The World According to Japan

Japan World

One intriguing part of Japanese culture is the concept of the “world’s top three,” or 世界三大 (sekai sandai).

What are the world’s top three delicacies? Ask someone Japanese, and they’ll rattle it off as if everybody’s supposed to know: caviar, truffles, and foie gras. The world’s top three beautiful women? As everybody (in Japan) knows, they are Cleopatra VII, Yang Guifei, and Ono no Komachi. Since 世界三大 is supposed to be a list of items from “world culture,” Japanese people are often surprised that the rest of the world has never heard of this stuff.

There are dozens of these lists in Japanese culture: the world’s three major rivers, the world’s three major museums. Here’s the Wikipedia article about it. You’ll probably need Google Translate to read it, however, because even though this article is about “world” culture that everybody’s supposed to know, it has no English version — only Chinese.

In the Japanese text, the article admits that most of its authors are Japanese and that this idea of the “world’s top three” is “widespread only in Japanese culture.”

Predictably, many of the “top three” lists reflect an Asian bias. The world’s top three inventions? The printing press, the compass and gunpowder, of course. It’s just an amazing coincidence that two of these are from the East. (Would someone please tell me how the wheel got missed?) I suppose it’s similar to the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World in Western culture. The Greeks invented the list, so no wonder that five of the seven wonders are Greek.

It should be acknowledged that not everything in the Wikipedia article should be considered common knowledge among Japanese people. With many of these lists, (e.g. top utopian socialists, top aircraft engine manufacturers) you have to wonder who came up with this stuff.

I’m still recovering from the shock that Jimi Hendrix doesn’t even rank in the list of the world’s three greatest guitarists. Take a look at the list. What do you think? Who makes your “top three”?

Link via Google Translate:


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