Photobook of Japan  
 
8 April 2019
Dedicated to my loving wife, Lila



Japan has exerted a hold on the Western mind for centuries, ever since the Portuguese-sponsored Jesuits ventured out from Macao to the mysterious land east of China back in the 1540s, where they converted over 100 000 Japanese to Christianity. However, beginning in 1587, Christianity was banned by the military rulers as being a threat to national unity.
    While the various shogunates were rivals, Japan’s ethnic homogeneity did not necessarily translate into political unity. It was not until the Meiji period, which started in 1868, that Japan began to realise the need to modernise to avoid being colonised by the West, as was happening elsewhere in Asia at the time.
Günther Komnick has captured this tension superbly between the modern and the ancient, how the two live side by side. Some would say that Japan’s dramatic transition to Western ways and industrialisation was far too rapid, and hence the world witnessed the rise of fascist militarism from the 1930s, and before. The culture of Japan had not enough time to catch up with the West and thus combined the forces of tradition and modernity in a dramatic, suicidal fashion in World War II. Japan was not alone in trying to bridge or accommodate the existential discomfort imposed from outside, but its engagement with the West had been perfected in such a way so as to uphold its ancient virtues, untarnished, thanks to centuries of self-imposed isolation.
    As you page through the intimacy and grandeur of Komnick’s heartfelt images you will see the splendours of a magnificent past, a refinement in taste, and an unceasing quest for aesthetic harmony. Bustling cities are contrasted with glimpses into the private sphere of people’s lives, their children, the pensive expressions on weather-beaten faces. You’ll see age-old crafts being practised, the ceaseless striving for artistic perfection and a reverence for detail.
    Although Japan has embraced a nigh futuristic environment and frame of reference, it has a deep respect too for that which cannot be neglected: traditions, skills and a spiritual turn of mind. This has rendered the country, despite the devastation wrought by World War II, an example to many and one of the technological and economic giants of our age.
Dr Wilhelm Snyman, Auckland, New Zealand, 2019