Japanese Culture

We were watching an old movie.

The story of which takes place in Japan.

Ron sez: “Everybody knows everything in Tokyo – the walls are paper-thin.”

Bar rhum puhm, tish.

He’s got a million of ’em.

Anyway, following in this vein, I have a vague idea, the source of which I cannot say, about why Japanese houses are said to be made of paper, etc.

Japan is an archipelago or group of rugged volcanic islands with a burgeoning population that relies a great deal on food from the sea. There is a paucity of timber on these islands. Wood for construction was always expensive. We often envision the people seated cross-legged on the floor before a short-legged table eating bowls of rice or sipping tea. Somewhere I got the idea that, originally, there was a square pit beneath the table. The people sat with their feet dangling in the pit under the table. There was a quilt that covered the table that was large enough to lift up and cover their laps. There was a hole in the center of the table suited to hold a grille or a wok. There was a hearth beneath the wok. The quilt covering their laps captured all the stray heat from the hearth in winter, thus keeping their feet and legs warm as they ate from the communal wok.

I have no idea where this came to me. This is obviously a very dangerous practice. Some historians say the samurai were originally firemen who used long hooked poles to tear down a burning paper house in order to save the neighborhood from a conflagration. But we can see where this could naturally have segued into a defensive militia.

The paper walls served only as a windbreak, and without an extended porch the paper wall panels would just disintegrate in the rain. The roofs were thatched and it seems almost unnatural to even speak of Japanese chairs. The people sat either cross-legged or knelt cross-footed with their weight resting on their heels. As a variation, the Vietnamese sit with their feet flat on the ground, rump on their heels, with thighs pressed against the chest.

(I wish I was young, thin, and limber enough to still sit on my own heels.)

So, if we add it all up:

Open-frame timber construction

Thatched roof

Paper wall paneling

No superfluous furniture

Short-legged tables

Conservative hearth

Raw food

It’s all about the cost of wood.

All cultures flow from the ground up. Architecture is dictated by both the weather and the availability of indigenous construction materials in response to it. An ad hoc Q & A. Diet is dictated by the availability of edible plant and animal life in any given locale while music, dance, dress and courtship are often in imitation of the local wildlife.

As humans, we all have the same problems – just different solutions.

I’m not a scholar. I’m not an historian. I wish I was. I prefer to think of myself as a student of history. I think I got these ideas from an illustration in an old history book I once skimmed. (Skimming is a speed reading technique.)

I took a college prep course in Reading and Study Skills at MATC and had a year of World History at Marquette University.

I know my son is envious of me because he wants to live in, or at least visit Japan. Technically, physically, and only very briefly, I’ve already been there twice. I don’t recall exactly where we were in those brief refueling stops, and other than the Base PX, I actually saw nothing. It might have been a top-secret “miritary instaration” as comedian Jack Douglas’ Japanese wife Reiko might have put it; but in all likelihood it was Yakota Air Base, Japan.

Through books I have seen Japan with the mind’s eye at least.

Of course, I could be wrong.


About The Twentieth Man

Age 67
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