Japanese culture and tradition

Japanese culture including traditional culture like Geisha, Samurai, Japanese tea ceremony, Japanese gardens, kimonos and Japanese Language. Plus modern culture such as modern Japanese fashion.

Traditional Japanese culture has many roots in traditional Chinese culture, however Japanese culture, even historically differed from Chinese culture. This differentiation of the cultures is due in part to the separation of the two land masses, plus Japan’s periods of enforced isolation from the outside world, further extended the differences between the two cultures. Many times throughout history the first time a particular aspect of culture was imported from China it was of course very Chinese. However within a relatively short period the designs changed to take on a distinctly Japanese style. This can be seen in the designs of Japanese gardens and temples.

Horyuji Temple shows the influence of the Chinese style on Japanese Culture

The Great Hall (Kondo) Horyuji Temple in Nara, is one of the first Buddhist temples built in Japan and follows the style from Sui Dynasty of China (6th century) with its double roof structure.

It is with some irony then that in modern times that the younger Chinese generations have looked to modern Japanese culture as a source of inspiration, particularly in field of Japanese fashion culture, where the Chinese are inspired by Japanese fashion magazines.

Three Japanese Culture

Some care needs to be taken when referring to Japanese culture as it is nowhere near as homogeneous as it might appear to westerners. First there are at least three distinct population groups within Japan: Ainu, Ryukyuan and the main Japanese (Yamato) population.

The Ainu (アィヌ Aynu) are the indigenous people who occupied Northern Honshu, Hokkaido and some of the islands to the north of Hokkaido. They are genetically different, that is a different race, to the other populations in Japan. The Ainu religion is very different to the main Japanese religions of Buddhism and Shinto. The Ainu worshiped as gods objects in nature including fire, water, wind and thunder. In addition they had animal gods such as bears, foxes, owls and plant gods. The clothing traditionally worn by the Ainu was different to the clothing worn by Japanese at the time when the two people started to come into contact, early 1700s. The same is also the case for their housing, which was constructed of bark and grasses including bamboo. The houses were normally about seven by five metres.

Distinct Japanese Culture Ryukyu architecture

The Ryukyuan people are the indigenous people who occupied the Ryukyu islands, which are essentially the Okinawan islands plus some to the north. While many Ryukyuan still live on these islands, some have spread to other parts of the world. The Ryukyuan people have several sub-groups including: Amamians, Okinawans, Miyakoans, Yaeyamans, and Yonagunians each with their own dialect. How genetically different the Ryukyuan people were from the main Japanese (Yamato) population is difficult to say as there were trade links between Japan, China and Korea along with the corresponding migration. The Ryukyuan people have their own distinct religion, clothing and architecture. However the clothing and architecture was not as distinct from the main Japanese as the Ainu was. The Ryukyuan Kingdom came under the control of the Satsuma Domain of Kyushu when the Satsuma invaded in the early 17th century.

Japanese Traditions

Japanese sumo

Japan is known for its unique culture and heritage, which has been preserved by the Japanese people since ancient times. The age-old Japanese traditions and customs which give a unique character to the lifestyle of the Japanese people have to be experienced to be truly appreciated. Some of the unique aspects of Japanese life are mentioned here as an introduction to 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 aspects 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 Buddhism and Shintoism. 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) and straw or woven grass to create Tatami (mats) are other unique features of Japanese architectural design. People usually sat on the floor and furniture only came into widespread use after the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

Japanese Tea Ceremony : The Japanese ceremony of preparing and offering tea to revered guests is a formal and stylized ritual, almost like a meditative performance. The art or skill 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 which means much more than the mere sampling of powdered green tea, and is a unique part of Japanese traditions.

Japanese cuisine

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 healthy dish often consumed by the Japanese people. Japanese food such as Sushi (rice flavored with vinegar and combined with seafood or seaweed and sometimes vegetables) and Sashimi (cut and sliced raw meat, usually 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. Sake or Japanese rice wine is also drunk at traditional meals as a toast to the health and long life of one’s dining companions.

Gion – Japanese Festivals

Japanese Festivals : The Japanese people celebrate many festivals, most of which are of the Buddhist and Shinto religions. Different temples or 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 Matsuri Festival and the Cherry Blossom Festivals, which are an integral part of Japanese culture.

Cherry Blossom festival

Cherry Blossom Festivals: Every year in spring the Japanese people take time out to appreciate the beauty of nature as the Cherry trees burst into full bloom and their lovely pink flowers offer a wonderfully appealing sight. 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 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 costume, the Kimono, is a graceful full-length robe that falls from the wearer’s shoulders to the 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

Japanese Painting : Japan has a long tradition of painting and woodblock printing. Some of the famous Japanese painters are 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 consists of characters which were traditionally painted using smooth brushstrokes on handmade paper. The fine art of calligraphy requires many years of practice and was considered essential learning for an accomplished person in Japanese society.

Ikebana : The Japanese cultural practice of flower arrangement is a fine art 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 or 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 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.

Japanese Kimono

Japanese Customs and Traditions

Japanese Gardens : The gardens found in Japanese temples and shrines are inspired by the Shinto religion and the belief in an ideal state of harmony.
Japanese Architecture : Traditional Japanese Architecture is deeply influenced by Buddhism and Shintoism.
Earlier, people usually sat on the floor. Furniture only came into widespread use after the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Japanese Tea Ceremony : The Japanese ceremony of preparing and offering tea to revered guests is a formal and stylized ritual. The Japanese tea ceremony is deeply influenced by Zen Buddhism.
Japanese Cuisine : 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 a popular and healthy dish.
Sushi (rice flavored with vinegar and combined with seafood or seaweed and sometimes vegetables) and Sashimi (cut and sliced raw meat, usually seafood) are famous Japanese cuisines.
Sake or Japanese rice wine is also drunk at traditional meals as a toast to the health and long life of one’s dining companions.
Japanese Festivals : Famous Japanese festivals are Aomori Nebuta Festival, the Hadaka Matsuri Festival and the Cherry Blossom Festivals.
Japanese Kimono : Kimono is a traditional Japanese costume. It is a graceful full-length robe that falls from the wearer’s shoulders to the ankles.
Japanese Painting : Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) is famous for the Ukiyo-e or woodblock printing style of art.
Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is famous for a series of woodblock prints depicting Mount Fuji. The best known among these is The Great Wave off Kanagawa.
Ikebana : Ikebana is the Japanese cultural practice of flower arrangement and is believed to have evolved from the Buddhist practice of offering flowers in memory of those who have passed away.
It is a fine art that encompasses the ideas of aesthetics, spirituality, discipline and harmony with nature.

RELATED ITEMS: AsiaJapan, Japanese Culture, Japanese TraditionsJapanese Customs, Festivals, Japanese CuisineCherry Blossom, Geisha