Sunday, July 06, 2008

Are You Chinese, Japanese, or Korean?

I'm currently reading Yasutaka Sai's book, The 8 Core Values of the Japanese Businessman: Toward an Understanding of Japanese Management. In his third core value, "Aesthetics and Perfectionism," Sai retells a story about three different Asian perspectives as to what is aesthetically desirable (pp. 55-56):

Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) was tea master to the leaders Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi and founder of the Sen school of tea ceremony. One bright autumn day, having invited guests for a tea ceremony, he ordered a young monk to clean the small temple garden. The monk swept up every fallen leaf and told Rikyu that the job was finished. The tea master glanced at the scene and stepped down into the garden. He gently shook two or three trees until a few dead leaves fell to the ground. "Now the stage is set for our guests," he said.

A south Korean intellectual has criticized this incident as typical Japanese affectation. He said that a Chinese would probably have left the garden clear of leaves, as the priest had cleaned it, and a Korean would have held the ceremony with all the fallen leaves just as they were, in their natural state, finding that truly beautiful.

So what are you? Is your aesthetic sense "Chinese," "Japanese" or "Korean?" (I do think that Singapore, being a Chinese-majority country, does have a Chinese sense of aesthetics.)


alajnabiya said...

Japanese I guess. "all natural" quickly becomes just plain messy, but too neat is sterile and unnatural. What an interesting way of looking at things.

JDsg said...

Yeah, I thought this was interesting as well. Even though I lived in Korea for a year, I didn't really think that they followed the Korean aesthetic as described in the passage. (Even though their streets were filthy by the end of the evening, they were always cleaned up spotlessly first thing in the morning.) While I like the Japanese aesthetic, I think I'd be too oblivious to notice that the few, scattered leaves were left there deliberately.