The headline catches your eye: “The Ancient Tool Used in Japan to Boost Memory. You’ve been more oblivious lately, and maybe that mysterious instrument – on the other side of the world, nothing less! – could help? You click on the link and press play on the video, waiting for this revelation that is bound to change your life.
The answer? A soroban (abacus). Hmm, that probably won’t help me remember where I put my keys, does it?
This BBC creation is part of a series called “Japan 2020”, a collection of Japanese-centric content tackling a mishmash of harmless topics, drawn from the history of the Hiroshima style. okonomiyaki pancakes with pearl divers. The entrance to the abacus, as well as a video titled “The ancient philosophy of Japan which helps us to accept our faults”, about this old chestnut tree kintsugi (a technique that involves repairing ceramics with lacquer sprinkled with gold or silver), switch to a dominant new genre exploring the country: Welcome to Japan that can fix you.
For most of the Internet’s existence, Western online attention to the nation has been of the “strange Japan” type. This trope focuses on obscure events and micro “trends”, but presents them as part of everyday life, usually just for entertainment, but sometimes veering into the “get a load of this country” posture.
It’s not exclusive to the Web – traditional media are doing it too – but it is proliferating online. Bagel heads, used underwear vending machines, family rental services – it’s a tired form of gaping gaze that’s been under heavy scrutiny lately, though it doesn’t preclude YouTube articles and videos. to dive into the “zany”.
Nowadays, wacky topics have given way to seemingly mundane celebrations. Thank tidying up guru Marie Kondo – or at least Western web media’s obsession with her – for starting this. His KonMari method of organization became a worldwide success in the early 2010s, inspiring books and TV shows. It’s online – where content attempts to bridge an endless chasm – where the breakdowns, tips, and opinions on Kondo have emerged most.
Then came other Japanese ways to change your life. CNBC contributor Sarah Harvey tried kakeibo, described in the title as “the Japanese art of saving money”. This “art” is actually writing things in a notebook. Ikigai is a staple, with articles and videos popping up all the time explaining the mysterious concept of… having a purpose in life.
This is not a totally new development in history, as Japanese concepts such as Washington and wabi sabi have long attracted the attention of places like the United States, sometimes from a place of sheer curiosity and sometimes as pre-internet “life hacks” aimed at making its existence a little better. The web has made them essential.
There is certainly an element of exoticism in Western writers who treat mundane activities as crazy revelations from Asia. There are also many Japanese who help spread these ideas, although mainly in the form of books like “The Little Book Of Ikigai” by Ken Mogi.
This can result in dissonance. Naoko Takei Moore encourages the use of donabe, a type of pot, and was interviewed by the New York Times for a short report last March on the tool. Non-Japanese Twitter users, a sign of a growing return to “X, the Japanese art of the Y” presentations, roast the piece … or at least the headline, as it seemed few people had looked into the actual content of the (shocking!) Article, which is a quick and pleasant profile of Takei Moore, a woman celebrating her country’s food culture. .
Yet despite the hyperbolic immersion of netizens, the article says a lot more about what English-speaking readers want in their own lives than anything about modern Japan. It’s common to all of this content and indicates a greater thirst for change, whether through a new kitchen tool or a “Japanese technique for overcoming laziness.” The Japanese side is just flashy branding, heading to a country 84% of Americans see positively to come up with original ideas for endless renewal of online content.
And what do the readers want? Self-help. Anywhere they can get it. Telling them to slow down and look inside isn’t as eye-catching as offering them magical solutions from ancient Japan.
In a time of both disinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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