Hierarchy Design @ Japan

This article is about a subject I have thought over for many years, and when I ask myself why are Japanese so detail conscience and how in the west we miss it?

Thinking more about it I found different ways to explain and define their inspiration. In general, Japanese culture is based on numerous significant denominators, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Japanese have a deep sense of appreciation for aesthetics as they play a role in almost all parts of society, and does process, a central theme throughout Japan. Achieving more beauty requires the understanding of simplicity, efficiency and only through frequent study and a disciplined practice you can achieve extraordinary results.

It is quite easy to understand when you look back at Japanese history to see the importance of symbols and how they play a role. Japanese daily life and their connection to mother nature influences daily life.

Think of Japan as an island, and when you travel in rural Japan it becomes more and more apparent. Take Sugimoto a well-known Japanese photographer, he has a series of seascapes that are based on the effect of emptiness. He explains that a view of a boat less ocean is one of the few things left in the world that we can experience in the same way that our primitive ancestors would have experienced millenniums ago. The image of a vast body of water, a horizon, sky and rising sun.


We see how tradition and craftsmanship influenced the evolution of Japan and still today there are enough people who respect and admire the importance of tradition. Things such as ikebana, noh theater are still resonating in Japanese minds. These celebrations are often influenced and based on the significance of the lunar calendar. Even items such as the Kabuto Samurai helmets seem antiquated but are still considered by many to ward off the harmful forces.

In Japan, the detail comes first of foremost from the historical importance of dedication integrity and respect for tradition. The dedication to craftsmanship can be seen in the amount of detail used to create the Kabuto, made from more than /25/ pieces all perfectly handcrafted.

This is where it begins, the dedication and importance of relying on, and preserving tradition without compromise in their beliefs. Take Shinto, and the idea of the Ise Jingu shrine which is taken down and rebuilt every 20 years in precisely the same way. The old shrines are dismantled and new ones built on an adjacent site to exacting specifications every 20 years so that the buildings will be forever new and forever ancient and original. The present buildings, dating from 2013, are the 62nd iteration to date and are scheduled for rebuilding in 2033.

But the Japanese go one step further, as they define beauty through commitment to their own individual commitment to beauty, sincerity and honesty. The pursuit of perfection and the interpretation of symbols and ornaments. Ise Jingu is one of those examples where the small details here are combined to represent the importance of the celebration, and not just the holiday. The shrine buildings are made of solid cypress wood and use no nails but instead joined wood. The shrine buildings at Naikū and Gekū, as well as the Uji Bridge, are rebuilt every 20 years as a part of the Shinto belief of the death and renewal of nature and the impermanence of all things and as a way of passing building techniques from one generation to the next. 

Then the significance of routine practice and repetition to perfect individual technique is in part the art of Budo. But consider in Japan even though individual importance helps rise self-esteem, group performance is equally, or more important.

I always explain to foreigners about the mental attitude of martial arts, and only though study, practice, commitment and dedication you can elevate your skills and ways of life. If you think about it, Budo is like the routine of western religion, except it isn’t focused on the belief in one single god. However, each time all the moves are always precisely same, there is little room for improvisation and margin of error. The etiquette of all Budo is based on humility, mindfulness and the idea of superior knowledge, the idea of formulating propositions, subjecting them to philosophical critique and then following a “path” to realize them.

Take Japanese archery as an example and the focus of Yabusame a traditional art of firing an arrow on a 60km galloping horse. These kinds of commitment to routine practice, relying on the routine discipline of both a physical and metaphysical exercise helped Japanese go deeper into detail. The analyzing of process, combining understanding and the prominence of expression via pictures. Dissecting each element to combine them through a clear path of understanding.

We can only improve detail by visual study, and understanding how pictorial thinking influences us we begin to understand more about process. Undoubtedly, Japanese have studied how technique influences the development and improvement of what we do. It is clearly easier to remembers something once you’ve seen it, and practiced repeatedly with the intention of improving the very detail of a single movement. Karate, Judo, Kendo or Iaidō arts, are all based on a collection of predetermined movements. It is clear only through replication, attention to detail and practice you can improve.

There is a core practice shared by all Japanese, including Japanese carpenters, a well-defined vocabulary of tools and joints, a methodology of working, a carpenter will typically identify with one of four distinct carpentry professions. Miyadaiku is a practice the construction of Japanese shrines and temples, and are renowned for their use of elaborate wooden joints and the fact that the buildings they construct are frequently found among the world’s longest surviving wooden structures. Teahouse and residential carpenters, known as sukiya-daiku  are famed for their delicate aesthetic constructions using rustic materials. Furniture makers are known as sashimono-shi, and interior finishing carpenters, who build shōjiand ranma, are termed tateguya.

So, it all boils down to dedication, knowledge, practice and the intensity of commitment to pursue excellence, a common theme in Japan. A thoughtful focus on the development of a hierarchy by defining process and detail. In the west, we leave to much up to individual interpretation, and in the end a freedom of expression is what we consider the single most important attribute in the west. That’s a sacrifice over a philosophy.

However, I am afraid to say young Japanese are losing their tradition becoming more and more westernized caught up in the idea of convenience. If the Japanese would close off to the west, the same when Sakoku occurred, the isolationist foreign policy of the 17th century Japanese Tokugawa shogunate almost closed 100% relations and trade between Japan and other countries. Nearly all foreigners were barred from entering Japan and the common Japanese people were kept from leaving the country for a period of over 220 years. That would fix the problems.