Definitions of Culture and Japanese cities
Susono, definitions of culture and propaganda in Japan
Susono is a small city in Shizuoka prefecture in Japan. It is a city that typifies what the Japanese call, "inaka", meaning rural. It's a city so it isn't strictly "rural", but then again the Japanese mean something more by the appelative. "Inaka" has connotations of boring and nothing going on.
My wife overheard 2 high school girls on the train yesterday complaining that there was nothing in Susono. The 2 school students are very wrong if they consider the amount of public buildings to be found in the city. However, we are talking about your typical superficial Japanese highschool girls whose worlds' revolve around being sexual sirens and shopping. What they meant was that Susono, compared to nearby Numazu city or Gotemba city, didn't have any big shopping centres or 'outlet stores'; or any big amusement palaces (games, karaoke, cinema etc).
So probably that's there dumb version of what constitutes 'good culture'. Looking around the city, it becomes apparent that local government no doubt in cahoots with pork barrelling politicians consider 'culture' to be massive carbuncular concrete structures that provide jobs for construction workers and plenty of back stratching public funded lucrative contracts.
Which made me think: "Well back home what makes a city?" Being British my immediate answer is "a cathedral". To widen the perspective to Europe, I guess a city has to have a centre, a church, a musueum, an art gallery, a history - in short a relevance to the cultural heritage of the nation. Certainly not shopping centres or an outbreak of under-used public buildings. A city needs it's own centre of gravity. Well there's temples and shrines in Susono and a small park with waterfalls, but no real centre. Like many Asian cities, the centre seems to be the train station. But it's tiny and only thrives with school children loitering and chewing gum and doing their best to look dumber than they really are. The high street is an unattractive mix of small and failing businesses. Few bars or restaurants; and most tellingly of all, few people. Indeed on any given night in Susono, the streets are empty; and the few eating places are shut or empty. The only real life is to be found around the 24 hour 7-11 where people come to indulge in that spectacularly sad Japanese past time of "tachi yomi", (standing and reading). Yes, believe it or not people get in their cars the size of tanks and drive to a convenience store and spend 40 minutes reading a magazine and then put it back on the racks and not buy anything then get back in their gas guzzling eco-wreckers and drive 3 minutes home. That is culture of a sort, and a very sad one, when you consider it's adults reading cartoons.
Naturally if you are over 60 - which is a lot of Japan, then you have a massive array of events and places to go to enjoy gentle and dull occupations like flower arranging. Or the Japanese oldie can catch a concert of some foreign music they will condescend to like, but whose main purpose is really only to confirm to the old person that the Japanese version of dull and dying culture is infinitely preferrable for the reason only that it is Japanese and thus "unique".
A couple of weeks ago I came into class and said, "What's the main news story this week?" They all brightened up considerably as they told me about some Japanese scientists winning the nobel prize. The plight of the world's financial markets didn't get a mention. There's no connection to the heartbeat of life - only a tired re-working of Japan's most successful propaganda since the war. Namely, how wonderful that they are all the same and so peaceful and so talented because they have so much culture. Just like the city has no real pretenses to having relevance beyond itself, so the majority of the Japanese citizenry has no relevance or interest in the real process of history and world culture. And that's why they have 1 party politics and a racist belief they are a one ethnicity country. The propaganda is far more palatable and palliative than the truth.
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Pictures of Susono
Vietnamese music concert at Susono Culture Centre
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