Japanese culture has evolved greatly since its origins. Contemporary culture combines influences from Asia, Europe and North America. Traditional Japanese arts include crafts such as ceramics, textiles, lacquerware, swords and dolls; performances of bunraku, kabuki, noh, dance and rakugo; and other practices that include tea ceremony, ikebana, martial arts, calligraphy, origami, onsen, geisha and games. Japan has a developed system for the protection and promotion of tangible and intangible cultural assets and national treasures. Nineteen sites have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, fifteen of which are of cultural significance.
Architecture in Japan
Japanese architecture is a great combination of local and other influences. It is traditionally characterised by wooden structures that are slightly above the ground and have tiled or thatched roofs. Sliding doors (fusuma) were used instead of walls, allowing the internal configuration of a room to be adapted for different occasions. People traditionally sat on cushions or on the floor; chairs and high tables were not widely used until the 20th century. 20th century. Since the 19th century, however, Japan has adopted much of Western, modern and postmodern architecture in construction and design, and is now a leader in cutting-edge architectural design and technology.
The introduction of Buddhism in the sixth century was a catalyst for large-scale temple construction using intricate techniques in wood. Influences from the Chinese Tang and Sui dynasties led to the establishment of the first permanent capital at Nara. Its chessboard-like street layout used the Chinese capital Chang’an as a model for its design. Gradual enlargement of the buildings led to standardised units of measurement and refinement of layout and garden design. The introduction of the tea ceremony emphasised simplicity and modest design as a counterpoint to the excesses of the aristocracy.
During the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the history of Japanese architecture was radically changed by two important events. The first was the 1868 Law for the Separation of Kami and Buddhas, which formally separated Buddhism from Shintoism and Buddhist temples from Shinto shrines, severing a link between the two that had lasted well over a thousand years.
Secondly, Japan was then going through a phase of intense westernisation in order to compete with other developed countries. Initially, architects and styles were imported to Japan from abroad, but gradually the country trained its own architects and began to develop its own style. Architects who returned from studying with Western architects introduced the International Style of Modernism to Japan. But it was only after the Second World War that Japanese architects made their mark on the international scene, first with the work of architects like Kenzo Tange and then with theoretical movements like Metabolism.
Art in Japan
The shrines of Ise have been hailed as the prototype of Japanese architecture. Traditional dwellings and many temple buildings are largely wooden, using tatami mats and sliding doors that eliminate the distinction between rooms and indoor/outdoor spaces. Japanese sculpture, largely made of wood, and Japanese painting are among the oldest Japanese arts, with early figurative paintings dating back to at least 300 BC. The history of Japanese painting shows the synthesis and competition between indigenous Japanese aesthetics and the adaptation of imported ideas.
The interaction between Japanese and European art was significant: for example, ukiyo-e prints that began to be exported in the 19th century in the movement known as Japonism had a significant influence on the development of modern art in the West, especially Post-Impressionism. Famous ukiyo-e artists include Hokusai and Hiroshige. Hokusai coined the term manga. Japanese comics, now known as manga, developed in the 20th century and became popular worldwide. The Japanese animated film is called anime. Video game consoles made in Japan have been popular since the 1980s.
Music in Japan
Japanese music is eclectic and diverse. Many instruments, such as the koto, were introduced in the 9th and 10th centuries. The accompanied recitative of the Noh drama dates from the 14th century and popular folk music with the guitar-like shamisen from the 16th. Western classical music, introduced in the late 19th century, now forms an integral part of Japanese culture. The imperial court ensemble Gagaku has influenced the work of some modern Western composers.
Notable classical composers from Japan include Toru Takemitsu and Rentarō Taki. Popular music in post-war Japan was heavily influenced by American and European trends, leading to the development of J-pop or Japanese popular music. Karaoke is the most widely practised cultural activity in Japan. A survey by the Cultural Affairs Agency in 1993 found that more Japanese sang karaoke that year than participated in traditional pursuits such as flower arranging (ikebana) or tea ceremonies.
Literature in Japan
Among the earliest works of Japanese literature are the chronicles Kojiki and Nihon Shoki and the collection of poems Man’yōshū, all dating from the 8th century and written in Chinese characters. In the early Heian period, the system of phonograms known as kana (hiragana and katakana) was developed. The tale of the bamboo cutter is considered the oldest Japanese tale. An account of Heian court life is found in the “Pillow Book” by Sei Shōnagon, while “The Story of Genji” by Murasaki Shikibu is often referred to as the world’s first novel.
