Guest writer: 404#0017
Japanese culture has many polarizing and unique aspects, both modern and traditional. It is immersed in a rich background and ancient traditions dating back thousands of years, and despite this, Japanese society is one that is in a continual state of rapid change, and is constantly setting new trends in many areas, often trying to push as many boundaries as possible when it comes to technological advancements.
However, I wanted to talk today about the more traditional aspects of Japan’s culture.
Japanese cuisine is widely recognized and praised globally for its unique presentation and flavours, and each region of Japan has its own specialty dishes. Rice has been a food staple and source of nutrition for millennia and is a key component in Japanese cuisine. Washoku has been recently included on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. These are traditional foods that are regularly eaten at home on a daily basis, with the word “Washoku” literally meaning “food of Japan”.
Some of Japan’s most famous landmarks are its temples and shrines, many of which offer lodging to visitors. Many temples offer a course on meditation, as well. Sometime in the past, the temple lodgings were meant exclusively for monks engaged in disciplined practices, but nowadays the opposite is true: Buddhist temples are open to tourists no matter what their beliefs may be. This is why religious tourism is a popular activity among people visiting Japan.
Mount Kōya is a huge temple settlement in Wakayama Prefecture to the south of Osaka. It has more than 50 temples, making it one of the main tourist attractions for people looking for this kind of experience. Mount Kōya is also the founding location of Shingon Buddhism in Japan.
Sumo has a long and proud history as the oldest Japanese sport. Its strict rules and traditions have survived to this day, and are still strictly followed, such as the rituals and ceremonies performed before practices and bouts. The objective of the sport is that one of the two wrestlers (Rikishi’s) pushes the other outside of the circular ring (Dohyo) or forces his opponent to the ground. The Rikishi’s style their hair in a topknot, wearing nothing but a Mawashi (loincloth). There are six Basho (tournaments) a year, each holding 15 bouts.
Noh or Nogaku is one of the oldest, surviving, and still performed forms of Japanese theatre art–a type of musical drama which originated in the 14th century. It has 3 types of plays: Genzai Noh (present Noh), Mugen Noh (supernatural Noh) and Ryōkake Noh (mixed Noh). Zeami, one of the creators of Noh, along with his father Kan’ami, is one of the most important figures in Japanese theatrical history. Noh has also been designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. Itis often based on tales from traditional literature with a supernatural being transformed into a human as a hero narrating a story. Noh integrates masks, costumes and various props in a dance-based performance, requiring highly trained actors and musicians. Emotions are primarily conveyed by stylized conventional gestures while the iconic masks represent the roles such as ghosts, women, children, and the elderly. The text written in Japanese “vividly describes the ordinary people of the twelfth to sixteenth centuries”. Having a strong emphasis on tradition rather than innovation, Noh is extremely codified and regulated by the Iemoto system.
Kabuki (Ka meaning “sing”; Bu meaning “dance”; and Ki meaning “skill”) can be translated as “the art of singing and dancing” and it’s a classical dance-drama. It’s one of the three major classical styles in Japan. Originally, the cast were performers of both sexes, but eventually all pieces started being played by men wearing Kesho, the make-up used, and this tradition still continues up to this day. Kabuki, like other traditional forms of drama in Japan and other cultures, was (and sometimes still is) performed in full-day programs. Rather than attending for 2–5 hours, as one might do in a modern Western-style theater, audiences “escape” from the day-to-day world, devoting a full day to entertainment. Most plays were short and sequenced with other plays in order to produce a full-day program.
Origami (Ori meaning “folding”, and Kami meaning “paper”) is an artform often associated with Japanese culture. The goal is to transform a square piece of paper into a sculpture through folding and some sculpting techniques. The most famous Origami model is the Japanese paper crane.
A ryokan is an inn that usually features communal or private baths, tatami floors, local cuisine and futons. They have existed since the 8th century during the Keiun period, which is when the oldest hotel in the world, Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, was created in 705 A.D.
The Japanese tea ceremony is a tradition steeped in history. It is a ceremonial way of preparing and drinking green tea, typically in a traditional tea room with tatami flooring. Beyond just serving and receiving tea, one of the main purposes of the tea ceremony is for the guests to enjoy the hospitality of the host in an atmosphere distinct from the fast pace of everyday life.
The ceremonial aspect is to form a bond between host and guest that demonstrates a spirit of generosity and respect. This tradition was introduced during the 9th century with an initial use for religious rituals in Buddhist monasteries, later becoming a status symbol for the well-off and for military officials.
Even though this article talks about some of the oldest customs in Japanese culture, many of these traditions are still present in modern Japan. That is what Japan’s culture is in essence: a mix of westernized aspects, ranging all the way from politics to fashion, and traditional aspects from the Japan of old which still maintain their relevance today.