Japan as the great curator

The Smithsonian Magazine shares a trend that any American who has spent anytime poking around the back alleys of Tokyo knows in their bones. The Japanese have a loving appreciation of American culture that runs deeper that Americans.

From burbon to jazz, denim to hamburgers, the attention to detail of the Japanese is flawless. If you have a chance to peruse the magazine racks of Kinokuniya, a Japanese book seller found in several US cities, look for magazines dedicated to fashion where issues will go into great detail on how to dress as a fixie-riding hipster or a 1920’s dandy, the Japanese have taken loving imitation to a new level of reverence.

In keeping with the “same as is ever was” theme of this blog, when new trends from Japan make it to the shores of America, we see refined American culture filtered, improved, and made better for the discerning retroactivist.

  • Blue Bottle Coffee and the barista culture? Think of it as the Japanese tea ceremony applied to coffee.
  • Moleskin notebooks? The Japanese have a deep appreciation of calligraphy and Evernote’s success in Japan as an online version of the notebook is a reflection of that. Japan’s love of stationary is legendary.
  • High End Audio? Only in Japan will the local record shop let you sample the inner tones of Ella Fitzgerald on a set of McIntosh tube amps.

japanese knife

There’s a special way that the Japanese sensibility has focused on what is great, distinctive and worthy of protection in American culture, even when Americans have not realized the same thing. It isn’t a passing fad. It’s a long-standing part of Japanese culture, and, come to think of it, as more Americans are exposed to U.S. products revived or reinterpreted by Japanese designers, the aesthetic is becoming part of American culture, too. If you ever wonder which of the reigning American tastes, sounds, designs or styles will last into the future, there’s no better place to answer that question than in the stores and restaurants, the bars and studios of Japan. They often know us better than we know ourselves.

Further Reading:

Wonderful story of a Japanese furniture craftsman in Osaka – Beyond Jiro of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”: Japanese Craftsmanship at its finest; furniture edition

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