Cultural Appropriation can be very hurtful when it is done intentionally. Although it is not less painful to see the Cultural Appropriation regardless of the situations, when it is done unintentionally, we can consider it as a good opportunity to learn each other. We all make a mistake. It is very important to accept the difference. When a person crosses the boundary of cultural appropriation unintentionally, a simple apology would be just enough. It is a good opportunity to have a cultural mutual understanding. In order to promote good cultural mutual understanding in Japanese culture, I would like to introduce the concept of High and Low Context Culture, which lead to a topic of Super High Context Sashiko Culture.
Crossing the boundary in Cultural Appropriation intentionally, knowing that could hurt the origin, would be unacceptable. However, occasionally, I observe the 2 groups stay on the different page although they both try to mean good. They hurt each other with hoping to understand each other. It is not a matter of intention. There gotta be some situation behind the communication itself. The answer can be the concept of High and Low Context Culture described by Edward T. Hall, 1976, “Beyond Culture”
Here, this is my assumption (with learning High Context Culture) for the unfortunate discussion regarding the Cultural Appropriation in Japanese culture. It may be very much affected how the Japanese language is structured. Again, I will always stand up for the Cultural Appropriation with intention of hurting and/or repainting the culture. Minimizing the culture and repainting the origin will insult the people who live in the Japanese culture. At the same time, it is our Japanese responsibility to consider why it happens -if one means good, then it may be because of the language difference.
Reading between the lines of sentences.
Japanese is the language to expect an ability to read between the lines of conversations. Edward T. Hall once described this as the “High Text Culture (Language)” in his book “Beyond Culture” published in 1976.
Here is a bit more detail. Surprisingly for English speakers, the Japanese language sometimes doesn’t require the subject and object in the sentence. Here is an example.
Let’s say you and I are enjoying a road trip. We talked about where to go but we do not have GPS on. When you want to ask me if we will get to the destination soon or not, you would say, “Are WE gonna get to the _____(destination) soon?”.
In the Japanese language, in the same situation, you would just say “Soon, (We) get there, right? – もうすぐ着くよね？”
In this example, the word “We” is omitted because it is already assumed mutually. We expect others to anticipate what the one is saying.
This can get to the extreme when the relationship is close (like family or close friend). A Japanese may say, “Soon Arrive? – すぐ着く？”. It is not about being polite or not. We omit the words that are considered as a mutual assumption. Of course, it is not the polite language we also have. However, this is the matter of mutual understanding we expect in between. The more amount of information we expect to share, the fewer words are needed.
English as the ultimate tool to communicate.
*I am not an expert in linguistics. Please forgive my misunderstanding if you find any. I am more than happy to consider re-writing.
In contrast, English is very well-optimized for the purpose of communication. Telling, “who does what, when, where and how (which)” is the fundamental of English. Even within a close family, we naturally use the subjects, and rarely omit it to avoid misunderstanding.
English is the language with adapting so many difference in the history of immigration and globalization. In order to avoid misunderstanding, it has to be clear about what we are communicating. On the other hands, the Japanese languages were (are) mainly spoken by Japanese. We communicate based on the fact that the conversation partners know the language and culture of Japan.
It is too much to ask non-Japanese people to understand the Japanese language and the logic behind it. However, I believe, it is reasonable to ask everyone to appreciate the Japanese language when they are willing to learn the Japanese culture.
This perspective – High and Low context – is another perspective why it is so difficult for Japanese to learn English, and the English speaker to learn Japanese.
Importance of Assumption (Premise)
When we learn about the new culture, it is very important not only learn the practice itself, but also the mindset behind it. The mindset often involves the assumption (premise). When the premise is not mutually agreed, the discussion can go very painful for both parties.
In Japanese, as the language difference I introduced above, we expect all of the parties to anticipate the premise mutually without verbalizing it. For example, when I see someone who would like to learn Sashiko or enjoying Sashiko stitching, I naturally assume that the person is interested in the Japanese culture, and therefore, it is reasonable for me to expect that they “try” to respect the basic Japanese Courtesy.
I learned that it may not be the case all of the time. Some may be calling their stitching Sashiko without knowing it is from Japan. They may be calling only because of its image… Well, in that case, I hope they can find their own name for their stitching because Naming Does Matter as Ms.Makiko mentioned in her blog. (I will discuss this issue in the separate article).
High Context Sashiko
In fact, Sashiko requires even more “High” context for that matter. It is very challenging to find the documents that are describing the origin of Sashiko (or even practices of Sashiko in Japanese history.)
As a Sashiko artisan, I honestly expect others to anticipate to learn by watching instead of asking questions. The verbal discussion, like asking questions expecting for the answers, requires a lot of sentences. In contrast, in most Japanese traditions, the questions (and following answers) were not welcomed because a student was supposed to learn from the master by just watching it. The observation was the only method they could take back in Japan.
Expecting others to learn Sashiko by them just observing our Sashiko stitching is very inefficient. I understand that. In order to share the Sashiko we practice, I have established the Sashiko Stitching Workshop (Core and Basic) both in-person and Online. I will answer any kinds of questions once you take the workshops.
*I wish I could do it to the general public, but because of limited capacity and that I also need to support the family, I restrict my support to who are willing to support my days & activities. For those who are financially challenging to take our workshop, please enjoy our Youtube Channel. If you are willing to learn by observing what we stitch, you can probably learn the Sashiko we practice. It may take 20x more time to understand, but possible, and again, I would like to share the Sashiko we practice to as many people as possible.
Our Sashiko Can communicate by themselves.
I believe that our Sashiko can communicate what is the importance of Sashiko and Cultural Appropriation in Sashiko, even without explaining the High Context Sashiko character. We believe in the power of fabric, hand-stitching, and cares we perform on our Sashiko items.
When you enjoy the Sashiko with respecting the Japanese culture, you are already a part of High Context Sashiko. It isn’t difficult to at all to practice the High Context Sashiko. Simply, respect and care the others. When you care the others, we can all assume that we will be attentive to the boundaries. No more opinion and judgement – more empathy and cares.
Enjoy the High Context Sashiko.