Japanese Traditional Culture

What is Japanese culture in the first place?

There are several aspects to Japanese culture. There are cultural traditions that have been around for thousands of years but there also are more recent and modern cultures that constantly changes, like fashion and technology. These two aspects of Japanese culture is what makes Japan interesting and why so many tourists visit every year. This page will talk about Japanese culture. Japanese culture was formed by handing down customs, values, beliefs, and traditions, and it has been shared amongst society for years and is what makes Japan the way it is today.  Among them, traditional arts and crafts have been respected universally for a long period of time. Some of the local cultural traditions have been passed down from generation to generation through festivals, shrine activities, art and events. Other things, such as tools that were once used for everyday life, is now looked to as pieces of art with great value and the skills and techniques to create such work has been passed on as well. Since you are visiting Japan, we would like to introduce to you several Japanese cultural traditions that you should experience. 

Kabuki - A UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage

Kabuki is one of Japan’s most unique performances held in theaters. It is listed in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. From the Azuchi Momoyama period (1568-1600) to the early Edo period (1603-1868), rebels of society who had weird hairstyles and dressed strangely were called “kabukimono”. The history of kabuki can be traced back to Izumo no Okuni’s kabuki dance (she was supposedly the originator of kabuki theater), but the way the performers dress on stage is to mimic those rebels from the past. From here is when it started to be called kabuki. Kabuki inherited the spirit of this origin and during its 400-year history, kabuki has overcome many difficulties of the various eras, incorporated other entertainment methods and trends, and continued to adapt. You may think kabuki is just one type of performance but actually, it has over 400 types of genres!  

Can kabuki be enjoyed by first-timers? Why should you see kabuki in Japan?

When viewed from the perspective of the audience, there are a lot of “entrances” to kabuki’s diverse performances. Meaning, there are many triggers that will pull in the interest of the audience. Kabuki is normally thought to be a performance where you don’t understand what they are saying since they are speaking an old language, but that is only a portion of kabuki. Even if it is your first time seeing kabuki, once you get used to it, you should be able to enjoy it from your own point of view. However, without any sort of explanation, it may be difficult to know what to see and expect. Therefore, we recommend participating in this experience. 

How to Enjoy Kabuki

Swoon Your Way Into The Kabuki World

Noh, the Japanese version of Shakespeare 

Noh is also a type of theater. However, it is different from most types of theaters seen on TV or in movies. Noh is mainly dancing and music. The story is told through butoh dance movements with music called “utai” and musical accompaniment called “hayashi”. Surprisingly, Noh is more similar to musicals and operas. It is a form of Japanese performance arts that is known worldwide and it is normally about historical or religious stories that often end in a tragedy. Performers called “enja” use a Noh mask called “nomen” during the performance. Noh originated during the Nara period (710-794). Originally it was a performing art that came from across the continent and one of them was a form of theater called “sangaku” (or sarugaku). It consisted of acrobatics, pantomime, and dancing and was commonly performed in Japan, but unfortunately abolished during the Heian period (794-1185). After that, the performers fled to different regions and made their own communities, many of them conducted performances at temples during festivals, or performed around Japan on a tour. This became today’s version of Noh. 

Learn the Oldest Japanese Theatrical Art, Noh in Tokyo

Fuzokuga of the Edo period, ukiyo-e painting loved by all

Ukiyo-e is a type of art that started during the Edo period. The term ukiyo has a meaning of “modern”, “contemporary” and “elegance”, and it is an art form used to depict a certain generation. It is a comprehensive painting style that is a way to maintain cultural backgrounds and is often images of the day to day activities of people. Ukiyo-e art was a part of popular culture. It was held by hand, admired and loved. It is not like artwork today which you view and appreciate from a distance in a museum. The characteristics of ukiyo-e are the clear designs, bold compositions and having no shadows. The artwork often has many perspectives to it as well. Also, the ukiyo-e artwork was used as a historical document to explain the landscape, sights, lifestyles of people, and the culture of the past.

Welcome to the World of Ukiyo-e – Edo’s Popular Culture in the Early Modern Times

Ukiyoe Private Lesson

Calligraphy is a work of art but it is still essential today in Japan

Currently, in Japan, we mostly use pen or pencils to write letters or documents. Calligraphy is a Japanese tradition that uses a brush and ink to write characters and letters artistically. Calligraphy originally comes from China and it was introduced to Japan in the 6th and 7th century along with the brush, ink, and paper. Back then, aristocrats and samurai warriors had to learn how to do calligraphy as a part of their education. Calligraphy has several similarities to a lithograph as well. It is an art form that highly values how the letters are organized, how the brush is held, having the proper shade of ink, and the general balance of the work. Calligraphy is not just a type of art to be admired by others but is a Japanese lifestyle since many more people practice. Many Japanese people use the calligraphy brush and ink to write New Year’s letters to friends and families. 

JAPANESE CALLIGRAPHY

Japanese Tea Ceremony - not just about drinking tea, is about the communication between the host and the guest. 

Tea and Zen were brought from China to Japan by a Japanese priest during the Kamakura period(1185-1333) and that was when tea became widely popular nationally, along with Zen. The Japanese tea ceremony is a Japanese tradition where the host makes his/her own tea and provides it to the guests. In chado there are proper ways to accept the tea, sit, bow, and stand. Proper tea etiquette is followed so that the person making the tea can provide great service to guests and the guests can enjoy it in a respectful manner. A Japanese tea ceremony is a form of art that is not just about serving tea to guests and having guests drink it, but it is also about the spirituality and thought behind the tea ceremony, the selection of the utensils/pottery used, and the food served. The tradition of omotenashi is a belief in Japan that has passed on for generations and is an essential part of the tea ceremony. Omotenashi means to wholeheartedly look after guests. 

Why learn the Japanese tea ceremony in Japan?

First, you will experience the tea that the instructor has made along with a Japanese snack. It is not easy to make your own tea but with one on one practice with the instructor, you will be able to learn. Also, you need to understand that the movements, while drinking the tea and eating the snack all, have a deeper meaning. The way you walk, move your hands, and speak are all a part of Japanese customs so this experience will allow you to fully immerse in a Japanese tradition. In addition, the instructor will politely teach you the reasons behind each movement so you will understand the customs better. 

The Japanese Tea Ceremony

Step-by-Step Course in Matcha Tea Ceremony

Japanese flower arrangement, Ikebana was born from Buddhism

Kado (also called ikebana, which means flower arrangement) is a form of art which is an arrangement of plants or an arrangement that mixes plants with other materials beautifully. Ikebana has a long history. It is said that ikebana started during the ancient times when God would descend and plants would be given as an offering. After Buddhism was introduced in Japan, “kyoka” (flower offerings) were given to Buddha and this is how kado originated. In kado, it is important to use a combination of flowers that have different colors and textures to match the current season. By using seasonal flowers and plants, you will be able to truly experience the Japanese seasons through art. Depending on the Ikebana school, there are different rules about the details of ikebana. 

The reasons to experience Ikebana in Japan

Ikebana is rumored to be difficult but it is not true. It is a form of art where you can truly express yourself, your ideas, your feelings and have fun. Once you learn the basics, it is essential then to figure out how to make the flowers and plants look the most beautiful and alive. After you learn the basic skills from the instructor, you are free to arrange the flowers according to your own desires. Even after the experience, you can do some flower arranging at home if you buy flowers and a vase or cup. The best part about kado is being able to forget the realities of work and life and relax your mind by spending time arranging flowers peacefully. 

What Is Ikebana? The Japanese Art That’s Making a Comeback

Ikebana Therapy in Kyoto