The Forces In Modern Japan Cultural Studies Essay

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Modern Japan is forced to live in a noticeably upwards direction, with little space for outdoor living as the cities are expanding and consuming the landscape. Japan is mainly eighty percent forests and mountains that are useless for industrial, agricultural and residential purposes. The development of Japanese housing needed to evolve over the course of Japan's history. This review will only focus on the events of the last hundred years. In urban and regional Japan toady there is a growing trend towards modern housing, moving out the traditional types of housing. A dense population and lack of available land has forced a change in the way the Japanese live. This change is influenced by various factors; traditionalism, spirituality, context, exposure to the western world, dense population, practicality, function and cultural change. This review is going to focus on three aspects that have had a strong influence over the evolution of modern housing in Japan - The cultural development of Japanese society with focus on the exposure to the west, the migration of the work force and the spiritual connection the Japanese have with their own space. Numerous sources will be analysed though there will be an emphasis on the newer sources due to the contemporary and modern nature of the topic.

In the 19th century the average house had a distinct blueprint which focused on the separation of public and private spaces within a household. At this time Japan was still a predominantly agrarian society with eighty percent of the population living in rural areas and some seventy percent of the labour workforce employed in some form of agricultural industry. This created a need for two styles of housing, a working lower class house where the home and workspaces had to overlap, while the affluent had large spacious houses that included spaces for workers and functions. Sugimoto (2009) puts forward the argument that the difference in the socio-economic status and dwellings was accepted by the majority of the population unlike in the West. The working houses in the city were similar to the rural houses as the typical working family would have a work/income space on the street level with the family living above the income space, creating a strong bond to the house. Another type of distinctive and accepted hierarchy within Japan's society occurs within the home. According to Parkyn (2006) the spaces in the house are divided in hierarchical order, the head male of the house would get the best room in the house with access to the outside spaces. Then the house would have at least one other 'good' room for the rest of the family, this room was used as a sleeping and living space by the rest of the house hold. Finally the last rooms within the house were reserved as small living quarters for the workers, these rooms were located in the dark recesses of the house.

At the end of the Second World War when Japan surrendered to the allied forces numerous buildings and homes had been destroyed in the conflict with an estimated shortage of 4.2 million dwellings. This shortage of dwellings forced the government and private sector to build large scale apartment blocks in an attempt to efficiently and cheaply house their working class. Sugimoto (2009) believes that this change in housing systems had a severe impact on the patriarchal culture of Japan's society because it forced all of the different socio-economic groups to live in the same area due to the lack of housing. Lutzeler (2001) agrees with Sugimoto (2009) and goes on further to dissect the full impact this had on the Japanese family unit. These apartments were distinctly western in their layout with separate private spaces for family members, this was a stark contrast to the traditional Japanese single multi function room for the majority of family members.

Another change in this period occurred when Japan re opened itself to the west after two centuries of national seclusion in 1850. A vast number of western diplomats, traders and missionaries started to arrive in Japans 'treaty ports'. Sugimoto (2009) argues that with the migration of westerners into Japanese society they introduced the idea of furniture into the Japanese household. Westerners found the Japanese style of living uncivilised regardless of how immaculate the house was, or how well kept the traditional tatami floor mats were. To the Westerners this was on par with what they considered the 'backwards' tribes of Africa. Parkyn (2006) also discusses the impact that it had on the average Japanese 'nuclear' family, assessing the impact of western views and new ways of living. Lutzeler continues that the Western way of life was a severe contrast to the Japanese way. To the Japanese the Westerners had no ownership or connection to the place that they live.

The Westerners brought with them their furniture and expectations/standards of living. Japanese officials jumped at the western way of life, rapidly building houses that conformed to the Western way of living standards, while still secretly living in traditional homes on their estates Sugimoto (2009). This facade created by the officials influenced the upper middle class in Japanese society as they would often try to mirror the officials and higher ups, this in turn created an influx of pseudo western houses within Japanese cities. According to Sugimoto (2009) these pseudo western houses had western furniture that could be stored away or brought out during the times when the family was entertaining as a way of impressing their guests. According to Sugimoto (2009) during the transition from the Japanese way of living to the western way of living houses had started to have dedicated rooms for these two distinct styles of living; rooms with traditional Japanese furniture for living purposes and other rooms furnished with western furniture for entertaining guests or working. This was due to the fact that many Japanese had started to migrate towards the cities as the education improved, and many of these office jobs were focused around working in a western style office, Lutzeler (2005), which carried this influence through to their homes and lives.

