Patriotic to the end

Nakamura Kanzaburo

Photos from the funeral of actor Kanzaburo Nakamura XVIII (yes really, kabuki actors have long pedigrees) have been doing the rounds in Japan lately.

Which is slightly odd, as Nakamura died in 2012.

It’s been revived because the widow is wearing white, which was was traditionally the colour of mourning in Japan, until black became more popular in the 20th century. The article says that according to one story, black came into vogue during the Russia-Japan conflict, because everyone’s white mourning kimonos were getting so much use that they were starting to look shabby. Black shows the dirt much less.

The article goes on to say that white symbolises a declaration to never remarry, and given the Nakamuras’ tempestuous marriage, it is particularly touching to see Yoshie (the widow) wearing it.

It ends up saying:

‘These sort of customs seem to be fading in modern Japan, but if the media takes up the good old traditions could once again have meaning and benefit for a new generation.’

From an Asian point of view, this is pretty interesting. Throughout the 20th century, the rest of Asia admired and even idolised the Japanese success when it came to adopting Western technology while preserving Japanese culture (this was a Meiji-era slogan: 和魂洋才). Leaders like Park Chung-hee, Deng Xiaoping and Lee Kuan Yew all saw it as a model to emulate, though they didn’t always make too much noise about the fact.

Now, it would almost seem that the situation has been reversed. The idea of using modern technology to further traditional goals has grown increasingly popular throughout the rest of Asia (it’s often refered to as 體用, a term which started life as an ancient Confucian concept), notably among countries that are increasingly coming to see any manifestation of a return to cultural traditions in Japan as a militaristic threat.


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