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Western vs Japanese aesthetics – Appreciate Unique Qualities and Stop Comparisons

Western vs Japanese aesthetics – Appreciate Unique Qualities and Stop Comparisons

While making Japanese umeshu (which I detail here), I drank some of the shochu that I was using straight.  Not liking strong alcohol this isn’t something I normally do, but I was pleasantly surprised by the complexity of its taste.  It had a hint of sweet on the tip of my tongue, a hint of fruity (but no real fruit), a tingling sensation in my nose, and a warmth in my throat.

I gave some shochu to an American friend of mine and his immediate reaction was “it tastes like rubbing alcohol.”  Numerous times over the past few years I’ve shared Japanese food items with coworkers, friends, and family to often receive a reply of “it tastes like ____”, or a confused look in the cases where they can’t figure out what it “tastes like.”

Herein lies a source of frustration for me living in the U.S. after having spent time in Japan.  I’m with the Japanese who are more likely to examine and think about the aspects of something unfamiliar, but Americans often try to mentally simplify and relate to known things thus making it harder to understand and appreciate something new for its own qualities.

comic about aesthetics sense

 

As the Wikipedia article on Japanese aesthetics points out, aesthetics (or what I like to call the art of appreciating), is treated as an abstract philosophy in the West but is an integral part of daily life in Japan.  Japanese culture through education, lifestyle, and shared experience teaches Japanese to look at things in a way that is different from the west.  If you watch Japanese food shows (of which there are many), people will taste a dish then they’ll describe the different aspects of it and appreciate how those aspects interact.  By contrast, when confronted with something new (such as an unknown food), Americans tend to simplify it to the lowest common denominator and rely on the comparing it to something known by saying “it tastes like ____”, “it reminds me of _____”, etc.  This limits understanding and appreciation to how closely the new thing can be compared to something else which is already known.

My American friend frequently laments about how he never went to college so he doesn’t have the “refinement and education to appreciate the finer points of things.”  This is a symptom of western culture’s view that aesthetics is a philosophy and something academically studied as opposed to integrated into daily life.  My friend is a smart and intuitive guy, there is no reason he should feel that he can’t understand and appreciate the good points of something unfamiliar.

Beyond food there are differences in the way Japanese take other things in as well.  A study once showed that when westerners look at a photo or painting their eyes go from object to object and spend the most time on those key focal points whereas Japanese people’s eyes tend to go around the entire scene as if taking it all in more evenly rather than focusing on the most obvious components.

Having experienced the beauty of Japan and the inspirations and feelings they find in the world, it’s a perspective that I really came to appreciate and miss now that many around me don’t have that perspective.

-William A. Milberry

 

 

Little White Cloud Over Aso – William Milberry

Little White Cloud Over Aso – William Milberry

A little white cloud hovers over the volcanic landscape of Mt. Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan.

William Milberry

南無妙法蓮華經

南無妙法蓮華經

I’ve always been a fan of Buddhist art.  I would often go on long scooter rides through the countryside and every time I saw a temple I’d stop to explore and photograph it.

(c)2013 - William Milberry

The last Venus transit of our lifetime.

The last Venus transit of our lifetime.

This is a series of photos of the Venus transit in front of the Sun on June 6, 2012 (Japan time.) The moving dot is the planet Venus and the small specs are sunspots.

I kept running outside and taking (hand held) photos with my DSLR and homemade solar filter at work then assembled some of the frames into this movie.

The event was fully visible from southwest Japan with the weather holding out for all but the last 30 minutes of the 6hr and 40min long event which won’t happen again for 105 years.

The music was recorded on the streets during a festival in Japan.

Venus is the 2nd planet from the Sun and Earth’s sister in some ways. Venus is about the same size as Earth and made of about the same things. However, due to a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide, believed to have originated from volcanos, the planet has a runaway greenhouse effect with a surface temperature over 460 °C (860 °F) and crushing atmospheric pressure.

It’s orbit is slightly inclined compared to Earth’s so the proper alignment to see it pass in front of the sun happens twice in 8 years followed by a more than 100 year wait for the next time.

 

Vensu transiting in front of the sun

Karatsu (唐津) part 2

Karatsu (唐津) part 2

I spent a day shooting in Karatsu which is sleepy seaside town in the north-west corner of Kyushu.

The town in home to an amazing festival held at the beginning of November called Karatsu Kunchi.  The festival is hundreds of years old and designated as an intangible cultural treasure.  The town also produces beautiful Japanese-style ceramics.

Little flowers and fluffy clouds

Little flowers and fluffy clouds

On a little side road in the Japanese countryside I stopped to say hi to some flowers and a cloud.

Tri-X@200 in D-76.  I really do NOT like this combination, however, it worked for this picture.