Japanese Culture
Red torri

A torii is a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of or within a Shinto shrine, where it symbolically marks the transition from the profane to the sacred.

Japanese Traditions: Japan is known for its unique culture and heritage, which has been preserved and developed by the Japanese people since ancient times. The age-old Japanese traditions and customs that give a unique character to the lifestyle of the Japanese people must be experienced to be truly appreciated. Some of the unique aspects of Japanese life are introduced here for a glimpse into the traditions of Japan.

Japanese Gardens: The original Japanese gardens were inspired by Buddhist and Chinese philosophy and later evolved to have their own distinct Japanese identity. The gardens found in Japanese temples and shrines are inspired by the Shinto religion and the belief in an ideal state of harmony. The Japanese attempt to recreate this idealized harmony in their beautifully designed gardens that include elements of nature such as water, rocks, gravel, moss and miniature plants or Bonsai. One of the most famous Zen Rock Gardens in Japan is the Ryoan-ji Zen Rock Garden in Kyoto.

Japanese Architecture: Traditional Japanese Architecture has a distinct style deeply influenced by the Buddhist and Shinto religions. Houses and temples made of wood, placed on stilts to raise them above the ground, and with sloping roofs made of thatch or tiles create a distinctive silhouette in traditional Japanese architecture. The use of lightweight wood and bamboo to create Fusuma (sliding doors), straw or woven grass to create Tatami (mats), and translucent paper over a frame of wood with wood or bamboo lattice to create Shōji room dividers or window coverings are other unique features of Japanese architectural design. In the past, people usually sat on the floor and furniture, such as chairs, only came into widespread use after the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Japanese Tea Ceremony: The Japanese ceremony of preparing and offering green tea to revered guests is a formal and stylized ritual, almost like a meditative performance. The art of preparing tea and all the elements of the tea ceremony have special and symbolic meaning. Deeply influenced by Zen Buddhism, the Japanese tea ceremony has evolved into a cultural ritual that means much more than the mere sampling of powdered green tea, and is a unique part of Japanese traditions.

Japanese Cuisine: Japan is an island nation and seafood plays an important role in Japanese cuisine. Rice and fish, along with vegetables, are eaten by most Japanese. Tofu, or soy bean curd, is another popular and healthful dish routinely consumed by many Japanese people. The unique Japanese foods such as Sushi (rice flavored with vinegar and combined with seafood or seaweed and sometimes vegetables) and Sashimi (cut and sliced raw seafood) are forms of Japanese cuisine that have become famous worldwide. Teppanyaki or food cooked on an iron griddle is another popular form of Japanese cuisine, although not with the “showmanship” common in the states. Sake, or Japanese rice liquor, is drunk at traditional meals as a toast to the health and long life of one's dining companions, and is also used in many Shinto religious ceremonies.

Japanese Festivals: The Japanese people celebrate many festivals, most of which are of the Buddhist and Shinto religions. Different Buddhist temples Shinto shrines across Japan have their own specific “Matsuri” or festive holiday. Some festivals that began long ago are also celebrated today in a modern form. These include Aomori Nebuta Festival, the Hadaka Festival, the Tanabata Festival and many Cherry Blossom Festivals, which are an integral part of Japanese culture.

Cherry Blossom Festivals: Every year in the spring, the Japanese people make time to appreciate the beauty of nature as the Cherry trees burst into full bloom and their lovely pink and white flowers offer a wonderfully appealing sight. This is commonly called Hanami, “flower viewing”. People picnic in the Cherry groves, drink tea and Sake and enjoy music in the delightful ambience of the blooming Cherry flowers. The Cherry Blossom festivals at Okinawa and at Matsuyama Castle in Ehime prefecture are some of the best-known among many flower festivals across Japan. The natural beauty of the Cherry blossom season is celebrated by the Japanese in their art and music, and even in the designs of their traditional clothing, the Kimono.

Japanese Kimono: The traditional Japanese attire, the Kimono, is a graceful full-length silk robe that falls from the wearer's shoulders to their ankles. The robe is tied around the middle with a sash called the Obi. Kimonos for special occasions were made of rich fabric such as silk, satin and brocade and feature designs inspired by nature such as Cherry blossoms, autumn leaves, butterflies and pine trees. Kimonos are now worn mostly for ceremonial occasions and events such as festivals and marriages.

Japanese Painting: Japan has a long tradition of painting and woodblock printing. One of the more famous Japanese painters is Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), who is famous for the Ukiyo-e or woodblock printing style of art. Another famous Japanese painter is Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), who is famous for a series of woodblock prints depicting Mount Fuji. The best known among these is The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

Japanese Calligraphy: The Japanese script “Kanji” consists of pictographic characters that were imported from China and when traditionally painted use smooth brushstrokes on handmade paper. The fine art of Kanji calligraphy requires many years of practice and was traditionally considered essential learning for an accomplished person in Japanese society.

Ikebana: The Japanese cultural practice is a fine art of flower arrangement that encompasses the ideas of aesthetics, spirituality, discipline and harmony with nature. It is believed to have evolved from the Buddhist practice of offering flowers in memory of those who have passed away. The emphasis on minimalism, attention to the line and form of the plants and flowers used in an arrangement and the harmony of the overall arrangement exemplify this Japanese tradition.

There are many more fascinating aspects of traditional Japanese culture, such as viewing sunrise from Mount Fuji, the Samurai Code, Sumo Wrestling and the role of the Geisha. You can find out more about these uniquely Japanese traditions when you visit this fascinating country.

Maps of World: Japanese Traditions

Respectful Society: The Japanese, in general, are reserved people and somewhat more formal than typical Americans. In their own society, they have developed a unique set of values, customs, and traditions. Japanese have rules of etiquette for nearly every situation. They try to be considerate and accommodating of others. They respect all religions. The Japanese culture has a group orientation: altruism, teamwork, and group cohesiveness are all areas greatly stressed within Japanese society. Harmony is important to Japanese. Individual identity is defined by the social group.

Preserving harmony in society, maintaining the clarity of hierarchical structure, and showing respect to others is important in Japanese society. Respect is conveyed through language, behavior, etiquette, body language, and other subtle forms of non-verbal communication. Successful relationships with Japanese people depend upon three factors; sincerity, compatibility, and trustworthiness. Sincerity means that you are accommodating, understanding, and able to establish a personal relationship. Compatibility is established when you are seen to be concerned about the personal relationship. Trustworthiness relates to your willingness to prevent “loss of face” for the Japanese guest.

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