4 TED Talks To Learn About Japanese Art, Culture And History

As many members of the Japan Fans group on Facebook know, YouTube is a goldmine for learning about Japanese art, culture and history. These four videos are the favourites of TED Talk enthousiast Peter Ajuchi, a Japan Fan from London, who is currently pursuing his degree in Marketing at London South Bank University. Peter: “Well, there is a lot to know about, and I don’t think you will get all the knowledge from this blog post, but here are 4 TED Talks about Japanese culture that you probably didn’t know about!”

Kazumi Murose

In this Talk, Murose presents us the “urushi”, Japanese lacquer in English. However, Kazumi expresses how disappointed he is with the translation because it represses and does not define its meaning. 

This urushi is a transformative and highly prized material that has been refined for over 7000 years. This material is a native of south-eastern Asia. It’s very popular in Japan and used for many artworks, such as tea ceremonies or abstract sculptures.

Morose also shows us how durable the urushi is with examples of his kimono, and also a small plate made 400 years ago that looked like it was made yesterday.

According to the TED speaker, since the 17th century, this material has been quite popular in Europe and America where the Christians would import urushi on a massive scale from Asia to build and decorate the churches.

As you watch and listen to the Talk, he explains other terms that define the history and culture of Japan such as  “Kougei” which means traditional arts and crafts and englobes all the traditional Japanese crafts.

Roland Kelts

The topic that Roland Kelts discusses in this Talk is what makes Japanese culture strong and for other cultures with the same issues facing Japan such as declining populations and increasing poverty.

For Kelts, the reasons behind the fact that Japan is so strong in the face of the circumstances mentioned above are:

  • Ganbaru. A call-to-action term that means “fight hard” or “Do your best in any circumstance” that can be applied to any life situation.
  • Gaman. Another concept that means “to endure” and “to persevere” in the face of obstacles. It can be applied in any daily life scenario.
  • Jishuku. Being able to restrain yourself and desires for the betterment of everyone.

According to Kelts, all these concepts are there to sustain stability and harmony in society. With these cultural terms, the country has seen improvements in employment or crime. In 2015 Tokyo was named the safest city in the world.

Kohtaro Fujiyama

Fujiyama talks about Japanese traditional magic called “Tezuma”, which is a captivating integration of illusion, traditional Japanese acting, musical performance, costumes, and stories.

In the TED Talk, he performs an amazing magic show representing the life of a butterfly that flies, finds partners and eventually dies. After death, many of the children butterflies fly to start their own journey.

Eisuke Tachikawa

Tachikawa starts off with the fact that Japan is beautiful and explains why. According to him, beauty, nature, and harmony are what makes Japan so beautiful. Japanese people don’t just create something after their own taste, but consider the harmony and nature of it as well.

In this TED talk, Eisuke Tachikawa explains his project of bringing back that harmony in the architecture and construction in Japan. He shows a couple of examples of how Japan reflected a better harmony in their creations back in the day compared to our modern times, which is not matching the creations from the past times.

He would like the designs and the corporations in the country to go back to those times when Japanese designers had skills that were better developed than nowadays.

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