Twittering Machine

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I live in a city where several television stations have their headquarters, and tonight I saw peering over the treetops of our village two communications towers. They're painted orange and white (in compliance with air safety regulations) and- inspired as I was by the gardening principle of shakkei or "borrowed view"- I pictured the taller one to be the Tokyo Tawaa.

Now there is a landmark that all those whom I loved and who've lived in the city would have seen! I may not have viewed it beside them, but across time it becomes a shared experience.

One day, while walking towards the tower, I was shocked when a Japanese friend called it "a crappy version of the Eiffel Tower." Indeed it's an adopted vision of la Tour Eiffel, but not an exact copy- aside from its bright color, a third of it is made of metal from US tanks damaged during the Korean War.

Perhaps my tomodachi was just being modest, but I think the Tokyo Tawaa shows the amazing tradition of the Japanese of taking the best aspects of foreign cultures and making it uniquely theirs. It explains their past- and points the way to their future.

The Japanese have a term for this process: iitoko-dori.

Similar to the process carried out by Filipinos through the centuries in blending indigenous beliefs with Islam or Christianity and their attendant political and legal systems, iitoko-dori enabled the Japanese to harmonize Shintoism (which some scholars say is a form of animism and the basis of the Emperor's power), Buddhism and Confucianism.

Prince Shotoku in the 7th century explained how this was to be viewed: "Shintoism is the trunk, Buddhism is the branches, and Confucianism is the leaves." Thereafter, the Japanese were able to easily adopt new cultural values from other lands and improve upon the techniques that came with them- whether in politics, technology, business, architecture, or pop culture.

Far from being the symptom of a damaged culture, iitoko-dori shows the genius of a people in creative interaction with the world.

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