Culture of Japan

Culture of Japan

The culture of Japan has evolved greatly over the millennia, from the country's prehistoric Jōmon period to its contemporary hybrid culture, which combines influences from Asia, Europe and North America. The inhabitants of Japan experienced a long period of relative isolation from the outside world during the Tokugawa shogunate until the arrival of "The Black Ships" and the Meiji period.

Fūjin and Raijin, Tawaraya Sōtatsu, 17th century.
Pine Trees, Hasegawa Tōhaku


Japanese language

Computer keyboard with hiragana and the Latin alphabet. Although hiragana is printed, most Japanese don't use this to type, but use romaji, or Latin alphabet.

The Japanese language is spoken mainly in Japan, but also in some Japanese immigrant communities around the world. It is an agglutinative language and the sound inventory of Japanese is relatively small but has a lexically distinct pitch-accent system. Early Japanese is known largely on the basis of its state in the 8th century, when the three major works of Old Japanese were compiled. The earliest attestation of the Japanese language is in a Chinese document from 252 A.D.

Japanese is written with a combination of three scripts: hiragana, derived from the Chinese cursive script, katakana, derived as a shorthand from Chinese characters, and kanji, imported from China. The Latin alphabet, rōmaji, is also often used in modern Japanese, especially for company names and logos, advertising, and when inputting Japanese into a computer. The Hindu-Arabic numerals are generally used for numbers, but traditional Sino-Japanese numerals are also common.


Visual arts


Pictorial Scroll of Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

Painting has been an art in Japan for a very long time: the brush is a traditional writing tool, and the extension of that to its use as an artist's tool was probably natural. Chinese papermaking was introduced to Japan around the 7th century by Damjing and several monks of Goguryeo,[1] later washi was developed from it. Native Japanese painting techniques are still in use today, as well as techniques adopted from continental Asia and from the West.


The flowing, brush-drawn Japanese language lends itself to complicated calligraphy. Calligraphic art is often too esoteric for Western audiences and therefore general exposure is very limited. However in East Asian countries, the rendering of text itself is seen as a traditional art form as well as a means of conveying written information. The written work can consist of phrases, poems, stories, or even single characters. The style and format of the writing can mimic the subject matter, even to the point of texture and stroke speed. In some cases it can take over one hundred attempts to produce the desired effect of a single character but the process of creating the work is considered as much an art as the end product itself.

This calligraphy form is known as ‘Shodo’ (書道) which literally means ‘the way of writing or calligraphy’ or more commonly known as ‘Shuji’ (習字) ‘learning how to write characters’.

Commonly confused with Calligraphy is the art form known as ‘Sumi-e’ (墨絵) literally means ‘ink painting’ which is the art of painting a scene or object.


Guardian in Todaiji, Nara

Traditional Japanese sculptures mainly consisted of Buddhist images, such as Tathagata, Bodhisattva and Myō-ō. The oldest sculpture in Japan is a wooden statue of Amitābha at the Zenkō-ji temple. In the Nara period, Buddhist statues were made by the national government to boost its prestige. These examples are seen in present-day Nara and Kyoto, most notably a colossal bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana in the Tōdai-ji temple.

Wood has traditionally been used as the chief material in Japan, along with the traditional Japanese architectures. Statues are often lacquered, gilded, or brightly painted, although there are little traces on the surfaces. Bronze and other metals are also used. Other materials, such as stone and pottery, have had extremely important roles in the plebeian beliefs.


The Great Wave at Kanagawa
Carved by Hokusai

Ukiyo-e, literally "pictures of the floating world", is a genre of woodblock prints that exemplifies the characteristics of pre-Meiji Japanese art. Because these prints could be mass-produced, they were available to a wide cross-section of the Japanese populace — those not wealthy enough to afford original paintings — during their heyday, from the 17th to 20th century.


Ikebana (生花?) is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. It has gained widespread international fame for its focus on harmony, color use, rhythm, and elegantly simple design. It is an art centered greatly on expressing the seasons, and is meant to act as a symbol to something greater than the flower itself.

