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Characteristics of traditional japanese lifestyle

Updated on January 1, 2015

Intro

The traditional Japanese way of life has a self-consistent logic and beauty all its own. The distinctive not is economy and cleanliness, probably connected with the simple life and ritual purity seen in the early Shinto religion. The rooms in a Japanese house are uncluttered and scrupulously clean, and even quite poor people take baths daily. The bulk of the population live in a style that is fundamentally Japanese, in Japanese rooms, eating Japanese food, but with the addition of Western gadgets and appliances, now manufactured in Japan. Extenal link: Minecraft 1.7.10 Download

Japanese families have often used the floor for every their activities
Japanese families have often used the floor for every their activities

Shelter

The Japanese are fond of colour, but this does not appear in their streets and houses except at times of festival. Traditional house are low, one or two stories, and built of unpainted wood or stucco with grey tile roofs, presenting from the outside rather a dull appearance. Business signs and the presence of telephone poles and power-lines are located along commercial streets and main thoroughfares.

The floor itself is a bed of padded straw-matting. Very closely woven, it has a natural straw polish and is easily kept clean. One more thing, most Japanese men returning from work the traditional style spells relaxation. Accustomed to kneeling and squatting from childhood, they prefer life at floor level, where you can go so easily from kneeling to reclining or lying down. When the bedding is put away in cupboards, the room is used for eating and living during the day. The whole life of the household takes place, eating, sleeping, conversing or working. The rooms are thus economically designed as multi-purpose living spaces. That why Japanese middle class can live comparatively well, can afford cars and labour-saving devices and can still save money is simply that their houses and furniture cost them so little.

Japan Clothing
Japan Clothing

Clothing

The Japanese kimono is a wrap-around affair, secured with a sash and essentially similar for men and women. It is inherited from the type of clothing worn in china in the Han Dynasty about the time of Christ, before the Chinese began wearing trousers.

In contemporary Japan all men working in the cities wear business suits during the day. The majority of women urban workers wear Western dress, but fortunately beautiful kimonos are still to be seen on the streets on festivals and holidays, especially in Kyoto, the city of tradition. Pupils in schools wear uniforms, as do some university students, though to a lesser degree than heretofore. Hippie style is affected by large numbers, long dark hair, well groomed and styled, gives some students a very attractive, intellectual and sophisticated appearance. In short, all the styles the modern world knows, as well as the traditional style, are to be found in present-day Japan.

Japan Food
Japan Food

Food

Japan relies heavily on the sea for her supply of food. Even today the protein content of the average Japanese diet is derived in greater proportion from sea-food than from meat. Japanese enjoy numerous kinds of fish, shell-fish, octopus, squid, eels, lobster, shrimp, seaweed and some whale-meat. Certain fish are eaten raw, cut in thin slices and dipped in various sauces. Japanese meals are usually served attractively, with separate porcelain or lacquer dishes of various shapes for the different items. Rice accompanies every meal; and Soy sauce is used for flavouring. Japanese tea is always taken plain, never with milk or sugar, and forms, in an indefinable way, the ideal companion to rice and the Oriental flavor of Japanese food.

Bathing in Japanese homes (by Kusakabe Kimbei)
Bathing in Japanese homes (by Kusakabe Kimbei)

The bath

Taking a bath in Japan is not merely a way to get clean; it is almost a way of life. It is a way to relax and re-create the spirit after a working day. They filled a small wooden tub, and washed themselves. Only after they have rinsed all the soap off do they get into the tub or plunge-bath and soak. This is an economical way for everyone in the family to enjoy clean, hot water.

Innumerable stories circulate concerning Western shock at mixed bathing in the nude in traditional Japan. The Japanese take a very matter of fact attitude to nudity and successfully draw mental lines of privacy round themselves in the crowded life of Japan. But they were shocked in the past by the nude in art, and considered kissing in public quite depraved.

Gardens

The art of landscape gardening was one of many cultural imports introduced from China but the Japanese developed the art in their own distinctive way. A Japanese garden is the antithesis of the formal and brilliantly coloured garden of European Renaissance style. A Japanese garden has a few points of rest for the eye, which serve to focus on interest. A path leads to a rock water-basis. A stone lantern stands beneath two trees of contrasting shape.

For the Japanese the gardens have always valued the presence of living nature in the accessible form. Many Japanese gardens contain splashes of bright colour at certain seasons of the year-cherry and plum blossoms, wisteria, from lightest to darkest purple, the blue of iris, chrysanthemums of all colours, and the blood-red of maple leaves in autumn.

The family

The ancient form of the extended family was almost universal in East Asia in former days, with grandparents, parents, children and sometimes brothers’ families living together in different parts of one large home. This has now given way in Japan to the small family unit of parents, children and perhaps grandmother in one house. Along with this change goes a generation gap, which is now quite pronounced. There is probably less real rebellion on the part of youth in Japan than in the West, but it seems more marked because of the extreme deference to parental and state authority.

The chief difference between the old times and the new in family life is the closer approach to equality now being accorded to women, though their status has not yet reached that of women in the West. Education for girls became more common and women more and more freedom in speaking with strange men. Japanese wives gradually enjoy with their husband activities such as going out and discussing about matters of family and of common concern more nearly on a basis of equality than before. Their husbands even treat them as friends.

Dancing in Obon festival (credit:Takao)
Dancing in Obon festival (credit:Takao)

Festivals

Certain annual festivals are celebrated today all over Japan and include features which are derived from the ancient past.

The New Year Festival (Oshōgatsu): It is celebrated with varying local elements, but everywhere the girls and women dress in beautiful kimonos, and families take time off from work to observe a holiday, visit shines and temples and have feasts with special dishes, including cakes of sweet, glutinous rice.

The Setsubun festival comes at the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It is concerned with driving out evil spirits and bringing the new and the good in springtime. Next in the sacred year come two delightful festivals, one for the girls (Hina-matsuri) on 3 March, and the other for the boys (koi) on 5 May.

Perhaps the greatest festival of the year is Obon, commemorating the temporary return to earth and home of the ancestral spirits once each year at the end of July. The ancestors are welcomed back, and entertained with offerings of food and sometimes with dances in their honour. They will stay a short time in the human world to answer the questions concerning the future, as to possible sickness, flood or disaster, and the means of preventing them. The answers are conveyed through an inspired medium. In some villages a path is cut through the grass to lead the spirits down from the mountain, where they are presumed to dwell, and bonfires are lighted to guide them on their way. Offerings are made not only to the friendly, family spirits but also to hungry ghosts who have no one to care for them. This is done so that they may not be angry and harm the village. But this element has largely been forgotten in the present-day celebrations of Obon.

Lifestyle: Old Japan/ 1950

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