Jump to: navigation, search

Japanese Culture

Revision as of 17:22, 20 May 2011 by Immortal Geisha (talk | contribs)

(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)

The culture of Japan has evolved over thousands of years from the prehistoric Jōmon period to its contemporary hybrid culture, which combines influences from Asia, Europe and North America. The country experienced a long period of isolation from the outside world between the Edo period and the Meiji period.



The rendering of text, using a brush and ink, known as shodō (書道, the way of writing) is a traditional art form as well as a means of conveying written information; handwriting continues to be seen as very important, and primary school students have regular lessons in brush calligraphy. Written works can consist of single characters, phrases, poems, stories, or (most commonly in the Edo period) entire novels. The style and format of the writing often relates to the subject matter. Calligraphy is an important element of several other pursuits, including arts like tea ceremony and religions like Buddhism.


Ikebana (生花, living flowers, also known as 花道 kadō, or the way of flowers) is the art of flower arranging. Traditional schools of ikebana focus on harmony, color, rhythm, and elegant simplicity. It is an art centered greatly on expressing the seasons, and is meant to act as a symbol to something greater than the flower itself. Ikebana was one of several arts, in addition to calligraphy and tea ceremony, that young women were encouraged to train in in preparation for marriage. Ikebana continues to be widely practiced in Japan, as well as around the world.

A variety of ikebana called chabana (tea flowers) is practiced in conjunction with tea ceremony. Chabana arrangements are intended for display in the tea room, and are a great deal simpler than most ikebana arrangements, often consisting of a single flower, or of three or five items. Chabana typically uses buds rather than fully open flowers.


Chinese papermaking was introduced to Japan around the 7th century[1] and the art of making Japanese paper, or washi, was developed from it. Washi plays an important role in Japanese culture. Among other uses it is used in various other arts, including calligraphy and tea ceremony; for writing letters; for wrapping gifts; and in the presentation of food.


Sculpture dates to the Jōmon period, when human-like figures called dōgu where made from clay. Japan is also known for Buddhist scultpures, often made of lacquered wood, including several giant figures of the Buddha.

Tea ceremony

Tea ceremony is a cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha, powdered green tea. A formal tea gathering lasts about 4.5 hours and includes a full-course traditional meal followed by confections, thick tea and thin tea.

Woodblock printing

Woodblock printing was used in traditional Japan both to produce images and to reproduce text. One genre, known as ukiyo-e (literally "pictures of the floating world"), exemplifies the characteristics of Edo-period Japanese art. Because these prints could be mass-produced, they were available to a wide cross-section of the Japanese populace, including those not wealthy enough to afford original paintings.


Originally heavily influenced by Chinese architecture, examples of traditional Japanese architecture include Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, tea houses, and castles.


Japanese cuisine (日本料理 nihon ryōri or 和食 washoku) includes traditional-style Japanese food, similar to that already existing before the end of the Edo period, as well as foods whose ingredients or cooking methods were subsequently introduced from abroad, but which have been developed by the Japanese. The Japanese foods best-known overseas are probably sushi, tempura, and teriyaki.

Japanese cuisine is known for its emphasis on seasonality[2] quality of ingredients and presentation. The Michelin Guide has awarded Japan more Michelin Stars than any other country: Tokyo alone has more than Paris, Hong Kong, New York, LA and London combined.[3][4] The healthy Japanese diet is cited as a factor in the famous longevity of Japanese people.

Japanese cuisine includes some ingredients that are considered unusual or even controversial in the West, such as insects, horsemeat, and whale and dolphin meat;[5] Japan is currently the world's largest consumer of whale meat.[6]


Japanese gardens were developed under the influences of the distinctive and stylized Chinese gardens.[7] Some of the Japanese garden styles most famous in the West are are dry rock gardens or karesansui, and the art of bonsai, or miniturized trees grown in shallow containers. The tradition of the tea masters has also produced highly refined gardens of quite another style, evoking rural simplicity. In Japanese culture, garden-making is a high art, intimately related to calligraphy and ink painting. Since the end of the 19th century, Japanese gardens have also been adapted to Western settings. Gardens in traditional styles can be found at private homes, tea houses, in neighborhood or city parks, and at historical landmarks such as Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and old castles.


Geisha are traditional entertainers, now exclusively female, trained in various classical arts like music, dance, and tea ceremony.


Main article: Japanese Language

Japanese is spoken by about 130 million people mainly in Japan but also in emigrant communities around the world. It is written with a combination of three scripts: hiragana, derived from the Chinese cursive script, katakana, derived as a shorthand from Chinese characters, and kanji, characters imported from China. The Latin alphabet, rōmaji, is also used in modern Japanese, especially for company names and logos, advertising, and when inputting Japanese into a computer. The Arabic numerals are generally used for numbers. Japanese has a complex system of politeness and honorifics.


