I loved our time in Japan and really would have a loved to have spent more time there! The food was great and the people friendly and caring. Japan is surprising, slapstick, beautiful, serious and quirky all at once and the various sub-culture in different parts of the city are fascinating and each has a very different community feel. However it is very challenged with the future in relearning and integrating Western and Eastern cultures outside of Japan. Why is this important? Because it needs to generate much more income in order to survive and to build in other less populated areas of the country.
The best way to describe Japan is that it has a dichotomy of cultural traits which is at odds which each other. On one side a very traditional society and very worried about how they are perceived by their piers. This contributes to their cultural traits of sweating the details in terms of quality, craftsmanship and hospitality. It has lead to creation of some of the most innovative products the world has seen. However the society can be so inward focussed that they fail to realise or try to understand people outside of their culture. And I believe find it hard understand that other people in the world could actually be different than the Japanese people.
This has lead over the past 30 years or so to creation of products that while viable inside of Japan are not even close to viable outside in the rest of the world. This has lead to a larger downturn in the economy which is dangerously close to moving the culture towards extinction. The other side or aspect of this dichotomy is a level of individualism extreme quirkiness and in tuen the rise of very unusual series of super localised subcultures. However while extreme in outlook when viewed in context with the description above it makes perfect sense. Not only due to the obsessive detail but also in away that each of these sub culture give the youth a sense of belonging and inclusion. So while individual on the surface I suspect are less so in reality.
Yes this is all a little dramatic but the point being that cultural change or evolution is not built into the Japanese peoples DNA which is problematic in terms of innovation outside of Japan. This has been seen of late over the last couple of years with the ‘close to’ fall of Sony and rise of Korean and Chinese electronics giants. Also a good representation of this is the Japanese train system is so over engineered that no one outside of Japan is willing to pay for it as the increase in cost vs value of having a train system that ensure it is late by no more than 0.5 of a second is simply not of value in other countries.
Japan very much feels old and young all at the same time however the old is in danger of overriding the young. China interestingly feels similar however almost the opposite. The Young voracious part of China is moving forward and at speed and they only care about what people need.