In modern Japan there is a noticeable trend towards home ownership as opposed to renting. Of total houses occupied in Japan sixty one percent is owner occupied, while thirty nine percent are rented, compare this to other western countries such as England which is forty six percent owner occupied and fifty four percent is rented (Sugimoto 2009). This difference is due to the connection that the Japanese have with their home. Ridoutt (2005) looks into the Home Owner identity symbolism in Japanese houses and puts forward the argument that in Japanese culture there is an incontrovertible connection between the home owner and the home. To the Japanese the house is an "expression of one's identity, a base of individual activity, a focus of one's heritage or childhood and a setting for reflecting ones relationship with family, neighbours and community". Sugimoto (2009) agrees with this and elaborates by further introducing the idea that the Japanese have a culture of 'scrap and build', instead of buying a second hand or rented house they will instead tear down an older house and replace it with a new one. This is because of the deep spiritual connection that the Japanese have with their own space, to them buying a used or second hand house is almost pointless as the place will never truly be their own. This culture of 'scrap and build' has actually evolved the housing methods in Japan creating a trend towards cheap and quick builds and revolutionising the way the Japanese live.

The migration of the Japanese family due to the industry shift for urban jobs forced families to abandon their rural family homes and to buy new places in the city. This in essence according to Ridoutt (2005) strengthened the ties that the owner had to their home as the new house was 100 percent an expression of the individual, with no further ties to their ancestry. This is also a reflection of Japans cultural change from exposure to the western world, with many of the younger Japanese cutting ties with their ancestry. Lutzeler (2001) analyses this shift from the traditional style of housing passed down through the family, which keeps in line with the spiritualism and connection one has with the house. The Japanese have strong ties to their ancestry which are strengthened with the bond to their home. As the traditional Japanese house was constructed from wood the seismic activity in these areas would allow the homes to flex and absorb any ground movement. This use of wood as a primary construction material throughout the development of the Japanese household also had a strong link to their spirituality.

In a study conducted by Ridoutt (2005) of a variety of Japanese housing, it was found that of 6 different types of Japanese house construction ranging from a reinforced concrete house to a wooden house constructed by Japanese with Japanese techniques and a wooden house constructed by Northern Americans with the same techniques. The majority of Japanese could identify with the more traditional houses and materials built by the Japanese. They were asked to identify of a list of contrasting feelings to see how each home made them feel. The majority of the Japanese found the traditional houses constructed by what they consider 'gaijin' (foreigner) to be cold and empty while the homes constructed by Japanese had an unaccountable warmth to them.

Today's modern Japanese house has evolved over the course of hundreds of years with numerous external factors influencing the development and evolution of the overall design. Cultural changes from the Western occupation of Japan and the housing revolution caused by the results of the Second World War, as well as the cultural shift caused by an shift in industry which relocated the majority of the Japanese work force into urban areas. Another strong influence over the development of the modern Japanese house is the strong spiritual ties the Japanese have to not only their homes, but to their history and ancestry. This tie to where one lives and how that space reflects the person has kept the construction industry in Japan alive despite the lack of developable land, as well as allowing each house to truly be 'owned' by the occupants. Western influences have transformed the modern Japanese house into a mix of public and private spaces, as each family member has their own private space with distinctly western furniture, which to an extent has westernised Japans core family unit, conforming to the Western conception of the 'nuclear family' unit. In conclusion it could be argued that the biggest impact on the development of the modern Japanese house is from the migration of industry and workforce to the city areas as this shift caused the government and private corporations to maximise space by constructing apartment blocks. This literally raised their cites to the skies and physically changed the way the Japanese lived.