text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
It’s a sad fact that very often when discussing Japanese culture with Greek acquaintances, the people I am talking with turn the conversation to a, sometimes masked and sometimes blatant comparison to the Greek civilization. And I characterize this as “sad” first because comparing cultures of different countries is absurd and second because even if we could compare cultures agreeing on all sorts of limitations and conditions in the start of the conversation, the comparison would end up being so devastating for the Greek side that it would cause almost knee-jerk defense reactions (with references to “seniority” –as if this has anything to do with anything) which would in turn derail the conversation thus proving the absurdity of the endeavor.
These thoughts crossed my mind once again, this time sparked by “Culture Day” (“Bunka No Hi” or “文化の日”) the national holiday that was celebrated the day before yesterday (i.e. November 3rd); on this day, which was established as a holiday in the beginning of the 20th century to celebrate the birthday of Emperor Meiji, the Japanese present to each other various aspects of their culture –these aspects vary from the most classic and “characteristically Japanese” like the traditional arts to the most contemporary and avant-garde. There is no city, village or neighborhood that doesn’t host some events on this day and even though some of these events are high-end productions that take one year to prepare, some are just amateur presentations that take place in the neighborhood school or in the local municipal culture center.
What is more important, and which in my opinion gives the particular day its biggest value is the people’s participation: its enormity revealing that the majority of the population is either participating actively in the cultural affairs or has a keen interest in them. The “Culture Day” events are just the sanctioned excuse to express this participation or this interest but the quality of the presentations (be they objects or events) is a testimony to what everyone understands as soon as they set their foot in Japan and begin observing the way people behave and act: civilization here is a live entity, present to almost every human endeavor –therefore every day is “culture day”.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.