Short Japanese Culture Questions

That’s the thing - it’s the foreigners who not only appreciate aspects of traditional Japanese culture but are willing to put in the effort to preserve it (whether they want them to or not). Japanese people see it and take it for granted (yeah…another tree…great…) particularly young people who are much more into sports (even sumo is at least popular because there’s action!) or pop culture (and I’m not just talking about anime but also overseas pop culture like Korean idols, American singers even, etc.) that a long-winded tale told by some guy in a kimono making gestures with a fan (rakugo) just isn’t very entertaining like it used to be when the Internet wasn’t a thing yet.

The funny thing is in the English textbooks the students use in English classes here are trying to promote diversity by presenting aspects of different people and their cultural backgrounds but they also show foreigners who have adapted to Japanese culture and are actually helping preserve the traditions by learning about it and being a part of it. Like there’s a Swedish guy in the 5th grade textbook that became Japanese (changed his citizenship) and learned from a master on how to maintain Japanese gardens.

Then in junior high school, there’s a section about English rakugo and I believe a little skit on an American or Australian performing English rakugo (her job) in Kyoto that appears in the 6th grade textbooks. The whole idea is to help students realize aspects of their culture and that it can be “cool” to like and participate in those areas too because foreigners also think it’s cool.

Still, I don’t get the feeling that very many of my students are going to play the kotsuzumi or join a kagura theater (despite the potential of participating in one being very high because we’re just a ferry away from Miyajima where kagura performances are often held). Part of it is from peer pressure as those things are old-fashioned and ダサい but also because they’re more likely to go overseas and try to fit in doing things that foreigners do.

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Well, if you research “most common hobbies for seniors”, gardening comes out near the top. It’s far lower on the list of hobbies for young adults. Bonsai is no different. I don’t buy the argument that Japanese are any different than other cultures when it comes to “yeah … another tree … great”.

One way to gauge if interest in a topic is dying out is to search for books, blogs and youtube videos about the topic. There are lots of all three about 盆栽(ぼんさい), so I don’t think there is any worry about it dying out. Enthusiasts do tend to be older, but I’d be willing to bet it’s been that way for centuries (for a number of reasons mostly around spare time and space — luxuries of the older).

Many traditional crafts are dying out, sadly, but many are also being revived. Enthusiasm for things waxes and wanes among the younger generation, sometimes crafts that were almost lost become popular again. Videos are wonderful for teaching techniques, but they aren’t great for archiving knowledge. Printed books archive information for centuries, archiving digital information for that long mandates regular copying to new media and verification — something I know a bit about from my professional life.

Many of these crafts take years or even decades to become proficient. Apprenticeship is decreasingly common as the mechanism for acquiring those years, so many of these crafts will be relegated to passionate hobbyists rather than professionals. But that’s not necessarily a death knell, it’s just a relative measure of popularity/quantity more than existence. It’s natural to feel nostalgic about things that once were common, but there are countless crafts and art forms that already died out centuries ago, and countless others that were introduced since. It helps to take the extremely long view.

An example:

I’m actively trying to research and revitalize interest in 規矩(きく)(じゅつ) an ancient way of laying out joints for timber framing using little more than a ()(がね) (Japanese woodworking square) and an ink-line. There is precious little material available in Japanese and almost nothing in English, despite the fact that the techniques were in common use for roughly 1400 years (modern “two-by” construction only appeared within the past several decades in Japan).

The techniques were mostly taught via carpenter apprenticeship, mostly verbally, and were somewhat considered “secrets of the art”, so few books exist. There is increasing interest in the subject among hobbyists, though (woodworking is always a popular hobby). I hope to eventually publish what I learn (most likely on a website rather than published in a book, but who knows).

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I can totally get this, as sad as it is.

Is 落語(らくご) less popular than I realized?

My 31 year old son still goes to see performances. It seems kind of underground, and isn’t quite the same as the old days, but my impression is that it’s still quite popular and it’s not just old guys on stage with a fan.


Seems to still be popular after a trivial search.


Edit 2: It may be my five times through the zodiac symbols, but I think “kids these days” is a universal sentiment and isn’t unique to the Japanese. Students have different interests than adults. Always have, always will.

