When and How did cultural interchange (crosscurrent) between Japan and the U.S start?


This article is a part of my essay for the class which I took in fall 2017.

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These days, Japan and the United States have a strong and historical connection with each other, so it is true that they have influenced on each other.


When and how did the cultural crosscurrent between Japan and the U.S begin?

In the 1600s Japan was Sakoku (鎖国). Sakoku literally means “Chained Country,” and was a policy of seclusion from the rest of world. It was adopted by the federal government by the Tokugawa (徳川) Shogunate in the Edo period for the purposes of security against threats by European countries. From that time on Japanese came to have conservative political views, which made Japan isolated from other countries. But in the 1840s educated Americans knew very little about the developments in Japan at that time. “Hardly any Americans could speak or read Japanese, and the handful who did learned it without the help of textbooks, dictionaries, or even grammar book.” (Peter 8) Japan was also in the same situation. Because of Sakoku, there were not any English users in Japan.

But the Tokugawa government promulgated the Third Seclusion Order in 1635. This order stated that the Tokugawa government allowed the Netherlands to trade with Japan from 1635, and the Netherland was the one western country that was allowed to trade with Japan. From 1635 many books written in English and Dutch came into Japan and then many books written by Japanese also expanded all over the world through the Netherlands. Thus, more and more people came to speak and use English in Japan. In recent years, more and more people have come to use and read Japanese in the United States. Though at that time there was no relationships between Japan and the United States, cultural influence and crosscurrents had started from 1635 in the aspect of language.

While the United States was getting to know about Japan, “a new vision of the United States as a future commercial and naval power in the Pacific was probably the most powerful force propelling the Americans toward the opening of Japan and then Commodore Perry made his first visit to Japan in the summer of 1853 for opening Japan.” (Peter 10-12) Some American’s approaches to Japan finally made Japan open the country in 1854.

After the Edo period (chained country)

After the Edo period which was governed by the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Meiji period (明治時代)began in 1868. Then modernization and industrialization began. It was called “The Meiji Restoration”(明治維新)in Japan. It was the recovery of the imperial prerogatives in the late 19th century which brought feudalism and the shogunate system to an end. At that time, not only technologies but also culture came into Japan from some Western countries including the United States. This was the first time for Japan to accept other countries’ culture. In particular, the style of clothing changed rapidly. In a picture of The Iwakura Mission of 1871 which was Japanese diplomatic journey around the world by the oligarchs of the Meiji period, all Japanese men except Iwakura wore not Wafuku (和服) which literally means Japanese – clothes, but rather a black suit.


Japanese food culture also changed. Some Japanese foods which are known all over the world were made in the time period, for example, Sukiyaki (すき焼き). For a long time, Japan didn’t eat animal meat because most Japanese held the Buddhist belief that their bodies would become impure by eating animal meat. This was a very surprising change for Japanese. Imagine if Hindu people suddenly starting eating beef? When people made sukiyaki they did not use any Western spices. Instead of spice, they used Miso (味噌), Soy sauce (醤油) and Sugar which were used as Japanese seasoning in order to adapt to Japanese culture. This is like how the California roll was made in the United States as a type of sushi which agrees with Americans’ palate. This was a period when traditional Japanese culture changed amazingly.

During WWII, Japan became very conservative again. They excluded all American culture such as English language and the living style and food associated with the United States. The relationship between the United States and Japan temporarily stopped and cultural interchange and crosscurrents disappeared. However, Japan was defeated in the War, and then the American occupation of Japan started from 1945. The United States changed many social systems of Japan such as language and the Japanese Constitution in order to collapse Japanese imperialism. After American occupation of Japan, cultural interchange and crosscurrents between Japan and the United States became active again quickly. Many aspects of Japanese culture were Americanized. Japanese call this situation Americanization. For example, food. Japan was not familiar with fast food at that time, however, a lot of fast food chain stores such as McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken came into Japan. Japanese Food service Association says that now the number of fast food chain stores in Japan is more than 17,129. It would be an understatement to say that Americanization had changed Japanese food style amazingly.


Recent moving of J-POP which is called “Cool Japan”

The pop culture crosscurrent between Japan and the United States has started recently. For example, “Anime and Manga culture”. These Japanese subcultures reflect the influence of comics, television, movie and animation which came into Japan from the United States after 1945. It is said that the market size of Manga (漫画) is two billion four hundred million dollars and the market size of Anime (アニメ) is thirteen billion five million dollars all over the world. (THE SANKEI SHINBUN 1).

J-POP also had an influence on the culture of the United States. Thanks to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu who is a famous J-POP artist in Japan, Japanese Kawaii culture (Kawaii means cute and pretty) is expanding throughout the world, including, of course, in the United States. A famous singer named Avril Lavigne made a song called “Hello Kitty” about Kawaii culture. In the song, she used not only English but also Japanese. And she introduces and enjoys some Japanese culture including Kawaii culture. Now that Hello Kitty is like a symbol of Kawaii culture. It is famous and popular among many American celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. Thus it is said that Hello Kitty herself has become a celebrity. Hello Kitty came to the United States in 1976, and by the 2000s, she started to collaborate with other brands that are popular in the United States such as Swarovski to expand her business. These aspects of Japanese culture have all blended with American pop culture and become popular in both countries. This is a cultural crosscurrent.

People call this sort of crosscurrent “Cool Japan” (クールジャパン) in Japan. Now even the Japanese government is promoting “Cool Japan”. “Cool Japan” includes Japanese fashion, manga, anime, pop culture, Japanese food, and even traditional crafts, and they have all had an influence on other countries’ cultures. I think this crosscurrent will continue because in this diverse world Japanese culture is unique and has originality. Japanese culture was affected by U.S culture, but it evolved by itself in Japan.


The influence and crosscurrent between the United States and Japan started more than two hundred years ago. At first, the exchange was one sided. American culture had an influence on Japanese culture, while Japanese culture hardly had an influence on American culture. However, these days, some Japanese culture which was affected by the United States is having an impact not only in the America but all over the world. The cultural crosscurrents have started.

Works Cited

・Hirobe Izumi, “Japanese pride, American prejudice”, Stanford, 2001

・Peter Duus, “The Japanese discovery of America: a brief history with documents” Bedford Books, 1997

・S. Dale McLemore “Racial and ethnic relations in America” 1994

・Sato Shin, Takano Toshihiko, Fumihiko Gomi, Yasushi Toriumi, “詳細日本史研究” YAMAKAWA SHUPPAN, 2008

・Japan Foodservice Association(JF) “the data of food – service industry in Japan” (http://www.jfnet.or.jp/data/m/data_c_m2016_01_1.html), 2016

・THE SANKEI SHINBUN (Newspaper) “Our World Japan” (http://www.sankei.com/economy/news/161017/ecn1610170048-n1.html) , 2016