During the Edo period, the chōnin (“townspeople”) overtook the samurai aristocracy as producers and consumers of literature. The popularity of the works of Saikaku, for example, shows this change in readership and authorship, while Bashō revived the poetic tradition of the Kokinshū with his haikai (haiku) and wrote the poetic travelogue Oku no Hosomichi. The Meiji era saw the decline of traditional literary forms as Japanese literature integrated Western influences. Natsume Sōseki and Mori Ōgai were Japan’s first “modern” novelists, followed by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Yukio Mishima and, more recently, Haruki Murakami. Japan has two Nobel Prize-winning authors – Jasunari Kawabata (1968) and Kenzaburō Ōe (1994).
Japanese philosophy has historically been a fusion of both foreign, especially Chinese and Western, and uniquely Japanese elements. In its literary forms, Japanese philosophy began about fourteen centuries ago.
Archaeological evidence and early historical accounts suggest that Japan was originally an animistic culture that saw the world as permeated by kami (神) or sacred presence as taught by Shinto, although not a philosophy as such, it has strongly influenced all other philosophies in their Japanese interpretations.
Confucianism came to Japan from China around the 5th century AD, as did Buddhism. Confucian ideals are still evident today in the Japanese concept of society and the self, as well as in the organisation of government and the structure of society. Buddhism has profoundly influenced Japanese psychology, metaphysics and aesthetics.
Neo-Confucianism, which came to the fore in the 16th century during the Tokugawa era, shaped Japanese notions of virtue and social responsibility and stimulated Japanese study of the natural world through its emphasis on the study of the principle or configuration of things. Also from the 16th century onwards, certain indigenous notions of loyalty and honour were shaped. Western philosophy has only been influential in Japan since the mid-19th century.
Cuisine in Japan
Japanese cuisine is based on combining staple foods, typically Japanese rice or noodles, with soup and okazu – dishes of fish, vegetables, tofu and the like – to enhance the taste of the staple. In the early modern period, ingredients such as red meat were introduced that had not been widely used in Japan before. Japanese cuisine is known for its emphasis on seasonality of food, quality of ingredients and presentation. Japanese cuisine offers a wide range of regional specialities that use traditional recipes and local ingredients. The term ichijū-sansai (一汁三菜, “one soup, three sides”) refers to the composition of a typical meal served, but has its roots in classic kaiseki, honzen and yūsoku cuisine. The term is also used to describe the first course served in standard kaiseki cuisine today.
Traditional Japanese sweets are known as wagashi. Ingredients such as red bean paste and mochi are used. More modern flavours include green tea ice cream, a very popular flavour. Almost all manufacturers produce a version of it. Kakigori is a shaved ice dessert flavoured with syrup or condensed milk. It is usually sold and eaten at summer festivals. Popular Japanese drinks such as sake, a brewed rice drink that typically contains 15%~17% alcohol and is made by fermenting rice several times. Other drinks such as beer are produced in some regions, such as Sapporo Brewery, the oldest beer brand in Japan. The Michelin Guide has awarded restaurants in Japan with more Michelin stars than in the rest of the world combined.
Sport in Japan
Traditionally, sumo is considered Japan’s national sport. Japanese martial arts such as judo, karate and kendo are also widely practised and enjoyed by spectators in the country. After the Meiji Restoration, many Western sports were introduced to Japan and began to spread through the education system. Japan hosted the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 1964. Japan has hosted the Winter Olympics twice: in Sapporo in 1972 and in Nagano in 1998. Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, making it the first Asian city to host the Olympics twice. Japan is the most successful Asian rugby union country, winning the Asian Five Nations record six times and claiming the newly formed IRB Pacific Nations Cup in 2011. Japan will host the IRB Rugby World Cup in 2019.
Baseball is currently the country’s most popular spectator sport. Japan’s top professional league, now known as Nippon Professional Baseball, was founded in 1936. Since the establishment of the Japan Professional Football League in 1992, club football has also gained a large following. Japan hosted the Intercontinental Cup from 1981 to 2004 and co-hosted the FIFA World Cup with South Korea in 2002. Japan has one of the most successful football teams in Asia, winning the Asian Cup four times. Japan also recently won the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011. Golf is also popular in Japan, as are forms of car racing such as the Super GT series and Formula Nippon. The country has produced one NBA player, Yuta Tabuse.