Interpretation and Reconstruction of Environment, Aesthetics, and Politics in Japan

Interpretation and Reconstruction of Environment, Aesthetics, and Politics in Japan

Mika Markus Merviö (Kibi International University, Japan)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1807-6.ch004

Abstract

The tradition of Japanese thinking on environment has developed in close interaction with both Asian and Western influences. However, Japanese society has constantly created new ideas and representations of reality that reflect the actual environment and changes in society. This chapter analyses the continued transformation of Japanese society and ideological constructions especially in the areas of environment and aesthetics. In particular, it is worthwhile to analyse the changing relationship to environment as it is depicted in Japanese art and thought. However, artistic expression is also vulnerable to the ideological construction of past and present, and, as always with expression, ideas and depiction of ideas do not only stem directly from reality, such as physical nature, or experiences of people, but may also be part of a political or ideological agenda to reconstruct the past or present.
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Introduction

The tradition of Japanese thinking on environment has developed in close interaction with both Asian and Western influences. However, Japanese society has constantly created new ideas and re-presentations of reality that reflect the actual environment and changes in society. Furthermore, the environmental thinking has served as an agent of change itself. The environmental conditions in Japan are markedly varied and quite different from any other places and it is no wonder that the nature/environment as well as animals have frequently been understood and depicted in ways that are quite different from the other centers of culture. In particular, it is worthwhile to analyze changing relationship to environment as it is depicted in Japanese art and literature. However, any form of expression is also vulnerable to the ideological construction of past and present and ideas do not only stem directly from reality, such as physical nature, or experiences of people, but may also be part of a political or ideological agenda to reconstruct the past or present.

It is not only in Japan where the nation-state has needed representations of cultural continuity, including those representing the physical environment. Romantic or nostalgic aesthetic nationalism is not a Japanese invention and Japanese nationalism in its more aggressive forms has not relied particularly heavily on visual iconography of Japanese environment/nature. In fact, the Japanese state has been rather clumsy in its efforts to ‘use’ high or low culture to its ends and arts certainly do not enjoy particularly strong support from the authorities and political/ social elite. Instead, the particular model of modernization that Japanese elites choose in Meiji period gave a rise to new forms of hierarchical or vertical power relations and intersubjective practices, that fundamentally changed the traditions and continue to shape the social behavior of Japanese people.

However, the environmental awareness has been duly registered in Japanese art and culture after largely anthropocentric concerns about pollution and environmental risks to humans became widely voiced in Japanese society and Japanese politics since the 1960s. Instead of direct criticism of social, political and economic interests that contribute to environmental destruction Japanese environmentalist art and thinking are prone to promote various forms of symbiosis (kyôsei) and co-operation. More radical ideas of biocentrism and deep ecology are rarely voiced in Japanese environmental thinking and environmental movements. Meanwhile, older religious ideas about sanctity of nature and life are often ignored when modern ideological constructions of environment are created and reinforced in Japan. To understand why human rights or green political ideas receive so little support in Japanese politics it is important to analyze the ideological construction of environment, aesthetics and politics in Japan.

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