Performing arts

The four traditional theatres from Japan are noh, kyogen, kabuki and bunraku. Noh had its origins in the union of the sarugaku with music and dance made by Kanami and Zeami Motokiyo.[2] Among the characteristic aspects of it are the masks, costumes and the stylized gestures, sometimes accompanied by a fan that can represent other objects. The noh programs are presented in alternation with the ones of kyogen, traditionally in number of five, but currently in groups of three. The kyogen, of humorous character, had older origin, in 8th century entertainment brought from China, developing itself in sarugaku. In kyogen masks are rarely used and even if the plays can be associated with the ones of noh, currently many are not.[2] Kabuki appears in the beginning of the Edo period from the representations and dances of Izumo no Okuni in Kyoto.[3] Due to prostitution of actresses of kabuki the participation of women in the plays was forbidden by the government in 1629 and the feminine characters had passed to be represented only by men (onnagata). Recent attempts to reintroduce actresses in kabuki had not been well accepted.[3] Another characteristic of kabuki is the use of makeup for the actors in historical plays (kumadori). Japanese puppet theater bunraku developed in the same period that kabuki in a competition and contribution relation involving actors and authors. The origin of bunraku however is older, lies back in the Heian period.[4] In 1914 appeared the Takarazuka Revue a company solely composed by women who introduced the revue in Japan.[5]


Hondo at Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Japanese architecture has as long a history as any other aspect of Japanese culture. Originally heavily influenced by Chinese architecture, it also develops many differences and aspects which are indigenous to Japan. Examples of traditional architecture are seen at Temples, Shinto shrines and castles in Kyoto, and Nara. Some of these buildings are constructed with traditional gardens, which are influenced from Zen ideas.

Some modern architects, such as Yoshio Taniguchi and Tadao Ando are known for their amalgamation of Japanese traditional and Western architectural influences.


Garden Adachi Museum of Art , Yasugi, Japan.

Garden architecture is as important as building architecture and very much influenced by the same historical and religious background. Although today, ink monochrome painting still is the art form most closely associated with Zen Buddhism. A primary design principle of a garden is the creation of a landscape based on, or at least greatly influenced by, the three-dimensional monochrome ink (sumi) landscape painting, sumi-e or suibokuga.

In Japan, the garden has the status of artwork.[6]

Traditional clothing

Traditional Japanese clothing distinguishes Japan from all other countries around the world. The Japanese word kimono means "something one wears" and they are the traditional garments of Japan. Originally, the word kimono was used for all types of clothing, but eventually, it came to refer specifically to the full-length garment also known as the naga-gi, meaning "long-wear", that is still worn today on special occasions by women, men, and children. Kimono in this meaning plus all other items of traditional Japanese clothing is known collectively as wafuku which means "Japanese clothes" as opposed to yofuku (Western-style clothing). Kimonos come in a variety of colours, styles, and sizes. Men mainly wear darker or more muted colours, while women tend to wear brighter colors and pastels, and, especially for younger women, often with complicated abstract or floral patterns.

The kimono of a woman who is married (Tomesode) differs from the kimono of a woman who is not married (Furisode). The Tomesode sets itself apart because the patterns do not go above the waistline. The Furisode can be recognized by its extremely long sleeves spanning anywhere from 39 to 42 inches, it is also the most formal kimono an unwed woman wears. The Furisode advertises that a woman is not only of age but also single.

The style of kimono also changes with the season, in spring kimonos are vibrantly colored with springtime flowers embroidered on them. In the fall, kimono colors are not as bright, with fall patterns. Flannel kimonos are ideal for winter, they are a heavier material to help keep you warm.

One of the more elegant kimonos is the uchikake, a long silk overgarment worn by the bride in a wedding ceremony. The uchikake is commonly embellished with birds or flowers using silver and gold thread.

Kimonos do not come in specific sizes as most western dresses do. The sizes are only approximate, and a special technique is used to fit the dress appropriately.

The obi is a very important part of the kimono. Obi is a decorative sash that is worn by Japanese men and women, although it can be worn with many different traditional outfits, it is most commonly worn with the kimono. Most women wear a very large elaborate obi, while men typically don a more thin and conservative obi.

Most Japanese men only wear the kimono at home or in a very laid back environment, however it is acceptable for a man to wear the kimono when he is entertaining guests in his home. For a more formal event a Japanese man might wear the haori and hakama, a half coat and divided skirt. The hakama is tied at the waist, over the kimono and ends near the ankle. Hakama were initially intended for men only, but today it is acceptable for women to wear them as well. Hakama can be worn with types of kimono, excluding the summer version, yukata. The lighter and simpler casual-wear version of kimono often worn in summer or at home is called yukata.

Formal kimonos are typically worn in several layers, with number of layers, visibility of layers, sleeve length, and choice of pattern dictated by social status, season, and the occasion for which the kimono is worn. Because of the mass availability, most Japanese people wear western style clothing in their everyday life, and kimonos are mostly worn for festivals, and special events. As a result, most young women in Japan are not able to put the kimono on themselves. Many older women offer classes to teach these young women how to don the traditional clothing.

