothers me. An American director offered me a typical Asian role, as a bitchy type. I told him I didn't want to be laughed at. I want to play a character I can sympathize with. He decided to go the "traditional" way, so I didn't take the part. ///// Usually, we compromise too much of ourselves. What is missing in young people, I think, is the ability to establish a relationship with somebody without trying to copy that person, or comparing whether you are richer or poorer, or better or worse. We need to love ourselves, take pride in our homeland and establish fair and equal relationships with people from all over the world. You can accept someone without losing your own identity. We need the confidence with which to see the good qualities hidden in our history and tell the world about them. We need a flexible mind with which we can learn about mistakes in our history and turn them into positive lessons. ///// I want Japan to prosper as a peace-loving superpower, a great nation that can love itself and other nations, too. As a young Japanese, I hope I can help our country to reach that goal. I came to America because there is more opportunity here in film. But I don't think it always has to be that way. I am just working here. I haven't abandoned my identity. My heart is in Japan. ///// Youki Kudoh, 28, won international recognition for her role in the 1989 Jim Jarmusch film Mystery Train. She will be seen next in the upcoming adaptation of the American novel Snow Falling on Cedars //// ................000000000