This just in from first-time contributor Hachig ("Mike") Hagopian, SDHP volunteer, Melbourne office:
Until recently, I was never able to understand the Japanese obsession with makoto (authenticity, truth or genuineness) in the arts. You see, I come from a culture where the concept of sincerity is derided as artless and naive, while its opposites-- irony and artifice-- are regarded as requisites for high art.
However, recently I've come to realize that my prejudice toward makoto was the result of a failure to see how the binary relation between "art" and "life" functions differently in Japan. In Japan, life is what is artificial. It seems, no doubt, that there is at least some truth to the stereotype that Japanese social behavior is ritualistic, and that, in many cases, one's pre-written life-script is simply handed to him. One's social interactions, career choice, political affiliations, even personal relationships seem to involve very little of what we in the western liberal democracies like to call "choice." (Whether our "choices" are any "realer" or more available is, of course, debatable.)
At the risk of overgeneralization, there seems to be a common understanding among the Japanese that life itself is false, or at the very least, a performance; and thus it was perhaps inevitable that art would become a kind of refuge into life's opposite, makoto. This is the exact inversion of our (mis?)perception in the west that lived experience is what is natural and real, and art is what is, by definition, artificial.