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Marie Kondo and the Life-Changing Magic of Japanese Soft Power

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A diminutive Japanese woman kneels, eyes closed, caressing a rug with open palms. She appears to be praying — to a house. She greets it, thanking it for its service.

The camera pans to her American hosts, Kevin and Rachel. Ensconced in armchairs, struggling to keep a straight face, they look a little like children in church — and in a way, they are. In her new Netflix series, the decluttering guru Marie Kondo is shown not just sprucing up people’s homes but also reimagining them as sacred spaces — channeling her experience as a former assistant at a Shinto shrine, along with the related belief that life, even consciousness, of a kind, courses through everything.

The series leans on Ms. Kondo’s nationality in other ways, too: The conspicuous presence of her interpreter helps to create the impression of a cultural chasm being effortfully but productively bridged; Ms. Kondo’s own energy and kindness is tinged with an artfully ill-concealed sadness at these desperate Americans, their homes and minds choked with trash. When her first book came out several years ago, Ms. Kondo’s publisher did much the same: To “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” it added the subtitle “The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” Readers would no longer be doing chores; they would be engaged in a cultural and possibly spiritual activity.

Marie Kondo is by far the most successful participant in a larger trend of the past few years: packaging inspirational but fairly universal lifestyle advice as the special product of Japanese soil and soul, from which Westerners might usefully learn. We’ve had “ikigai,” which translates as the familiar concept of value and purpose in life. We’ve had forest bathing, as though the soothing power of nature had not occurred to people like Wordsworth and Emerson. Such advice books may be having a moment, but they are not new. Rather, they’re the latest installment in a surprisingly old tradition: Japan and its culture marketed as a moderating force in a world otherwise overwhelmed by the........

© The New York Times