How to pass on traditional culture to the next generation, taking advantage of the positive effects of the head family system while minimizing its detrimental effects, is a challenge facing Japanese companies too, writes Funabashi Haruo.
I attended a meeting organized by the Japanese Culture Successors’ Association the other day. The Association runs campaigns through which successors of Japanese traditions and culture organize cooperative groups to protect and pass on genuine Japanese traditions and culture for the next generation as well as the world and to develop related systems and environments. Members of the Japanese Culture Successors’ Association include a wide range of people, such as the head families of noh (musical drama), kyogen (comic drama), kado (flower arrangement), sado (tea ceremony), kodo (incense ceremony), hyoho (the art of war), kyuba-jutsu (art of archery and mounted archery), so-jutsu (art of the spear), naginata-jutsu (art of the halberd), yabusame (horseback archery) and their prospective successors, successors to court nobles and the samurai class, and successors to traditional arts, such as Japanese swordsmiths and ceramicists.
Why was this association established? Essentially, Japanese traditions and culture were often criticized for being closed, not evolving, with a focus on mimicking old styles and being monotonous. Among other things, the head family system was criticized as the main cause.
Position within the head family is often decided by succession, but it is not guaranteed that the successors in each field will be talented. Therefore, it is difficult to avoid a situation in which successors simply imitate styles that have been handed down from generation to generation. Family quarrels sometimes occur among relatives and enthusiasts, which is probably because people lacking talent are automatically chosen as successors. On the other hand, in fields in which anyone can see the difference between superiority and inferiority, such as military arts and martial arts, the rules of succession are based on a meritocracy.
The times as well as people’s tastes and aesthetic sense change constantly, making it difficult to pass on traditions and cultures in this way. Typically, traditional culture forms from a specific historical environment, peaking and becoming traditional as a result of people’s efforts. It can be said that the modern style of noh was created by Zeami during the Muromachi period (1336–1573) and the art of the tea ceremony peaked with Sen’norikyu during the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568–1603). It seems to me that modern noh and the art of the tea ceremony have simply been maintained and reproduced.
How could traditions continue to be protected as the times and people’s tastes changed? There is no doubt that the head family system played a large role in this context. The first element is quality assurance. Under the head family system, individuals are evaluated based on their abilities and experience, which generates their ranking. This secures overall quality assurance. The second element is the promotion and popularization of culture. The head family system also exists to expand each school. As the number of pupils and enthusiasts increases, the influence of a school grows, which enhances the benefits for head families and leaders.
As demonstrated above, the head family system is similar to companies seeking to expand business and religious groups trying to gain followers. The question in this context is how to minimize the detrimental effects and pass on traditional culture to the next generation, taking advantage of the positive effects of the head family system. It seems that the Japanese Culture Successors’ Association intends to create an environment in which successors to traditional cultures come together with a sense of crisis, inspire one another and pursue future benefits.
Traditions were once innovations. When such efforts succeed, the successors of traditional culture become innovators. Now this will lead to the reconstruction and revitalization of Japanese culture, gaining global attention. I hope it will eventually contribute to creating benefits for the overseas development of Japanese companies.
FUNABASHI Haruo is a historian and CEO of the Sirius Institute Inc.
A yabusame horseman takes aim at his target in a demonstration of the rite at the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture. Yabusame horseback archery originated in the middle of the sixth century and has been demonstrated annually at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu since the beginning of the Kamakura period (1185–1333).
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