A destiny drawn by nature

A destiny drawn by nature‘ is the first chapter of a book titled ‘The Dawns of Tradition‘, published by the Nissan Motor Company in 1983. I knew that this publication was an important discovery when I read the introductory words “Even more than most peoples, the Japanese have been shaped by their environment. From the dawn of their history, close communication and an oftentimes precarious coexistence with nature have dominated almost all aspects of the national character and culture.” Viewing Japanese culture through the lens of the environment (in my case using the elements as a framework) is also the focus of my book and blog on elemental Japan. While the approaches taken differ in many ways, the basic sentiment is the same.

The cover of the book "The Dawns of Tradition" which I recently found at a second-hand shop. Thanks to Amazon for the image.

The book “The Dawns of Tradition“, which I recently found at a second-hand shop, was published by the Nissan Motor Co. in 1983. As soon as I started reading the introduction I knew that it was very relevant to my research and writing on the elements in Japan. Source: Amazon.com.

The first chapter of the Nissan book goes on to examine, in their own words, some of the unique natural features of the island nation which have played so important a role in the making of the Japanese. An examination of the natural features and phenomenon of Japan will also form the first chapter of my book. ‘The Dawns of Tradition‘ focuses on the long, narrow archipelago that makes up Japan; the mountains and oceans that dominate the country; the importance of forests and wood; responses to the four seasons; and the importance of soil and the influence of agriculture on the Japanese personality and culture.

As noted in my blog on forests and wood in Japan.

As noted in my blog ‘Wood generates fire‘ around 67% of Japan is covered by forests. It is not surprising therefore that the Nissan book has a section in it’s first chapter titled ‘Living with wood’. This covers topics such as the importance of wood for building and how Japanese architecture has been “forced to adapt to harsh natural forces such as earth-quakes and typhoons.” One of the response to these phenomenon was the use of pin joints in buildings, a method devised many centuries ago. This pliable construction allowed buildings to shake and shift in the throes of an earthquake and lessened the chance of collapse.

I am covering the topics found in the first chapter of “The Dawns of Tradition“, especially the geography of Japan. My introduction to elemental Japan however is giving greater attention to natural phenomenon such as volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, fires and hot springs. In addition to the influences of mountains, oceans, forests, agricultural and seasonal changes I sense that exposure to frequent, often destructive natural forces over an extended period has helped shaped the national character and culture of Japan.

One of the big differences between 1983 when ‘The Dawns of Tradition‘ was published and the present day is the technology available. The first chapter of the book proudly presents a cloud-free LANDSAT image of the Japanese archipelago that took two years of data collection and another year to process and transpose it into one image. Now I can call up a similar image using Google Earth in less than a minute.

The LANDSAT image of Japan proudly presented in the book "The Dawns of Tradition". the image took three years to create. Creating a cloud-free image of Japan was no easy task with the technology available at the time.

The LANDSAT image of Japan proudly presented in the book “The Dawns of Tradition“. The image took three years to create. Developing a cloud-free image of Japan was no easy task with the technology available in the early 1980s. For the authors of the book, the most striking geographic feature of Japan is it’s length, stretching 3000 km from its southernmost island to its northern tip. This, and the narrowness of the archipelago,  have contributed to striking differences in geography and environment from region to region.

This image of Japan demonstrates the major advances in technology since the Nissan book was published in 1983. It took around a minute to generate and edit the image. We are so used to having this information at our finger-tips that perhaps we take it for granted at times.

This satellite image of Japan demonstrates the major advances in technology since the Nissan book was published in 1983. It took less than a minute to generate the image using Google Earth. The modern imagery highlights the underwater geography of Japan and it’s relationship to different tectonic plates. These generate the volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis that have helped create contemporary Japan.  Access to technology and information such as this provides valuable tools for exploring the elements.

There are many other examples of technological changes since 1983 that help us better appreciate and describe the impact of the environment and the elements on Japanese culture – starting with the world wide web. Online sites such as ‘Digital Typhoons’ allow the tracking of natural phenomena that have the potential to damage and destroy. I am drawing on technology such as this as I research and write about the elements in Japan.

This screenshot of the Digital Typhoon website shows the large amount of material now available on typhoons through the internet. Hopefully this enables people in the wake of these high energy events to better prepare and plan for their impacts.

This screenshot of the Digital Typhoon website shows the large amount of material now available on typhoons through the internet. Hopefully this enables people to better prepare and plan for these high energy events.

Despite, or perhaps because of the lack of technological wizardry, the book ‘The Dawns of Tradition‘ has provided much food for thought. Most of the book tells the stories of Living National Treasures associated with a range of Japanese arts. I found many images and insights of relevance to the elements amongst these pages. My approach adds an extra dimension where the influence of elemental systems from China (Yinyang and the five phases) and India (Buddhist: godai, the five great elements) on Japanese culture is also being explored.

The final chapter of the 1983 book is titled ‘Quality through harmony‘, with the last three pages directly promotional of the Nissan Motor Company.  No more was needed as the production of ‘The Dawns of Tradition‘ says a lot about their philosophy.  The fact that a company that sells cars published such a book over 30 years ago was both an unexpected and pleasant surprise.  Thank-you Nissan.

3 thoughts on “A destiny drawn by nature

  1. I can understand why you are pleased to have come across ‘The Dawns of Tradition’. It has clearly been interesting for you to compare what was being written at that time and even more fascinating, that it was produced by a car manufacturer. Thanks for pointing out the effect the geographical and environmental factors have on the shape of Japanese culture. Even though this is kind of obvious, I hadn’t considered it at a deeper level and will enjoy reflecting more on this. I look forward to reading your book!

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  2. As well as emphasising the important influence of geography and environment on Japanese culture, the book contains some very interesting proverbs and observations relevant to the elements. For example, a master carpenter featured in the book says that it is impossible to be a great carpenter without realising the sanctity of the soil. That is not a connection that one might immediately make, but it makes sense as the soil affects the way the tree grows and hence the type of timber it produces. I also like the way the book uses calligraphy of kanji that represent key words such as Yaku “to fire” (in the section on pottery). So yes, I was pleased to find the book. It adds to another dimension to my large collection of books and articles related to the subject of elemental Japan, most of which were not found in second hand shops!

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