July 6, 2010


A brief mediation on cultural appropriation and authenticity


Dear Nauma, thank you for your comment and observation. And yes, you are correct, the Japanese have also engaged the "otherness" of Western culture, however historical circumstances resulted in a different approach. It was the West that prised opened Japan. The Meiji Restoration resulted in an all-out push for modernization/westernization. This was a Top-Down initiative (truly being a Divine Fiat since the Emperor was a god...). For the west, the encounter with Japan was a new "Flavor of the Month"; for Japan, the West was a matter of political, military and economic expediency. THis scenario has played itself out through East and South East Asia many times.

Having travelled to Japan (and LOVING IT!), ye, there is an apprehesion of the "exotic" west but something gets lost in translation, so to speak. Previous western commentators would not the lapses or "incomplete" quality of Japanese appropriation of western models,be they artistic, architectural, musical or whatever. (Just as there is an extremely superficial quality to most Wesern appropriations of Japanese models...). What I believe ACTUALLY occurred was a process of cultural editing according to Japan's own unique aesthetics. There are NO "lapses" in my opinion; rather a conscious decision to work with the new material on Japanese aesthetic terms.

Sometimes things get a little... silly. For whatever reason (I have NO explaination...), some western quirk embeds itself in Japanese culture... DEEPLY. I submit for your approval a musical example. I recall my amazement a couple of years back while listening to a collection of vintage Japanese film music to hear what was, a JAPANESE version of Rudolph Friml's "Song of the Vagabonds" from his early 20th century operetta "The Vagabond King." It was featured in the early Japanese film "Father and Son." It's a really GOOD version!!! While researching the film and this odd cultural cross-pollination, I discovered that the song had grown legs and continued to be a HIT in Japan, long after Friml and his operettas were forgotten in the West!

The song later was used for the end credits (and Japanese title) of the 1982 film by Kinji Fukasaku, "Fall Guy." Fukasaku would later go on to direct the popular "Battle Royal" series of movies.

To this day, Friml's klezmeresque melody can be heard in Japan as the boarding chimes at Kamat Station in Tokyo.

I have no explaination... ^_^

Link: gone


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGs87qSYLtI (Fall Guy end titles)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1en-lmDjSIg&feature=related (Kamata Station chimes)


  1. ntriguing thoughts,brightly written Qi .
    thanks for the meditation on authenticity and the music.
    I have the impression -or is it another stereotype?(just an impression as I've never been there to judge first hand)that the spell of the other and the stream current of Western "exoticism " (and I wouldn't use the word imitation) works in the case of Japan particularly well the other way round in many aspects of the country's public or artistic life.

  2. "What I believe ACTUALLY occurred was a process of cultural editing according to Japan's own unique aesthetics."
    that must be the major key ,thanks for your response Qi,
    my questions where generously answered,
    but what happened to the original post?
    was it removed
    or was it lost in "transaction"?!

  3. I read your article a few days ago, had some trouble with loging in so didn't have a chance to thank you for the education, it was pleasure reading it. And now I am a little bit sad that such good words dissapeared.
    Now it is in the truthful spirit of Detachment to forget your achivments, but we will miss it.
    Thank you.