We all know them when we see them: those PBR-drinking, ironic-glasses-wearing, retro-fashion-sporting young cool kids. Hipsters. We like to think of hipsters as an American phenomenon, coming out of San Francisco or Brooklyn or Portland. But actually, you can blame hipsters all on the Japanese. What a lot of people don’t know is that the people we know today as hipsters all started way back in Japan.
This all dawned on me this weekend when I was reading the book The Dharma Bums. It’s one of the biggest books of the Beat Generation and talks about Japan constantly. But wait, let’s back up a bit and talk about the Beat Generation. What the heck is the Beat Generation?
The Beat Generation was a counter-culture movement in America after WWII. They refused to conform and were hip to the rest of America’s square. They were all about poetry and literature and music when a lot of Americans were about the Cold War and the American Dream.
The Beats were counter-culture, doing what everybody else wasn’t doing. They did this in a lot of ways, but a big part of that was religion and philosophy.
A lot of beats were into Japanese Zen Buddhism and really, all things Asian. To them, Eastern philosophy seemed to make more sense than Western philosophy at that time. To the Beats, Western philosophy seemed to be much too material and not enough spiritual.
Some of the Beats even went to Japan to study Buddhism in temples, calling themselves bodhisattvas.
Beatniks listened to obscure, cool music before anybody else did. They read those super interesting articles in underground zines long before today’s hipsters were writing their music blogs.
People even called beatniks “hipsters” back in the day. In hipster evolution, the Beat Generation is like the neanderthal to the modern-day hipster’s homo sapien. But if you want to track it back even farther than that, everybody knows that the Chinese are the real hipsters.
So next time you see some kid riding a fixed-gear bike wearing some cut-off jean shorts, just remember: blame Japan.