Japanese Culture - General

The Japanese culture has been nurtured due to by its long history of over one thousand years and also due to it being an island country which has been isolated from the continental mainland.
While the original traditional culture is still thriving in Japanese people’s lives, on the other hand the country is one of the world’s strongest economic and industrial powers boasting overwhelming strength in its technologies.
Let’s explore the charm of Japan's rich culture.

Traditional Culture/Artwork

Kimono

KimonoKimono is a traditional costume from ancient Japan, consisting of a nagagi, a long kimono commonly made from silk, and an obi, a kind of belt wrapped around one’s waist. In modern times, Japanese people wear kimonos on special occasions such as wedding parties or graduation ceremonies instead of using it as ordinary clothing. A yukata is a casual version of the kimono which is made from cotton. It is cheaper and easier to wear than a kimono, so young women often wear yukata at fireworks displays or summer festivals. A yukata is also offered at hotels with hot springs or bathing facilities as a garment to be worn after bathing.

Ikebana (Japanese Flower Arrangement)

Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement, also known as kado, which has been popular since around the 16th century. The origin of these arrangements was the usage by priests to offer flowers to figures of Buddha. Its basic concept is to express the heavens, the earth and mankind by using flowers from nature.

Nihon Buyo (Japanese Dancing)

There are various kinds of traditional dancing in Japan, including kagura and dengaku which are performed in festivals, nogaku and kabuki which are performed at theatres as well as bonodori, entertainment for the ordinary people and kenbu, a sword dance based on martial arts. At present there are over 200 schools of Japanese Dancing.

Wadaiko (Japanese Drums)

It is said that this percussion instrument originated in the Jomon period (14000 BCE-300 BCE). It has a leathered wooden body and is played with sticks to make distinctive strong sounds. In addition, there are various kinds of original Japanese musical instruments, including string instruments such as the koto and the shamisen as well as pipe instruments such as the shakuhachi and sho.

Shodo (Calligraphy)

Japanese calligraphy uses black ink and brushes. It is an art to express the beauty of letters. A similar culture also exits in China.

Origami (Paper-Folding)

Origami is a traditional activity to make a variety of shapes by folding paper. It's possible to make something quite complicated and it is highly recognized as artwork.

Japanese Gardens

Japanese GardenA traditional Japanese garden basically consists of a pond as the hub and some elements such as flowering plants and a miniature mountain. It describes the beauty of nature in a compressed form and may contain a river or waterfall. It is devised to offer enjoyment in every season. There is also a type of garden called Karesansui which shows water forms such as the sea, rivers or waterfalls which are made from just stones and sand but no water.

Pottery

Japanese pottery boasts a long history and it is said that the oldest earthenware discovered so far was made around 16,500 years ago. Since then, diverse styles of pottery have emerged from regions all over Japan. These regions have gained their own unique characteristics especially since the second half of the 16th century due to the growing popularity of Sado (tea ceremony). The most famous styles include Bizen-yaki in Okayama, Sigaraki-yaki in Shiga, Kutani-yaki in Ishikawa as well as Kyo-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki in Kyoto.

Sports / Martial Arts

Sumo

Sumo is a traditional sport in Japan in which two wrestlers wearing mawashi (loincloths) on their naked bodies compete in a sumo wrestling ring. Its origins go back to Shinto, a Japanese original religion and sumo was conducted as a Shinto ritual or an event at the Imperial Court. Since the Edo period (1603-1868) sumo has been performed as entertainment. These days, professionals will normally compete in six tournaments a year.

Karate

Karate is one of the best known Japanese martial arts around the world thanks to movies such as “The Karate Kid”. Its main attack technique is kicking. There are various opinions about karate’s origin and one of them is that it originated from Okinawa Kenpo, which was created around the 15th century.

Judo

Judo is an Olympic event and is enjoyed as a sport all around the world. In 1882 Jigoro Kano, an educator developed the event by establishing techniques and theories from a traditional martial art, Jujutsu. Nage-waza (throwing) and Katame-waza (grappling) are distinctive characteristics of Judo.

Kendo

Kendo is a martial art based on kenjutsu, the Japanese sword fencing martial art. Players wear protective gear and compete one on one using bamboo swords. Other martial arts developed as athletic sports include kyudo (Japanese archery), aikido and iaido.

Pop Culture

Gaming

Japanese GameVideo games became popular in the late 1970s when video game machines were installed in amusement centres and restaurants. “Family Computer”, a game player targeting families, distributed by Nintendo, started to spread in the 1980s and due to the penetration of the player, development of game devices in Japan has grown rapidly. Since then, gaming hardware and software, including Game Boy, PlayStation, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS and Wii have been developed and Japan has become the video game device leader of the world. There are many popular games adapted to films such as “Final Fantasy”, “Street Fighter” and “Biohazard”.

Otaku

Otaku refers to followers of pop culture in Japan, including comics, animated cartoons, gaming, cosplay (costume play) and its unique fashion. Tokyo has some towns consisting of specialty shops for otaku, called “Otaku Town”. The most famous Otaku Town is Akihabara, which is also an electric goods specialty town. There are other areas such as Nakano and Ikebukuro which also have famous otaku related zones.

Karaoke

KaraokeKaraoke, a system in which you can sing a song with a pre-recorded music is an entertainment system invented in Japan. A karaoke box is a room installed with a karaoke machine in which you can enjoy singing with only your friends without being annoyed by strangers. The karaoke box is popular in Japan while karaoke is usually offered in bars in other countries. There are also karaoke boxes in Auckland.

Films

The film industry in Japan has a long history and there are many famous film directors respected internationally, including Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujiro Ozu. Recent popular films include “Departures” (Director: Yojiro Takita), which won the Best Foreign Language Film prize at the 81st Academy Awards and “Outrage” (Director: Takeshi Kitano), which was shown at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival. Other known films are the horror films such as “The JUON” and “The Ring” which were remade in Hollywood, and the animated films directed by Hayao Miyazaki such as “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Spirited Away”.

Technology

Electric Appliances

Technology for many of the world's top class brands of electrical appliances such as consumer electronics, PCs and cameras have been developed in Japan. Brands of consumer electronics are represented by Hitachi, Toshiba and Panasonic; PCs and audio brands are Sony, Casio and Yamaha; Cameras and optical products are Canon, Nikon and Olympus. It can be said that the electrical industry is one of Japan’s fundamental industries.

Automobiles

Japan is one of the largest automobile producing countries in the world. Its high quality is appreciated internationally and many Japanese vehicles are exported to all over the world, including New Zealand. Japanese famous car manufacturers include Toyota, Nissan, Subaru, Honda, Mazda, Suzuki and Daihatsu.