What is it about the Japanese that makes them so adept at mastering Americana? That’s a question that the Smithsonian Magazine takes on in a fascinating piece called “How Japan Copied American Culture and Made it Better.”
As described by the Smithsonian, there are literally Japanese buyers traveling backroads in the U.S., stopping in at old liquor stores and buying up old cases of whiskey from basements and bringing them back to sell in Japan. The Japanese are making impeccable suits and shirts of classic American styling. And the jazz clubs there are alive and well, unlike so many here in the U.S.
There’s something about the perspective of the Japanese that allows them to home in on the essential elements of foreign cultures and then perfectly recreate them at home. “What we see in Japan, in a wide range of pursuits, is a focus on mastery,” says Sarah Kovner, who teaches Japanese history at the University of Florida. “It’s true in traditional arts, it’s true of young people who dress up in Harajuku, it’s true of restaurateurs all over Japan.”
Japan’s mastery of Americana isn’t something new. Back in 2009, this phenomenon emerged in multiple posts on ACL, like "All the Good Stuff is in Japan," and the New York Times also reported a story on the same theme, "The All-American Back From Japan."
Most recently, Brooklyn’s Pilgrim Surf was hosted as a sort of brand-in-residence at Beams in Japan. Then there’s one of my favorite Instagram accounts.
Takizawa Shinsuke, designer for the Japanese brand Neighborhood, posts amazing images of vintage Harley-Davidsons, Indians and Triumphs, all restored to perfection. What you won't see, as far as I can tell, are old Hondas, which are ironically really in demand stateside.
Japan’s love and mastery of Americana is something worth admiring, though the thought of losing all that old whiskey is hard to deal with.
There’s a nostalgia factor at play that’s really interesting to me. It’s easy to be nostalgic for something one never experienced. This is why the old vintage design aesthetic is so popular right now in places like Brooklyn. The 1920s were so great right?
But for Japan, its nostalgia is for a different time and place, which is what makes it so compelling. I know of no other similar scenario where one culture/country fetishizes another culture/country so intensely, so perfectly and so beautifully. It’s amazing.
And while it makes me sad to see all that whiskey go, at least someone is truly enjoying it.