Naval Sea Systems Command

 
Modern Japan

Festivals and Seasonal Celebrations

Festival

Festivals and celebrations are an important part of life in Japan.

Japan is very proud of its four distinct seasons: clear, cold, and sometimes snowy winters melt into blossom-laced springs; summers are tropically hot and include a rainy season, and the cooling autumns are aflame with turning leaves. Seasonal changes permeate the culture, making their way into fashion and food, and are marked by the traditional celebrations that punctuate the year. The vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes are National Holidays in Japan.

The year starts on January 1st, celebrated with family and symbolic food. At midnight on December 31st, people gather at temples to ring out the old year on giant bronze bells; and the trains run all night, allowing a first visit to a Shinto Shrine - often in kimono - to pray for luck and success in the New Year. Rice pounding to make fresh mocha (rice cakes) is a New Year’s Day tradition.

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Music/Arts

Music

American music is very popular in Japan. So popular in fact, many of your favorite American artists can be found playing concerts all year long in and around Tokyo. Whatever your preference, Japan has it for you. Click on the links below to view up to date concert information and see what artists are playing in your area.

Japan also has its own unique music, including JPoP (for Japan Pop) and Enka, based in traditional Japanese music. And of course, Japan is the home of KARAOKE.

Arts

Japan is home to a large number and wide variety of excellent art museums. Whether it’s traditional or contemporary, eastern or western art – Japan is sure to have what you’re looking for. Click below to view some of the most popular art museums in Japan.

Architecture

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower is a communications and observation tower located in the Shiba-koen district of Minato, Tokyo, Japan. At 332.9 meters, it is the second-tallest structure in Japan.

Japanese architecture has traditionally been typified by wooden structures, elevated slightly off the ground, with tiled or thatched roofs. Sliding doors (fusuma) were used in place of walls, allowing the internal configuration of a space to be customized for different occasions. People traditionally sat on cushions or otherwise on the; chairs and high tables were not widely used until the 20th century. Since the 19th century, however, Japan has incorporated much of Western, modern, and post-modern architecture into construction and design, and is today a leader in cutting-edge architectural design and technology.

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Language

Japanese is believed to be linked to the Altaic language family, which includes Turkish, Mongolian and other languages, but also shows similarities to Austronesian languages like Polynesian.

Writing

The Japanese writing system consists of three different character sets: Kanji (Chinese characters) and Hiragana and Katakana (two phonetic alphabets of 46 characters each; together called Kana). Japanese texts can be written in two ways: In Western style, i.e. in horizontal rows from the top to the bottom of the page, or in traditional Japanese style, i.e. in vertical columns from the right to the left side of the page, with traditional texts starting at the “back” of the book. Both writing styles exist side by side today.

Grammar

Basic Japanese grammar is relatively simple. Complicating factors such as gender articles and distinctions between plural and singular are missing almost completely. Conjugation rules for verbs and adjectives are simple and almost free of exceptions. Nouns are not declinated at all, but appear always in the same form. Sentence structure follows standard patterns, although sometimes words are omitted in common speech.

Pronunciation

In comparison with other languages, Japanese knows relatively few sounds, and pronunciation poses little problems to most learners. The biggest difficulty are accents, which do exist, but to a much lower extent than in other languages. In addition, there are relatively many homonyms, i.e. words that are pronounced the same way – at least to the foreign listener but have different meanings subtle accents are often the difference.

Levels of speech

Different words and expressions are used when talking to an unknown person or a superior, as opposed to when talking to a child, family member or a close friend. For instance, there are more than five different words for the English word "I” that are used depending on the context. For formal situations, a honorific language level (keigo) is still in common use.

Literature

Japanese literature spans a period of almost two millennia of writing. Early work was heavily influenced by Chinese literature, but Japan quickly developed a style and quality of its own. When Japan reopened its ports to Western trading and diplomacy in the 19th century, Western Literature had a strong effect on Japanese writers, and this influence is still seen today.

As with all literature, Japanese literature is best read in the original. Due to deep linguistic and cultural differences, many Japanese words and phrases are not easily translated. Although Japanese literature and Japanese authors are perhaps not as well known in the west as those in the European and American canons, Japan possesses an ancient and rich literary tradition that draws upon a millennium and a half of written records.

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Clothing/Dress

The kimono is the traditional attire of Japan made of silk cloth. Nowadays it is worn mostly on formal occasions. Some people accuse the kimono of being an impractical form of dress, but it has the advantage of giving the wearer a graceful and elegant deportment.

There are various different types of kimono for use at different times and on different occasions. Women's kimono include the furisodé and tomesodé for formal wear, the hômongi for paying calls, the tsukesagé, and the komon. Men's kimono may include the montsuki hakama for ceremonial occasions and the haori for going out visiting. There is also the cotton fabric yukata, worn by both men and women as informal dress at home, in ryokan, or for attending local festivals.

To learn more about the history of the Kimono and the evolution of dress of modern Japan, click below:

Cuisine

Once known in the west for such things as "sukiyaki" and "sushi," Japanese cuisine has in recent years become much more familiar and appreciated around the world. Many visitors to Japan will have already sampled the pleasures of raw fish or batter-fried shrimp, whether shrimp tempura “ebi-furai”, fried shrimp. However few first-time visitors to Japan are prepared for the variety and sumptuousness of Japanese food, as it is traditionally prepared. Eating in Japan is an experience to be enjoyed and remembered fondly for the rest of your life. There is an extremely wide variety of Japanese cuisine.

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