Monday, November 3, 2014

Culture Day

Today is Culture Day in Japan.  Culture.  That's what I do.  That's my "job." My job is to make culture.

But what is culture, and why does it warrant having a holiday?  From what other aspect of life is it divided?  What isn't considered culture?

Maybe business, economics, math, medicine, politics, any job requiring labor.  Jobs that are done for the sake of income, for the sake of saving lives, governing people.  Maybe these are the jobs that are not celebrated on Culture Day.

But are the real world and the world of culture really so separate?  Perhaps they are and perhaps that is why it is good to have a day to reflect on what culture is; what it means to society, what it means to us personally.

I just finished a book about Abraham Lincoln, and the prevalence of death in the Civil War and in life in general during that time of history is astounding.  Life was filled with death.  It was all around Lincoln, personally and professionally, as it was with any other person alive during that time.  To live was to be with death.

Today we are lucky that to a greater extent, we need not be so surrounded by death.  Medicine allows us to live through infections and childbirth more easily, quality of life makes us healthier and stronger in general.  But death is still real.  We are mortal and as humans we know that.

Throughout his life, during his presidency, even on the worst days of the war with thousands of casualties occurring, Lincoln still recited and read poetry and Shakespeare.  He frequently attended the theater, which he loved.  People thought it strange that someone with such a laden job could take pleasure in such things.

If culture can give us anything, I think it can help us open the space between birth and death.  It can remind us that there is more than survival to living.  Sometimes it seems frivolous, but if we reduce ourselves to the bookends of life, we have lost a great deal of value to the time that we are here.  It is terribly important that we appreciate the act of play, the act of reflection, the act of pleasure.  These are what culture and can remind us of.  What else is there in living?

As a musician, though I am a part of the "culture world," I realize how often the approach to our art is nothing like what I imagine the value of culture to be.  It is a job.  It is about survival, making money, having a career, feeling safe.  It is possible to do culture in a non-cultural way.

And so too is it possible to perform any other "non-cultural" task in a cultural way.  I think the heart of culture's value is the realization of how beautiful it is to be living.  Anything that we do while we are alive can be filled with this.  Whether is it saving a life, holding a child, solving a math equation, watching the rain, delegating work responsibilities; all of these things are part of being alive.  Poetry, literature, theater, music, art, dance, philosophy–they all exalt the most human parts of living; the feelings and sensations of being alive.

I think culture can be a way to concentrate the realization of living.  It is so easy, no matter what our profession–cultural or otherwise–to become focused on the act of survival, to take life so seriously that our grip suffocates it.  It seems the line which divides culture from the rest of the world is mistakenly drawn:  it is not between the arts and the sciences, philosophy and economics, literature and politics; it is rather a perspective on the act and purpose of living.  And it is not a line, but a practice.

So what is culture and what does it mean?  Today in Japan–and perhaps it can be shared with the rest of the world–we are given an opportunity to reflect upon it, to show our appreciation for it, to enjoy some manifestation of it.  It is an invitation to bring some culture into our lives.  May we take culture very seriously; it is part of our vitality, what makes us human, what makes us living.  It is so easy to take these things for granted, but it is so important that we not.  Today, we have a reminder, a marker for their importance.

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