The ongoing presence and purity of Japan’s traditional culture in so many areas of life is one of the most amazing aspects of modern Japan. This is particularly so since the early 1870s, when the Japanese as a whole adopted foreign lifestyles with astounding skill and speed.
The primary reason for this susceptibility and virtual obsession with change was due to the fact that historically, life in Japan was so structured, so homogenized and so intellectually limiting that people hungered for change — for almost anything new.
In fact, from the mid-1600s until 1867-68, the reigning shogunate government did its best to enforce a law that banned virtually all change. This was implemented again from the 1870s to the mid-1900s when the new nationalistic government controlled the lives of the people to the point that they were still not free to innovate or invent on their own.
But all of this was to change dramatically after the introduction of democracy and personal freedom into Japan at the end of World War II in 1945. With their knowledge, ambitions and skills unleashed for the first time in the country’s history, the Japanese began an incredible flow of inventions and innovations that transformed and have continued to transform their lives, not to mention the lives of millions of people around the world.
These changes were so “un-Japanese-like” that most Westerners, who were intimately familiar with all areas of Japanese history, simply could not see or accept them. Indeed, in 1954 the dean of foreign correspondents in Tokyo told me that I should go home because Japan would “never amount to anything and there was no future in staying!”
In fact, it was not until the early 1970s, by which time Japan had technologically and productively passed the United States in many areas, that Westerners in general and Americans in particular began to realize that Japan was on the verge of economically colonizing the world.
This resulted in hundreds of thousands of American and European business leaders flocking to Japan to learn why and how the Japanese had succeeded in transforming their tiny country into an economic superpower. Large numbers of these visitors whose businesses were in peril went with their hands out, seeking loans and investments to salvage their mismanaged companies.
Many American companies did not survive, and it took some 10 years for the survivors to learn and implement the production techniques and management practices that had catapulted Japan to the forefront of so many industries. Finally, they could begin to turn their own companies around.
The Japanese continue to be world leaders in scientific and technological advances that are having fundamental effects on virtually every field of human endeavor. There are so many basic breakthroughs that even Japan-watchers have a hard time keeping up.
Some of the new things introduced in Japan will result in major business and lifestyle changes. One that immediately comes to mind is the technology developed by Konaka Co., an apparel manufacturer. It has produced fabric for suits that makes it possible for them to be washed at home in a shower instead of being sent to the dry cleaners. Following the Japanese penchant for catchy and unusual brand names, these new suits are known as “Shower Clean Suits.” Detergents do not need to be used to get these suits clean, and ironing is not necessary if they are dried in the shade.
Not surprisingly, the “shower suits” are selling like the proverbial hotcakes, and dry cleaning businesses are having to increase their prices to remain pro table. In turn, this is boosting sales of shower suits and putting more pressure on dry cleaning establishments to continue raising their prices. The new technology will undoubtedly spread to most if not all other kinds of clothing that now require dry cleaning, obviously threatening the existence of dry cleaners.
Another breakthrough product that could have a far wider impact is a new type of paint. is product reflects light and keeps painted surfaces from 15 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than those painted with regular paint, including white paint.
This new paint technology is developed by the Tokyo firm Nagashima Special Paint Co., and called MIRACOOL. It works with any color of paint, including black, which means it can have widespread use on buildings, sidewalks, blacktop highways, etc. The paint is sold by MIRACOOL CO., a subsidiary of the developer.
Another fascinating Japanese development is a pillow with a built-in sound system that calms, soothes and otherwise “mothers” newborn babies. The developer is the advanced medical equipment maker TLS Co., in Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture. tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #277 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.