Japanese literature includes works of fiction (such as novels), poetry (like haiku and waka), and theatre (such as Noh and kabuki). One of the world's earliest known novels is the Tale of Genji, written by a court lady known as Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th century, during the Heian Period, but the earliest works were created in the 8th century during the Nara period. These include the Kojiki (712), a work recording Japanese mythology and legendary history; the Nihon Shoki (720), a chronicle with a slightly more solid foundation in historical records than Kojiki; and the Man'yōshū (759), a poetry anthology.

Early works of Japanese literature were heavily influenced by cultural contact with China and Chinese literature and were often written in Classical Chinese. Indian literature also had an influence through the diffusion of Buddhism in Japan. In the early modern period Japanese literature developed in its own right, although the influence of Chinese literature and Classical Chinese remained until the end of the Edo period. Two Japanese writers have won the Nobel Prize for Literature: Kawabata Yasunari, in 1968, and Ōe Kenzaburō, in 1994.

Performing arts

The four traditional forms of Japanese theatre are noh, kyōgen, kabuki and bunraku.

Noh had its origins in the union of the sarugaku (literally "monkey music," a form of theatre popular during the 11th to 14th centuries) with music and dance.[8] Among its characteristic aspects are elaborate costumes and extremely slow, highly stylized gestures, sometimes accompanied by a fan that can represent other objects.

Kyōgen (狂言, literally "mad words" or "wild speech") developed alongside noh, and continues to be performed along with noh during intermissions between noh acts; therefore, it is sometimes designated noh-kyōgen. However, kyōgen is a comical form, and its primary goal is to make its audience laugh.

Kabuki (歌舞伎, literally sing, dance, and skill) appears at the beginning of the Edo period and is associated with the performances of a woman named Izumo no Okuni in Kyoto.[9] Kabuki retained strong links to prostitution throughout the Edo period, leading the government in 1629 to ban women from the stage, and professional kabuki is performed exclusively by men to this day. This led to the art of the onnagata, male specialists in portraying females on the kabuki stage. Another characteristic of kabuki is the use of distinctive makeup.

Bunraku puppet theatre (文楽, also known as ningyō jōruri 人形浄瑠璃) developed in the same period as kabuki but has its origins in the Heian period.[10]

Popular culture

Japanese popular culture is frequently linked to traditional culture. Popular films, TV programs, manga, music, and videogames all developed from older artistic and literary traditions, and many of their themes and styles of presentation can be traced to traditional art forms. Many Japanese anime and manga have achieved global recognition.

A wide variety of types of popular entertainments are available. Game centers, bowling alleys, and karaoke are popular hangout places for teens while older people may play shogi, go, or mahjongg in specialized parlors.


Japan has several indigenous sports and large numbers of participants in originally Western sports as well. Some methods that were used to train warriors in the medieval period have developed into well-ordered martial arts. Examples include archery (kyūdō), karate, and sumo, all of which were established in the Edo period. Baseball (currently the country's most popular sport), football, and other popular Western Sports were imported to Japan in the Meiji period. These are commonly practiced in schools along with traditional martial arts.

Traditional clothing

Main article: Wafuku

Kimono are the best-known traditional garments of Japan. Originally, the word kimono was used for all types of clothing, but eventually, it came to refer specifically to the full-length garment also known as the naga-gi, meaning "long-wear", that is still worn today by men, women, and children. Kimono and other items of traditional Japanese clothing are known collectively as wafuku, meaning "Japanese clothes." Other types of wafuku include the happi coat, tabi divided toe socks, and geta wooden sandals.

See also

Japanese etiquette


  1. Nihon Shoki, Chapter 22, 720.
  2. "A Day in the Life: Seasonal Foods", The Japan Forum Newsletter No.14 September 1999.
  3. "「ミシュランガイド東京・横浜・鎌倉2011」を発行 三つ星が14軒、二つ星が54軒、一つ星が198軒に", Michelin Japan, November 24, 2010.
  4. Tokyo is Michelin's biggest star From The Times November 20, 2007
  5. [1]
  6. [2]
  7. Encyclopædia Britannica. Garden and landscape design: Japanese.
  8. Noh and Kyogen: The world’s oldest living theater [3]
  9. Kabuki: A vibrant and exciting traditional theater [4]
  10. Bunraku: Puppet theater brings old Japan to life [5]

External links