But I pose the question: “Why do the Japanese seem to erase the physical structures of the past rather than preserve them? Do the Japanese have a sense of nostalgia?” The West is a sentimental culture, in which one society uses previous ones as a point of reference. The West’s notion of progress inherently presumes that society is always building upon the past, like layers of sedimentary rock. So the Romans looked to ancient Greece, the Renaissance states looked to ancient Rome, and so on. The pantheon and Parthenon remain potent and well-preserved symbols of their civilizations. But the Japanese, rather than pamper their patrimony, have the habit of tearing down temples, shrines or massive gates that are hundreds of years old, only to immediately construct replicas.
“The ideal form of beauty for the Japanese is the cherry blossom,” says the Japanese fund manger, in perfect American-accented English. “It is temporary, impermanent. It is beautiful, but quickly disappears.” I accept his polite reply, but know that there must be more to it.
From The Economist.