Log in

No account? Create an account
Slow Life and Semantic Architecture - click opera
February 2010
Tue, Mar. 30th, 2004 07:39 pm
Slow Life and Semantic Architecture

It began as an advertising slogan for the prefecture of Iwate in January 2001. 'Ganbaranai! -- Don't go for it!' By the following year the Slow Life movement had spread to Kakegawa, and by 2003 there was a 'Coalition of Slow Life Cities' across Japan. Slow Life Months were held by Tajimi City, Yasuduka and Gifu City. By May it had reached the Kansai region. The Slow Life movement's themes seem to have struck a deep chord in Japan.

'In the late twentieth century,' explains Japan For Sustainability, 'Japan valued and pursued the 'fast, cheap, convenient, and efficient' life that brought us economic prosperity. However, it also caused problems such as dehumanization, social ills, and environmental pollution. We would like to move forward, with the slogan "Slow Life," to achieve 'slow, relaxed and comfortable' lifestyles, and shift from a society of mass production and mass consumption to a society that is not hectic and does cherish our possessions and things of the heart.'

The Slow Life Manifesto contains eight suggestions:

SLOW PACE: We value the culture of walking, to be fit and to reduce traffic accidents.
SLOW WEAR: We respect and cherish our beautiful traditional costumes, including woven and dyed fabrics, Japanese kimonos and Japanese night robes (yukata).
SLOW FOOD: We enjoy Japanese food culture, such as Japanese dishes and tea ceremony, and safe local ingredients.
SLOW HOUSE: We respect houses built with wood, bamboo, and paper, lasting over one hundred or two hundred years, and are careful to make things durably, and ultimately, to conserve our environment.
SLOW INDUSTRY: We take care of our forests, through our agriculture and forestry, conduct sustainable farming with human labor, and ultimately spread urban farms and green tourism.
SLOW EDUCATION: We pay less attention to academic achievement, and create a society in which people can enjoy arts, hobbies, and sports throughout our lifetimes, and where all generations can communicate well with each other.
SLOW AGING: We aim to age with grace and be self-reliant throughout our lifetimes.
SLOW LIFE: Based on the philosophy of life stated above, we live our lives with nature and the seasons, saving our resources and energy.

Ryuichi Sakamoto picks up the theme:

'The current economic system has required people to be busy trying to achieve growth -- it's as though they're continually riding a bicycle. People have to do things fast to meet the demand for excessive efficiency. So there's no way to avoid doing things faster and faster. That's the system at the moment. I think it would be better if Japan became a beautiful third rate country. It would be nice if Japan was a place of delicious food, beautiful scenery, and abundant nature. If that were the case, I think it wouldn't matter if one had little money.'

Sakamoto used to be a Futurist, but I don't think what he's proposing in any way contradicts the theme of his early work. For there to be a future at all, we need to think about sustainability and conservation. What's more, Japan has always been a place where past and future are seductively intermingled; there's always the sense that the future might well contain ancient forms. One of my favourite Sakamoto tracks is a juxtaposition of kabuki yowls with techno sounds. More and more of the art I'm finding most impressive -- from the 'huts, treks, hikes, tents, plots and allotments' of Book and Heden to the scuffling, burbling field recordings of Alejandra and Aeron -- has some sense of slowness and greenery to it.

It's easy for me to tie this in with Shinto and its matsuri festivals marking the turning seasons, with the new folk movement (if you're in Berlin on 31st March do come to our Spring Patchwerk Party!), with Eno's ambient records and his Long Now Foundation, with books like Walkscapes: walking as an aesthetic practice by Francesco Careri, or with the ideas of Dr Nold Egenter an architectural anthropologist from Zurich who is perhaps the world's foremost authority on Japanese vernacular architecture.

I've only just discovered Egenter's writings, but already I sense that they tie in crucially and compellingly with shifts in my tastes and attitudes and will influence my thinking. His big theme is to do with the relationship between how we view the world and how we organize space. Egenter never lets us forget that folk cults are what determine the basic spatial forms of Japanese vernacular architecture. He says of the traditional Japanese house: 'The Japanese dwelling is always more or less a Shinto cult precinct and a Buddhist temple.' He sees a series of harmonious oppositions structuring space: the division, for instance, of 'high space' from 'low' in traditional Ainu houses -- they keep their high space for the anticipated yet unpredictable visit of a bear -- or the 'yamaguchi' mountain entrance gates which demarcate the Japanese village from the nearby mountain, taboo realm of spirits.

Egenter would agree with Iwate prefecture's new policy 'to conserve traditional wooden houses that stand in harmony with nature rather than to cut forests to make way for state-of-the-art buildings', but would want to stress 'human constructivity'. The sacred is consciously and humanly created in ways which are at once pragmatic and spiritual. The Shinto kami are not unreachable or ineffable, but touchably close, residing temporarily in human artefacts. 'Shinto cultic symbols made of plant materials, grasses, twigs and the like, assembled by primitive methods such as tying and plaiting, are pragmatic, they become the centre of certain ritual acts and are destroyed afterwards,' Egenter writes. He describes how a sacred tree can nevertheless be artificial and how ujigami-rituals all over Japan use artificial mountains which are no less sacred for their fakeness.

In a beautiful essay on the Japanese Garden Egenter writes:

'We find ourselves in a very mysterious domain. Just in front of our eyes, here, in these Japanese villages, very ancient cultural conditions erupt at these rites. What in separate terms we call art, philosophy and religion still form a unity in these cyclically rebuilt signs. Nietzsche would call this the 'eternal return of the origins'.'

