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This vintage film – originally titled as “Japanese Background Study Program, Part 3: Japanese Behavior” – is a documentary produced by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the intelligence agency of the United States during World War 2, and the predecessor of the modern Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It was released in circa 1943 and probably used as a training material for OSS agents.
The documentary tries to provide a basic understanding of the social, economic, political and religious aspects of Japanese culture and how they affect national and social behavior. It illustrates the old, new, and western influences on Japanese culture.
As the narrator states in the introduction, “we must know them [the Japanese] as they are. […] The people you see are like the rest of us – says the sociologists – trying to make ends meet and still get a little happiness out of life. No one can deny this truth about any human being anywhere on earth. However, differences crop up in human behavior the world over and our immediate job is to uncover and interpret the Japanese differences as well as the overall similarities as they appear in Japanese motion pictures made in the decade prior to 1941”.
The documentary contains scenes of old Tokyo, traditional Japanese gardens, home life, music, dance, Shinto religious customs, and agriculture. It shows theatrical performances, festivals and sport events such as wrestling, jiu-jitsu and horse racing. It emphasizes the order, ritual, and ceremonial discipline that pervade all phases of Japanese life. It also explains the hierarchy of social strata. Young Emperor Hirohito is shown at 23:50, riding in a ceremonial event.
BACKGROUND / CONTEXT
The culture of Japan has evolved greatly over the millennia, from the country’s prehistoric time Jomon period, to its contemporary modern culture, which absorbs influences from Asia, Europe, and North America. Strong Chinese influences are still evident in traditional Japanese culture as China had historically been a regional powerhouse, which has resulted in Japan absorbing many elements of Chinese culture first through Korea, then later through direct cultural exchanges with China. The inhabitants of Japan experienced a long period of relative isolation from the outside world during the Tokugawa shogunate after Japanese missions to Imperial China, until the arrival of “The Black Ships” and the Meiji period.
Shintoism is an ethnic religion that focuses on ceremonies and rituals. In Shintoism, followers believe that kami, a Shinto deity or spirit, are present throughout nature, including rocks, trees, and mountains. Humans can also be considered to possess a kami. One of the goals of Shintoism is to maintain a connection between humans, nature, and kami. The religion developed in Japan prior to the sixth century CE, after which point followers built shrines to worship kami.
Garden architecture is as important as building architecture and very much influenced by the same historical and religious background. A primary design principle of a garden is the creation of the landscape based on, or at least greatly influenced by, the three-dimensional monochrome ink (sumi) landscape painting, sumi-e or suibokuga. In Japan, the garden has the status of artwork.
Kabuki is a classical Japanese dance-drama. Kabuki theatre is known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers. Kabuki is sometimes translated as “the art of singing and dancing”.
A tea ceremony is a ritualized form of making tea practiced. The tea ceremony, literally translated as “way of tea” in Japanese, and “art of tea” in Chinese, is a cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of tea. The Japanese tea ceremony was influenced by the Chinese tea culture during ancient and medieval times, starting in the 9th century when tea was first introduced to Japan from China. The tea ceremony and ritual contain “an adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday life”, as well as refinement, an inner spiritual content, humility, restraint and simplicity “as all arts that partake the extraordinary, an artistic artificiality, abstractness, symbolism and formalism” to one degree or another.
Japanese Culture | World War 2 Era OSS Documentary | ca. 1943
NOTE: THE VIDEO REPRESENTS HISTORY. SINCE IT WAS PRODUCED DECADES AGO, IT HAS HISTORICAL VALUES AND CAN BE CONSIDERED AS A VALUABLE HISTORICAL DOCUMENT. THE VIDEO HAS BEEN UPLOADED WITH EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES. ITS TOPIC IS REPRESENTED WITHIN CONTEXT.