Weblio about like many Japanese people

Fascination Japan: Interview with folklorist Dr. Constanze N. Pomp

Miss Dr. Pomp, what connects you with and what fascinates you about Japan?

First of all, I am on a personal level, i. H. family connected to Japan, as my brother is married to a Japanese woman. I also maintain regular contact with Japanese friends. In general, I am amazed by the culture and breathtaking nature of Japan.

What motivated you to learn the Japanese language?

My motivation to learn the Japanese language also comes from my family. Since my sister-in-law's family spoke neither English nor German, it was important for me to be able to speak to them directly. So I started learning Japanese seven years ago and have since completed several language courses. I am currently refreshing my knowledge with an online course at the Japanese Cultural Institute in Cologne, which offered language courses via Zoom due to the corona pandemic. Everything was very well organized and worked extremely well.

In the Japanese language, onomatopoeia, i.e. onomatopoeia, play a major role. Can you give examples?

The Japanese make extensive use of onomatopoeia. New onomatopoeia are constantly emerging, all of which are understood and perceived identically. Basically there are different forms of onomatopoeia based on the description of noises, the nature of an object or the nature of an action. Other forms express feelings, impressions or movements.

Giseigo, for example, imitate animal or human sounds. There are differences to Germany here. While we have a dog barking “WauWau”, for my little niece it barks “wanwan” in Japanese.

Giongo, on the other hand, reproduce noises from nature. The Japanese have a large vocabulary that expresses the various natural phenomena. There are more than fifty different expressions for rain alone. Zāzā describes heavy rain, kopokopo gentle bubbling of water, bassha splashing water. In German, rain is described metaphorically, such as "it rains in streams" or "it rains like it is pouring out of buckets". The love of nature is reflected in Japan in a broad literary expression.

Why is German culture and workmanship particularly valued in Japan?

This year Germany and Japan are celebrating their 160-year friendship. The exchange officially began with the signing of the friendship and trade treaty between Japan and what was then Prussia on January 24, 1861 in Edo. Ten years ago - on the occasion of the 150-year relationship - a large special exhibition entitled “Distant Companions” was shown in the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museums in Mannheim.

The appreciation is based, among other things, on the role Germany played for Japan on its way into the modern age. In the second half of the 19th century, when Japan tried to learn from the West in the sciences such as law, medicine and natural sciences or music, but also economically, many influences came from Germany. These cultural transfers contributed to the creation of a very positive image of Germany in Japan. I still experience this today with Japanese friends, with whom Germany enjoys an extremely good reputation, especially in terms of technical quality and reliability of industrial products, as well as in terms of research. When it comes to consumer goods, the Japanese like to buy the German brand image “Made in Germany”, which for them symbolizes a certain luxury.

In return, since the opening towards the end of the 19th century, many people were fascinated by Japanese culture. The term Japonism describes the Japanese style influences on the occidental sense of art. In Europe, for example, this can be seen in art movements such as Impressionism, Art Nouveau and Expressionism. This year the Japan Art Festival will take place in Berlin from April 16 to 18. The exhibition, which also presents haiku, shows traditional and contemporary works of art from over 160 years.

The close connection is also expressed in loan words taken from the German language. Which German loan words are there in Japanese?

Due to the cultural contact with other nations, Japan necessarily had to either create its own terms or “Japaneseize” those originally available. As already explained, many Japanese traveled to Prussia in the 19th century in order to e.g. B. in medicine, at the same time foreign scholars were brought to Japan. German knowledge and knowledge of medicine formed the basis for training, research and teaching in Japan for around 30 years. As a result, German technical terms flowed into the Japanese language and were adopted. Examples of German loanwords are ope for operation or mesu for surgical knife.

The German word “Arbeit” also has its Japanese equivalent in the term arubaito, which denotes a mini-job. While skyping, a Japanese friend showed me sausages from the Japanese butcher brand Nipponham, which sells them under the label “Schau Essen”. Particularly popular words include haimāto, meaning home, or gemyūtorihi (cosiness) and of course terms that go along with the Christmas season, such as Baumukūhen (tree cake), shutōren (stollen) or Guryūwain (mulled wine), are represented in Japanese. Overall, many German loanwords can be found in Japanese.

What does it mean that it is mainly nuances that determine how Japanese people communicate?

The European way of communicating directly is alien to the Japanese and can therefore quickly lead to misunderstandings. In Japanese, many things are left unsaid. There is the term kūki wo yomu; What is meant here is the request to “read the air” in order to decipher and understand a message. The expectation here that communication functions non-verbally and that the meaning is derived from hints or from the context plays a role. Of course, the Japanese understand what their interlocutor means, even if he expresses himself very indirectly. This type of Japanese communication goes beyond what we mean in Germany when we mean “reading between the lines”.

Ichi wo kikeba, jū wo shiru is a Japanese proverb and means: hear one, understand ten. Here, too, it should be expressed that the other person feels obliged to access information independently, even if it has not been explicitly discussed.

