‘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 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.
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.
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.
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.