East Or West? Japanese Counsel General Recounts Country’s Changes

Akira Chiba, the counsel general of Japan in Los Angeles, discussed the clash of cultures and the impact on Japanese identity on April 18, 2018, in the Hilton Center for Business Auditorium. His focus was the history and impact of the Meiji Restoration on Japanese culture and global influence, in the lecture presented by the Center for Asian Business D.K. Kim Lecture Series.

“The Meiji Restoration basically Westernized Japan,” said Chiba, “So, are we the West, or are we the East? And that’s a question the Japanese have been asking ourselves for a long time, and I don’t think we still have an answer there.”

Chiba, the son of a Japanese naval officer stationed near Hiroshima during World War II who later joined the Foreign Ministry, is a third-generation diplomat with an education from University of Tokyo, Peking University, and UC Berkeley. Chiba has since served as the counsel general of Japan in Los Angeles for the past two years.

In “150 Years of Meiji: Japan’s Response to an Uncharted Era,” Chiba explained the history of American influence in Japan in transitioning from an isolationist shogunate to an internationalist parliamentary country in 1868. He cited specific historic events building on top of the initial Reformation, such as the Russo-Japanese War and the U.S. occupation following World War II. The discussion then turned to how such events have affected Japanese culture in the present era, with a politically Western and culturally Eastern set of customs and beliefs, and also the stronger expression of Japanese culture by expats abroad.

“The question of identity is something very, very important,” Chiba elaborated.

Chiba went on to show the dimensions of present-day Japan in terms of being connected in a complex capitalist economy, engaging in practices like buying American-made cars under German brands and appealing to growing markets in China and the U.S.

“It’s modernity in tradition or tradition in modernity,” Chiba said while discussing the logo for Japan House, a cultural organization dedicated to showing Japanese culture through multiple exhibitions, noting specifically the hub location in Los Angeles along Hollywood Boulevard.

Chiba then opened the room up for questions following the lecture, touching on topics like Japan’s current defense policy and attitudes toward its neighbors.

Click here to access the full webcast of the presentation.

Reporter Cristobal Spielmann is a first-year double major in film and TV production and environmental science.