Global America? The Cultural Consequences of Globalization

By Ulrich Beck; Natan Sznaider et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Consumption, Modernity and
Japanese Cultural Identity:
The Limits of Americanization?1
Gerard Delanty

The case of Japan suggests an intriguing alternative to the dominant conception of Americanization. With its implicit connection with a globalizing consumer culture, Americanization has become synonymous with commodification, the rationalizing and material power of modernity, and Westernization. The question is, how valid is this understanding of globalization as a project of cultural imperialism spearheaded by a Western nation state, in particular in the context of those developments that go under the rubric of postmodernity/ multiple modernities/alternative modernities which have become more visible in the post-Cold War era?

Because of the non-essentialist ontology on which it is based, Japanese culture defies notions of cultural imperialism as well as conceptions of hybridity. The syncretic nature of Japanese culture rests less on a concept of overall unity or one rooted in an underlying objective reality, as in the West, than on harmony and form but in such a way that the relation between the elements is more important than a clear-cut identity. This non-synthetic sense of form & which is reflected in polytheism, a certain tolerance of contradiction and the absence of a conception of identity as equivalence & results in a strong emphasis on play, leading to a reduced level of cultural confrontation and resistance. I propose the thesis that Japanese culture, which cannot be so easily defined in terms of either the categories of Western modernity or those of late

____________________
1
This essay was written while I was a visiting professor at Doshisha University, Kyoto in 2000. I am grateful to Professor Makio Morikawa, the Department of Sociology and the Faculty of Letters, for the resources made available to me. I am also grateful to my research assistant, Atsuko Shiminzu, to Stephanie Assmann and to the graduate students who attended my social theory seminar and from whom I derived valuable knowledge about Japan. I would also like to acknowledge helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper by Yoshida Takashi, William Outhwaite, Engin Isin and Chris Rojek.

-114-

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