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(Spring School) Simplicity in Japan

One of my American friends once asked, “Sarah, can you tell the differences between Chinese, Japanese and Koreans?” The answer can be certainly “yes”-we look similar in the appearance; the interesting thing, though, is that we still manage to recognize the differences somehow. The differences can sometimes lead to disagreements, and then stereotypes.

Where are the differences come from? While it is generally accepted that these three countries share similar origin of culture, for quite a long time, Chinese, Japanese and Koreans hold deep misunderstandings among each other. The history problem, along with territorial disputes and cultural shock make East Asia community a reality. With this perception, I made my first visit to Okayama University in Japan.

The purpose of the Spring School, according to the official manual, is to provide students with a chance to learn the trilateral exchanges and relationship from past to present, and develop future visions and actions through a five-day tour studded with field work and cultural visits, and preceded by a series of lectures and group discussions. Thanks to the eventful arrangements designed by Okayama University, we have been to the university, Shizutani School, Ushimado and Kurashiki, and learnt different things from them. For example, Shizutani taught me how the modernization of Japan moves on, Ushimado showed me the history of trade between Korea and Japan, and Kurashiki, as a city of long history, updated my concept of “museum”- “museum” can also be a whole town.

In addition to the specific knowledge we learnt from the program, what impressed me most is the general consideration of Japan. As we traveled throughout the city to its many different regions, Japanese culture and traditions were always on display. Obedience to the law, concern for the environment, willingness to help, cleanliness, bowing, following procedures—these behaviors were an integral part of life in Japan. Though everyone there is faced with work pressure, they are still always ready to help you. I would never be afraid of being lost there-though there may be language barriers, they were still willing to show you the right direction and even go with you. I was always touched by their patience to strangers.

However, in my eyes, the most outstanding characteristic of them is the pursuit of pureness of life, which can be seen from the food, building and also clothes there.

From the perspective of food, generally, Chinese people focus on strong vision, smell and taste stimulation, and thus are good at add flavor; shallot, ginger, garlic, capsicum, Chinese prickly ash, mustard, aniseed, ferula and pepper are all common in Chinese dishes, which can be called “the art of addition”. On the contrary, Japanese Cuisine advocate simple but elegant preference, meaning “art of simplification”. They preserve the original taste of food and keep everything simple. All the techniques serve for presenting the natural state of food material.

The differences between “addition” and “simplification” can also be seen from constructions. Modern Japanese buildings are characterized by simple geometric shapes with little decoration, peaceful and clean. Japanese famous architect once said, “Looking at those magnificent buildings built by concrete and steel bar in the 20th century, human beings will forget the life and death, as well as the respect for nature. We desire to construct buildings which can be segmented from the surroundings and forget the original intention of construction is to make our living space more comfortable. We treat building as objects blindly, painted them with all kinds of symbols until ourselves be buried with these symbols”, where the aesthetic pursuits of simplicity can be seen.

When it comes to clothing, the pursuit of simplicity is also similar, such as the style of popular Japanese fashion brands MUJI and UNIQLO. In Japan, all the cultural elements integrate, deposit and change into Japanese style after vertical mining thoroughly. It is craftsmanship they have maintained from the very beginning provides this nation with independence when standing in the world. This spirit is also the reason why Japanese can recover from the World WarⅡso quickly. I always think that the true state of nature and human beings is beautiful enough, and too much decoration is just a reckless waste of God’s gifts with the excuse of “modern civilization”. Just as the world of material, one of spirits also has the rule of ecological balance, which can be broken by greed in our mind. Why don’t we just respect the nature and bring the true ourselves back? This is the most precious lesson Japan has taught me.

I once wondered why some birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question. As Russell once said, “diversity is essential to happiness”, I am always eager to experience the diversity and explore the world. Thanks to CAMPUS Asia program, I have the chance to the most controversial country with my own eyes. The sensible issues will still remain, but now I know it should be blamed on the education system and media propaganda, the people there are friendly and it is a great nation worth of learning. I agree with what Planck once said, “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”, so does the elimination of stereotypes. With these exchange programs and flatforms for youth to know each other, I believe the misunderstandings in East Asia will certainly disappear one day and only friendship will remain in everyone’s minds.

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