Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 November 2020
More than 36 views of Mount Fuji
When it comes to culture, the commonly held belief seems to be that Japan is somehow fundamentally different from most other countries in terms of its ability to protect its traditions and cultural heritage.
Throughout its recorded history, more specifically from the time of the emergence of a unified state in the Asuka/Nara periods, Japan has indeed demonstrated a particular predisposition for creating, collecting, safeguarding and recording a rich and diverse body of works and monuments in almost every sector of the human arts and crafts. That these efforts were undertaken in spite of continuous wars (except for the roughly two and a half centuries of the peaceful Edo period) and the quasi permanence of natural catastrophes renders them even more impressive.
The inhabitants of the Japanese archipelago further seem to share, in spite of their long-warring feudal history and habits, some deeper sensitivity to and appreciation of beauty. It is not easy to settle on any single reason or argument for this particular characteristic. It could well be due to the permanence of natural calamities across the land, which has strengthened rather than weakened the desire to create beauty when and where possible, given the impermanence of the present existence – more poetically rendered as mono no aware. It could be the long and narrow archipelago's physical attributes and geography – its diversity and stunning natural beauty, its abundance of forests, mountains, lakes and rivers, its distinct four seasons. It could be due to the influence of the island-nation mentality and the country's relative isolation (including from too direct foreign influences and attacks) yet physical proximity to the two great ancient cultures of China and Korea. Or it could be a result of the symbiosis of the Shinto religion, with its cult of and reverence for nature and a certain dexterity for creating things, with the refining influences of Buddhism – and the cohabitation of these two belief systems in close proximity over many centuries.