The Japanese language is very subtle and complex. Can you explain this with an example?

In the German language, the personal pronoun "Ich" is absolute and unchangeable. In Japanese there are more than 20 different expressions for the term “I” alone. These are used depending on the specific situation, i. H. here the term can be changed and is adapted by the speaker to the respective circle of life. In a conversation, the use of the respective term for “I” can be used to determine in which linguistic context it is to be classified, or what attitude my respective interlocutors take towards me.

Is it true that people there live the “and” instead of the western “either / or”?

Japan has an excellent command of the art of "both and". By that I mean, nothing has to be mutually exclusive. Old traditions and modern technology, the utmost courtesy, J-Pop, anime, geishas, ​​machines, flickering billboards face each other on an equal footing, the list could go on indefinitely. On the one hand there is a flood of media influences, on the other hand we find a sense of beauty that is reflected in an unbiased joy in traditional arts, such as B. Kabuki, Nō theater, tea ceremony, calligraphy, origami, ikebana. It is these supposed contradictions that make Japan lovable and at the same time inspiring. Very modern, but still connected to tradition. Quiet, but still shrill. In Japan you can observe this coexistence very well, without the contradictions of an either / or.

What does Wabi-Sabi mean in Japan?

When I ask my Japanese friends to explain what they mean by wabi-sabi, it is difficult for them. In Japan it is reflected in many facets of everyday life, culture and society. The concept of Wabi-Sabi corresponds closely to Zen Buddhism. Wabi means the feeling that goes hand in hand with discovering the beautiful in simplicity. Sabi refers to a deep, silent beauty that only reveals itself over time. I would define it like this: It is a way of life how the world is looked at and the beautiful is perceived. Wabi-Sabi means appreciating the imperfect, accepting the impermanent, and being content with what we have. The message is associated with it: Ware tada taru o shiru. Which means in a figurative sense: Rich is who is satisfied. This includes enjoying the little things in everyday life, slowing down and being aware of the moment. It should inspire to see the good and the beautiful in all things. A well-known example of wabi-sabi is kintsugi.

Can you explain that in more detail?

Kintsugi is a craft method known since the 15th century to restore a broken object. Much can be read about the Japanese appreciation of things from this traditional skill in repairing broken pottery. The specialty of Kintsugi is that the repair is not carried out in such a way that the break points appear as inconspicuous as possible. Rather, the breaks in the paint are emphasized by using gold pigments instead of concealing them. Accordingly, the term Kintsugi is derived from the words kin, gold, and tsugi, connection, i.e. gold connection. The individual steps in the recovery process require great patience and care. The repaired object symbolizes in its imperfection. Authenticity and is characterized by its beauty in the ephemeral. The laborious process of restoring and “breathing” new life into a broken object means that the object's value is immeasurable.

To what extent is the view of Wabi-Sabi reflected in the “Japandi” furnishing trend?

Let me first explain the term: In Japandi, also known as Japanordic, the Japanese and Scandinavian living styles are combined. This furnishing trend can be described as an expression of a state of mind that follows a certain aesthetic concept. We see here a connection between Wabi-Sabi and Hygge. The Japanese elements are evident in the use of dark woods as well as low and simply constructed furniture, which is characterized by its multifunctionality. The Scandinavian influences are based on natural materials and natural tones.

Specifically, it is again about the beauty in the imperfect and the reduction to the essentials. The interior is determined by timelessness and unobtrusiveness. Minimalism and aesthetics are the motto, which means: furniture is limited to a few unique items, shelves are not overloaded, but are only sparsely arranged. Similar to ikebana, flower arrangements are an essential part of this furnishing style.

Ultimately, we see here again a cultural transfer that - as already explained - has its origin in the 19th century. Just like Germany, Denmark and Japan also cultivated lively trade relations. Japan still imports Danish furniture today, as the Scandinavian furniture style is very popular.

To person:

Dr. Constanze N. Pomp studied at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz as a master's degree in cultural anthropology / folklore as well as the minor subjects of book studies and Christian archeology & Byzantine art history. In 2014 she received her doctorate there and was teaching at the Institute for Film, Theater and Empirical Cultural Studies. From 2017 to 2019 she completed her academic traineeship at the TECHNOSEUM State Museum for Technology and Work in Mannheim. During this time she worked, among other things, on the conception of the major state exhibition in Baden-Württemberg “Ready? Come on! The history of sport and technology ”with. From 2018 to 2019 she was active in the traineeship working group of the German Museum Association (DMB). Since March 2019, she has been responsible for coordinating volunteers at TECHNOSEUM in the staff unit for groups of friends and volunteers.

About the author

Insider for business & management, sustainability, digitization, internet & technology

As a publicist, editor, blogger and sustainability expert, I dedicate myself to the visionaries of today and the designers of tomorrow. In 2018, I published the management book of the same name and the CSR volumes on digitization, the energy industry and sports management at the SpringerGabler publishing house.
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