No need to declare that 'slow life is back'. Just say 'life is back' and 'I back life'. Just lie back...


Tue, Mar. 30th, 2004 09:53 am (UTC)

I've never seen the like of the Edo-Tokyo Tatemono-En anywhere else in my limited travels.

also an outrageous flirt
Tue, Mar. 30th, 2004 10:47 am (UTC)

I remember, a year or two ago, hearing of a similar movement in Italy; I recall them being particularly keen on Slow Food.

Mr. Sean
Tue, Mar. 30th, 2004 10:52 am (UTC)
from megalopolis to minipopolis


Mourning Pearl
Tue, Mar. 30th, 2004 03:51 pm (UTC)

Thats very interesting, I'm gonna look more into it. I've always been fascinated by Japan and it's history and culture(s) and all the ideologies that have srpung from the place, though paradoxically the average Japanese citizen has to face a lot of horseshit within his or her lifetime usually lined with immense pressure. "Slow Life" (or any similar ideology, basically) looks to be a nice, "new" alternitave for them.

However you may want to read this, which basically says "This country is, at its very core, homogenized; it prides itself on it. Assimilation is not an option, it is an eventuality." He does speak of a slightly different topic but do you think anything "different" will have a chance in Japan to be such (an alternitave from the norm) and stay that way? To not become part of the homogenized force of Japan in spite of itself as happens to a lot of movements in Japan?

- Shan

Maybe I'm Dead
Tue, Mar. 30th, 2004 04:42 pm (UTC)
slow life as Occidentalism?

Sakamoto's quote:
"I think it would be better if Japan became a beautiful third rate country."

This sounds like a bit of nostalgia for the past. Is this a kind of conservatism?

Have you read or heard about this book on Occidentalism?


Tue, Mar. 30th, 2004 08:57 pm (UTC)
Re: slow life as Occidentalism?

I'm a big fan of Ian Buruma, in fact his book 'A Japanese Mirror' was one of the things that made me adore Japan for its quirks and particularities. But I do think his new book on 'Occidentalism' seems to be lumping everyone with a different vision of life together with fascists, losers and cranks. It seems to be buying into the Bush dictum of 'with us or against us'. I don't think Buruma would see Slow Life as Occidentalism, though. There are ways to be 'post-industrial' that the West will also eventually discover. They are not refusals of the West by losers, but refinements of the West by winners.

Just as Britain was the place for Marx to brainstorm Marxism (the most advanced industrial society of the time), so Japan is uniquely positioned for a study of 'What happens after the Endless Growth Model? What happens when people stop working blindly and actually look at quality of life issues and sustainability issues and, yes, spirituality issues?' Another place where these questions are being asked is in Continental Europe.

ReplyThread Parent

(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Wed, Mar. 31st, 2004 03:07 am (UTC)
Re: slow life as Occidentalism?

Yes, as a sort of protoleptic caveat Buruma (the same Buruma who once championed all that was most quirky about Japan!) says "Not all dreams of local authenticity and cultural uniqueness are noxious, or even wrong." That's not a particularly generous allowance, and yet the syntax leads us to expect further qualification, which duly comes in the form of: 'It is when purity or authenticity, of faith or race, leads to purges of the supposedly inauthentic, of the allegedly impure, that mass murder begins.'

Mass murder does not 'begin' in the quest for purity, though. Mass murder is, alas, one of the constants of human history. I find it extraordinary that Buruma, in this essay, speaks so much about a Kyoto conference of 1942 which sought to resist American influence, and yet speaks not at all of two instances of mass murder committed by Americans against the Japanese in 1945: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Were they conducted in the name of purity? No. They were, if anything, tests and demonstrations of new western technology and expressions of a certain ideology of pragmatism. ('This will save lives.') Do we now link the ideologies of pragmatism and technology to mass murder the way Buruma is linking purity and Occidentalism to mass murder? No, we do not. Perhaps only because we live in a world where these values seem to have won, and have therefore not (yet) been discredited. However, there is gathering evidence that they may not be harmless.

One day, Whimsy, I will make a list of all the things that annoy me about Japan. But I think you'll find that each one has a caveat, a big BUT. Asking me what I dislike about Japan is like asking me to slag off my wife. She has flaws, but I love her all the more for them.

ReplyThread Parent

Wed, Mar. 31st, 2004 10:24 am (UTC)
It's funny...

...to see the different ways a society accepts its irrelevance. The US and Japan are both super powers past their prime. If they were people, they'd be trying to keep their toupees on straight while driving a sports car. The US, however, has taken to bullying around younger, more virile countries to prove its waning self worth, while Japan is retreating into its own conservative narcisism (celebration of the past, meditation on how godly and harmonious their 'race' is).

By the way, some points that Egenter makes are bullshit. I've seen a whole lot of torii (Shinto gateways) and even some shrines made of concrete.


Mon, Apr. 5th, 2004 07:36 pm (UTC)
Japan as Number 9!

See the home page of the "Namakemono club" (Sloth Club)


Kyoto's gardens are one of the reason's I live here. I've
written a few amateur's thoughts with a friend. See:

We find a shinto/buddhist tree, though the interpretation
is that it is not so much symbolic as a perceptually
functional/operational structure.



(working slowly on a better of this)


Wed, Nov. 21st, 2007 11:20 pm (UTC)
testing this one...

thanks for the GREAT post! Very useful...

Thu, Jan. 21st, 2016 01:40 am (UTC)

it's Amazing :)