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Japanese Culture … Condensed
Japanese Girl In Kimono
Japanese Culture … Condensed
Japan’s culture dates back nearly two thousand years. It was in 252 A.D. that the earliest known use of the Japanese language first appeared – on a Chinese document. Language has always played a significant role in the development of the culture of this remarkable island nation.
In fact, Japanese culture has evolved over time and is, today, a hybrid that combines elements and influences from Asia, Europe and North America. And yet, traces of its long ago origins remain and, in fact, still play a prominent role in Japanese life.
Japanese culture is clearly different from western cultures, such as the United States. Those differences show up in virtually every aspect of daily life – writing … architecture … performing arts … fine arts … clothing … even sports. A closer inspection proves the point. Consider …
Japanese Kanji: People
· Writing … Japanese writing utilizes a combination of three different scripts: hiragana, the first of these three scripts is derived from Chinese cursive script; katakana is the second script – a shorthand technique --and it is also derived from the Chinese, actually from Chinese characters. Kanji, like so much else that is now Japanese, is derived from the Chinese, as well. Importantly, all Japanese writing involves the use of long brush strokes and words and thoughts are written top to bottom on each page as opposed to left to write, the method used in western cultures.
Ancient Japanese Buddhist & Shinto sculptures in rare Natabori style.
· Painting … Japanese art dates back to the origins of Japan. The brush, used for writing, is also a natural tool that is perfect for painting. It was that way nearly 1,800 years ago … it remains that way even today.
· Calligraphy … the Japanese language, which appears on paper as the result of flowing brush-drawn strokes, lends itself perfectly to Calligraphy. As practiced by the Japanese of long ago (and today, as well), the use of Calligraphy to write text and convey a message becomes something of an art form, much different from ordinary writing in other cultures. This ability to convey thoughts through Calligraphy is known as Shodo – “the way of writing.” And for the novice Calligrapher, there is Shigi which means, literally, “learning how to write characters”.
· Sculpture … Japanese sculpture is almost always created to depict Buddhist images. They are generally made of wood, then lacquered and gilded or brightly painted. Many sculptors use bronze, as well.
· Ukiyo-e … this Japanese word means “pictures of the floating world.” It refers to a genre in the Japanese art world known as woodblock prints. Handsome and stylish, as is true for most things “made in Japan,” the prints depict pastoral scenes and other still life representations drawn from the country’s scenic outdoor woodlands, lakes and gardens.
· Ikebana … the Japanese people take great pride in the flowers they grow and the floral arrangements they create. “Ikebana” is the art of floral arrangement, one that focuses on harmony, rhythm and the use of color to create simple, yet elegant, floral arrangements and designs.
Japanese Performing Arts
· Performing Arts … traditional Japanese theater differs from western theater … and from Japan’s pop culture generation, as well. There are 4 types of theaters, the noh, kyugen, kabuki and burraku. Each theater features similar characteristics – the use of masks, elaborate costumes and stylized gestures. Additionally, performers hold – and use – a fan. Noh and kyugen offer similar entertainment, although kyugen attempts comedy in its presentations. Kabuki is well-known, in Japan and elsewhere. Burraku is Japanese Puppet Theater … very funny and entertaining.
· Architecture … originally influenced by the Chinese, Japanese architecture is noteworthy for its impressive designs for temples, Shinto Shrines and remarkable castles.
· Gardens … Chinese influence also helped shape the world of gardening for the Japanese. Strikingly beautiful, calming and serene, Japanese gardens are among the best in the world. And completed JapaneseGardens are considered works of art.
· Traditional Clothing … the kimono which means “something someone wears” was once used for all types of clothing in feudal Japan. Over time, it became known as “naga-gi,” long wear and was worn with other garments. The kimono and all of the other garments became referred to as “wafuke,” a word that means Japanese clothing.
· Sports … feudal Japanese, mainly warriors, engaged in combat sports – sumo, kenjutsu, jujutso … and others. These sports were in the spirit of Bushido, the warrior code. Modern Japan no longer lives by this code. The old ways and the old sports have been largely ignored. The most popular sports in today’s Japan are sumo wrestling, baseball and soccer.
Japanese Sumo Wrestiling
There can be no question that Japanese culture is unique and different from all others, certainly dramatically different from western cultures. Based on Buddhist principles, it appreciates and reveres art, nature and natural beauty as well as its own history.
And while the culture that shaped Japanese life nearly two thousands years ago has been largely replaced by modern Japan’s acceptance of western values and its way of life, the old ways still remain and continue to be passed from one generation to the next.
It may be safe to say, therefore, that ancient Japanese culture will forever be part of Japanese life. It is eternal.
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