Religion in Modern Asia Newsletter

Survey on Cultural Exchange


In the early part of this year, Japan' s popular media carried frequent stories regarding the involvement of entertainment personalities in certain new religions, but that news has been largely replaced in recent months by tales of continuing political scandals, and the June marriage of Japan's crown prince to OWADA Masako.

The ceremonies and celebrations surrounding the marriage of the crown prince were naturally promoted highly in the Shinto press, given the importance placed on veneration for the imperial family by the Shinto religion.

In other news of relevance to Shinto, the Weekly Jinja Shinp6 carried a story in its June 28 issue regarding a recent public opinion poll on the issue of internationalization and Japanese culture, carried out nationwide during the months of February and March by the Office of the Prime Minister.

According to the article, 46.9% of survey respondents indicated they believed that the present level of Japan' s cultural exchange with other countries was sufficient, while 39.7 % felt that the current level was insufficient. When the issue of how well Japanese culture is understood by foreign countries was raised, however, only 34.1% of respondents indicated that Japanese culture is adequately understood overseas, while 60.8% responded that Japanese culture is not sufficiently understood by foreign countries.

Specific areas of Japanese culture which respondents felt should be given increased emphasis in overseas' introductions of Japan included "everyday life" (59.4%); sumo, martial arts and other sports (13.4%); kabuki, noh, and other traditional dramatic forms (10.2%); traditional cultural activities such as flower arranging and tea ceremony (8.5%); and modern cultural forms such as music and motion pictures (4.0%).

The survey also reported areas in which the Japanese respondents feel more should be done to introduce foreign cultures to Japan. The highest areas of specific interest included "everyday life" in foreign countries (49.9%); "historic cultural artifacts" (45.1%); and "customs and traditional observances embedded in everyday life" (44.1 %). Other areas of interest included "items of foreign culture which are also common to Japanese culture," and "information about exotic traditional and ethnic customs."

In response to a question regarding which areas of the world should be given emphasis in future programs of cultural exchange, the highest percentage of respondents (34.3 %) responded with "East Asia (Korea and China)"; followed by "Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries in Southeast Asia"; with "North America" taking third place. As a reason for selecting "East Asia," respondents indicated "Japan is an Asian country, and geographically close" (52%); a majority of respondents over the age of fifty also indicated that they "felt closest (or friendliest)" toward this area.

On the other hand, 42.3% of respondents selecting Russia and Eastern Europe indicated that more should be done in cultural exchange with those countries, since "there has been too little exchange with this region relative to other parts of the world." Not surprisingly, 60.2% of respondents emphasized exchange with North America, due to "the importance of the U.S.-Japan relationship."

Overall, the survey results were to expected, and appear to reflect the degree to which many Japanese continue to believe that Japanese culture is "not sufficiently understood" by foreign countries. The Shinto interest in the survey was reflected in the article's closing comments, which indicated that many elements of traditional Japanese culture are relevant to Shinto, and which encouraged more participation by the Shinto community in the dissemination of information regarding Japanese culture overseas.

-- Jul 1, 1993, Norman HAVENS

Last updated: 2001/11/28 14:33:44

Copyright © 2001 Institute for Japanese Culture and Classics, Kokugakuin University. All Rights Reserved.