Are the Japanese becoming more sophisticated? Wine consumption is on the rise, in my neighborhood alone there are now three French bistros where once, not so long ago, there were none.
In answering this question I realized that its premise is wrong in that it is misleading. It preposes that the Japanese have not been sophisticated all along.
Let us not forget that as an ancient and long-time isolationist nation, Japan is a uniquely rich place with regards to culture and history. As any decent sociologist will tell you, sophistication – and its trademarks – are directly informed by the cultural and historical precedents of a particular people or region.
With that said, what we might consider the pinnacle of sophistication in the West may have no meaning elsewhere.
I will be the first to admit that a French bistro seems more sophisticated to me than knocking back beers, high balls, and shochu with chain-smoking, drunk businessmen at an izakaya, but as with most things in Japan, all is not as it seems.
The sophistication if Japan is not inherent in food or drink nor even a certain activity but rather in the rich nuance surrounding such matters. The tea ceremony comes readily to mind where the end product is no more important than the ritual by which it is made. Now let us remember that some of the most expensive, award-winning, snobbiest wines are still made by having some people stomp grapes with their feet. Hardly a model for sophistication.
It is my contention that the Japanese are a tremendously sophisticated people – masters of the subtle hint, and easily misunderstood by those unable to distinguish the myriad nuances into which Japanese life is inexorably woven.