In light of the other post about something incompatible with Christianity, I want to share a positive way of cultural appropriation- I want to highlight the bull crap nature of that claim.
I’ve always been a fan of Edo Japanese culture.
By that I mean the Edo period, if I have that right. And don’t worry, Reader-land, I won’t have any inappropriate statues to show!
Of course, it all started with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In second grade I read the book based on the movie, which my mom would not have let me watch because it was PG, probably. But I loved Raphael, and I wanted to be a ninja. Jumping from couch to couch, with some kind of stick and a ninja mask, t-shirt and shorts. I was kicking Shredder’s butt!
The fanboy never left, even when I lived in the land of Toledo steel I thought Japanese swords were magically better. I didn’t know, I was young, and ninjas and samurai were cool, and Shogun the TV show was on. As I got older, I was exposed to different aspects of the culture. My friends the Gaspers kept their home in the Japanese style, they even had a sign! They would remove outdoor shoes at the door, and either house slippers or no shoes. Totally weirded me out at first then I realized how clean the house was, by not bringing in all the dirt from outside into the house on your shoes! Incredibly, this simple thing is ignored.
Of course, in Spain I watched Sumo.
Sushi came on a road trip I took right after meeting Mel. Now Fr Jason Webber and I went up to NJ to see our old classmate Dave M. We were prepping for camping out. We drove up to NJ, then over to New York City and Long Island, then we ended up in New Haven, on Yale graduation day. So I say I graduated with them, because why not. We toured the city, got some swag, stayed in a monastery overnight, then decided we didn’t want to camp and we drove back to Dave’s house, where we played sports and video games. All that to say that I tried sushi for the first time in New York, and I loved it!
Then Mel and her family had distinctive Japanese decor, which I liked, and I believe we still have some pieces. I haven’t won the shoe battle with my kids though.
Then I really started looking into it. The standing influence was the complex simplicity of the Edo period, where everything seemed to be shoji screens, tatami mats, and beautiful wooden structures with joinery that used no nails or screws. Those were the cultural aspects I wanted to have, and years of YouTube woodworking videos later, I was going to make it myself.
Of course, every video ever only shows the best aspects of Japan. The tea greeting, the day-long conversation before even starting to talk about having something crafted. We see only the meticulous craftsman, bent with age or work, training an apprentice to do it the same traditional way. Of course, we want that when we imagine the high culture of Japan. We are ignorant of darker sides, and that is the best part of embracing another culture!
You get to focus on the beautiful, the good, and the true!
Imagine. We want to share American culture, we don’t bring the violence and darkness of inner-city Baltimore, or DC back a decade ago. We go to the Capitol, the big high points. Likewise other cultures. And by distilling down to what is beautiful, good, and true, we honor that culture for its high points, not its flaws.
I’m amazed at the skills of the craftsman, making things in a traditional way. Or building huge buildings out of wood, with the joinery so interlocked it doesn’t need screws or nails. They claim to work with nature to get the best out of wood. It’s beautiful and respectful of nature, and not in a way of worshipping mother earth. For example, a wooden screen in front of a window. The good craftsmen, so I am told, put the vertical pieces in the same orientation as it would be on the tree. Wood at the bottom of the tree is at the bottom of the screen, and so on. Why? Because they figured out that the frame would warp if it was the other way. I don’t know this for sure, but I am taking what an old craftsman said on faith. But isn’t that interesting, that kind of working with nature? I thought so.
I am sure that if I lived in a traditional Japanese style house, I would either go crazy or whatever. But it isn’t wrong to take these small parts of another culture and bring them into our own. It’s wrong if I start doing all the shinto worshipping stuff, yeah, but do you see how it can be disconnected?
I’m just doing this as a contrast to the other post, (where I was told that they were praying to mother earth by the pope’s official biographer, which is two huge problems!) and the ability to remove the bad or profane from the good and synthesize it. Like Christmas trees, for example!
And so we all know, Sumo starts again next month!! Who is excited?