A couple weeks ago, I walked into a Starbucks store in Kobe. While I was waiting in line, a staff came around offering new beverage – Azuki Matcha Latte. Azuki Matcha Latte, as the name suggests, is a hot latte beverage made of green tea, red beans, and steamed milk. Although I didn’t end up buying it, I was awed by the creativity and originality of Starbucks Japan. Yet this is not the only limited-edition sort of drink created by Starbucks Japan. Twice a year or so, the company launches a number of drinks unique to Japan: the popular Sakura beverage series that comes out every spring, the regular Green Tea Cream Frappuccino, and this season’s special Soy Houjicha Tea Latte.
Starbucks’s such attempts to blend in the Japanese culture into their worldwide recipe is one daily life example that demonstrates the peaceful fusion of foreign and local culture. In this time of globalization, as we all hear repeatedly, there are increasing clashes between local culture and the massive influx of foreign culture. In many parts of the world, this foreign culture is often from the west, America in particular. Some worry that this expansion of global cultural hegemony – of the US, for example – will uproot the traditional local values.
The concern holds true, but only to a certain extent. It is undeniable that historic traditions are now no longer of daily routine but of special events; that time-honored traditional values are indeed no longer as rigorous or revered as they were in the past. However, I think the Starbuck examples show the successful cases in which global forces did not take over local culture but rather, were peacefully incorporated into it.
As James L. Watson says, we – as a culture or nation – maintains our self-agency that ‘filters’ such global forces. How strong or resilient the filters are, it depends. Global forces from the outside transforms what is inside, just like we see Starbucks standing in the middle of Gion, Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. But at the same time, what is inside changes how this outside force is going to be accommodated, just like we see Green Tea Frappuccino.
The possibly disastrous forces of culture hegemony can be – and are – absorbed into local practices, resulting in distinctive fusion. When Starbucks Japan’s board of directors approved the idea of Azuki Matcha drink, it was probably purely for business purposes. But the chain of thoughts behind the decision that it would be profitable was that the drink contains uniqueness of Japan. So next time when you are at a Starbucks cafe, why not try this small drink with some very significant meaning? 🙂
by KyungYeon Chung