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There is still a following for it but it’s not like in popular demand. The only time I’ve seen any rakugo performances on TV is usually in the middle of the night when most people are asleep, and even then those programs aren’t very common (as confirmed from someone who’s constantly awake(n) after midnight).

I don’t know about most old people, but my dad and my father-in-law tend to wake up in the middle of the night. Therefore, I assume their demographic would be the more likely target audience to watch it.

Compared to modern forms of entertainment programs, particularly owarai and manzai skits where anyone can watch it and laugh (not to mention, they’re aired during popular times), rakugo has a bit more depth to it as there are only a couple props used and the storyteller is speaking fairly quickly, so imagination and alertness are both necessary or you’ll miss the punchline when it’s delivered.

You can zone out when you know a not so funny manzai skit is on until the next one comes along (they’re shorter for one thing). For rakugo, part of the experience is being there in person - it feels more intimate because you’re personally being told a story so watching on TV takes away that experience. And even if you showed up in person to a rakugo performance, you can’t just pull out your phone when you lose interest.

For sure it’s not just Showa era men enjoying it or performing it for that matter, but that’s the image it has, and I can’t say it’s really popular. If you went around and interviewed people on the street and asked them if they prefer watching owarai or rakugo, they’ll more likely say the former while possibly commenting that they don’t know much of the latter.

You can really tell what aspects of traditional Japanese culture aren’t too popular with the young crowd when they make anime to try to bring it to their attention.

Kabuki is one of them, and about 4 or 5 years ago, there was a pretty good rakugo anime that even inspired me to look into it more. That’s when I learned about the foreigner friendly English rakugo, and I began doing little skits to help my students develop their listening and critical thinking skills. Unfortunately it only lasted one year as it was the only time I had a JTE who was truly fluent in English and could understand the punchline and explain it in Japanese.

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I disagree. Even kimono is seen as an art form that’s dying out. The goal of much kimono art and styling nowadays is to revitalize the form. Many places with small and aging populations have to worry about their local crafts dying out because there are no apprentices. I think many traditional crafts and practices are facing this problem. Even in places that are open to outsiders, the obachan and ojichan will explicitly say they’d prefer any outsider to marry in and then have a kid of Japanese blood to carry on the art. I’ve heard it in person and suggested or outright said in several videos of the older locals being interviewed.

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And ryokans? Here’s one at the Kawashima Ryokan in Kyoto:

(Admittedly a bit tricky to get a good angle on.)

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For sure! Anywhere with paying customers :wink:

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Useless factoid time: in 1925 when the Tokyo Broadcasting Station polled their radio listeners on what sort of programmes they wanted to hear, rakugo came joint first with radio dramas (at 4.4% each, so there was a pretty wide spread of interests and no single commanding winner in the poll).

2.7% wanted harmonica music (which beat piano, violin, jazz and opera!).

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落語 is a live performance medium. I really don’t know if it’s any less popular, but I do see lots of sold out performances in August. Seems a better indicator for popular demand than TV appearances.

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Something I’ve noticed when I play Dragon Quest X, a Japanese MMORPG, is that the game has a rule where you are not allowed to record unless you are on specific servers and you put a camera icon next to your name to indicate you are recording.

I’ve been wondering if this is just Square Enix being weird and stupid for absolutely no reason, or if this is something common in Japanese games. Like, is it a cultural thing where consent to record also applies to your online avatars? If anyone else plays other Japanese MMOs, I’d love to know if it’s a common thing amongst them or if it’s just a Dragon Quest thing.

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From the perspective of someone who doesn’t play a lot of online games, it just seems like a courteous thing to let people know when they are being recorded, so to me that sounds like a good thing. But basically the only online game I play is Rocket League, so take that as you will.

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I don’t have much experience with mmos, but I attended an online virtual community event recently and you also had to ask permission or only take screenshots by yourself in designated photo spots that were clearly marked.

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Is this an in-game recording tool or a community rule for any recording?

I’ve played FFXIV and there’s no such thing there. Although this may be a result of harassment and doxxing in the Japanese MMO communities. Twitter and 5ch can get pretty brutal over there.

It’s for any such recording. Players have been moderated for recording outside of servers #29 and #33 before, or for not putting a camera icon in their name. On Switch and PS4, the consoles native recording feature is straight up disabled, too.