There was a time when Japan was fashionable. During the 1980s, when I completed a degree in Japanese Studies, everything Japanese was all the rage. Japan was the business giant. “Made in Japan” became synonymous with quality and affordability. The Japanese way of life was admired and emulated (even if it was often romanticized). Japan was “in”; it was “cool” (in the language of the 80s). Japanese writings could be found on t-shirts, dishes, movies, and framed on the walls (even though the characters were often upside down). Japanese food became increasingly popular. And the demand for relations with the country and its people increased the demand for opportunities to study the language, the culture, and everything that made the country “different.” Japanese art was en vogue. And none more so than the traditional Japanese wood-block prints. In the early 19th century, the artist Hokusai (1760-1849) created “Mt. Fuji off Kanagawa,” popularly known in the West as “The Wave.” This is one of the best-known Japanese prints that with others of this period inspired the entire French Impressionist school. (I had it on a T-shirt while living in Tokyo.) Little did the artist imagine that this image would one day become the symbol of utter destruction. The wave of the tsunami that devastated the Japanese shoreline destroyed lives, buildings, and infrastructures. Japan has entered the greatest crisis of its history. The once fashionable country has become unfashionable. The world is fleeing Japan.
In the minds of the world, two images characterize recent Japanese history: the cloud of Hiroshima and the wave of the tsunami. This year, both images have come to overwhelm the country and spread fear across the world. No doubt, the image of Japan will have to be rebuilt. The two titles for Hokusai’s print in circulation reveal the options. Whereas the West has seen the wave as the centerpiece of the print, Hokusai was commissioned to create a series of views of Mt. Fuji. The mountain is the center of the image, not the wave. The real Japan is fashioned neither by iodide pills nor gas masks, neither by the cloud of radioactive material nor the devastating wave of the sea. The image of Japan is fashioned in the minds of the people. When the wave subsides and the cloud dissipates, the mountain will remain! But it is a different mountain this time. Mt. Fuji might as well represent the image of a new age. The world should become aware of what the crisis in Japan represents. 日本は現代世界のイメージ. Japan is the image of today’s world. The rebuilding of Japan begins in the minds of the world. Rebuilding Japan is a start to rebuilding the image of the world.
Let’s rebuild it together!