Happi is another type of traditional clothing, but it is not famous worldwide like the kimono. A happi (or happy coat) is a straight sleeved coat that is typically imprinted with the family crest, and was a common coat for firefighters to wear.

Japan also has very distinct footwear. Tabi, an ankle high sock, is often worn with the kimono. Tabi are designed to be worn with geta, a type of thonged footwear. Geta are sandals mounted on wooden blocks held to the foot by a piece of fabric that slides between the toes. Geta are worn both by men and women with the kimono or yukata.


Through a long culinary past, the Japanese have developed sophisticated and refined cuisine. In recent years, Japanese food has become fashionable and popular in the U.S., Europe and many other areas. Dishes such as sushi, tempura, and teriyaki are some of the foods that are commonly known. According to Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research "Whaling and whale cuisine are part of Japanese culture",[7] and Japan is the world's largest consumer of whale meat.[8] The Japanese diet consists principally of rice; fresh, lean seafood; and pickled or boiled vegetables. The healthy Japanese diet is often believed to be related to the longevity of Japanese people.


In the long feudal period governed by the samurai class, some methods that were used to train warriors were developed into well-ordered martial arts, in modern times referred to collectively as koryū. Examples include kenjutsu, kyūdō, sōjutsu, jujutsu, and sumo, all of which were established in the Edo period. After the rapid social change in the Meiji Restoration, some martial arts changed to modern sports, gendai budō. Judo was developed by Kano Jigoro, who studied some sects of jujutsu. These sports are still widely practiced in present day Japan and other countries.

Baseball, football, and other popular western sports were imported to Japan in the Meiji period. These sports are commonly practiced in schools along with traditional martial arts.

Baseball is the most popular sport in Japan. Football is becoming more popular after J League (Japan professional soccer league) was established in 1991. In addition, there are many semi-professional organizations which are sponsored by private companies. For example, volleyball, basketball, rugby union, table tennis, and so on. The motorsport of drifting was also invented in Japan.[citation needed]

Popular culture

Japanese popular culture not only reflects the attitudes and concerns of the present but also provides a link to the past. Popular films, television programs, manga, music, and videogames all developed from older artistic and literary traditions, and many of their themes and styles of presentation can be traced to traditional art forms. Contemporary forms of popular culture, much like the traditional forms, provide not only entertainment but also an escape for the contemporary Japanese from the problems of an industrial world. When asked how they spent their leisure time, 80 percent of a sample of men and women surveyed by the government in 1986 said they averaged about two and a half hours per weekday watching television, listening to the radio, and reading newspapers or magazines. Some 16 percent spent an average of two and a quarter hours a day engaged in hobbies or amusements. Others spent leisure time participating in sports, socializing, and personal study. Teenagers and retired people reported more time spent on all of these activities than did other groups.

Many anime and manga are very popular around the world and continue to become popular, as well as Japanese video games, music, fashion, and game shows;[9] this has made Japan an "entertainment superpower" along with the United States and United Kingdom.

In the late 1980s, the family was the focus of leisure activities, such as excursions to parks or shopping districts. Although Japan is often thought of as a hard-working society with little time for leisure, the Japanese seek entertainment wherever they can. It is common to see Japanese commuters riding the train to work, enjoying their favorite manga, or listening through earphones to the latest in popular music on portable music players.

A wide variety of types of popular entertainment are available. There is a large selection of music, films, and the products of a huge comic book industry, among other forms of entertainment, from which to choose. Game centers, bowling alleys, and karaoke are popular hangout places for teens while older people may play shogi or go in specialized parlors.

Together, the publishing, film/video, music/audio, and game industries in Japan make up the growing Japanese content industry, which, in 2006, was estimated to be worth close to 26 trillion Yen (USD$ 400 billion.).[10][11]

National character

Cultural map of the world according to the World Values Survey, describing Japan as highest in the world in "Rational-Secular Values".

The Japanese "national character" has been written about under the term Nihonjinron, literally meaning "theories/discussions about the Japanese people" and referring to texts on matters that are normally the concerns of sociology, psychology, history, linguistics, and philosophy, but emphasizing the authors' assumptions or perceptions of Japanese exceptionalism; these are predominantly written in Japan by Japanese people,[12] though noted examples have also been written by foreign residents, journalists and even scholars.

In terms of comparative cultural characteristics at the world level, the cultural map of the world according to the World Values Survey describes Japan as highest in the world in "Rational-Secular Values", and average-high in "Self-Expression Values".[13]

See also

Books on Japanese culture:

  • Japan Unbound: A Volatile Nation's Quest for Pride and Purpose


  • Cwiertka, Katarzyna J. (2007). Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity. Reaktion Books. ISBN 1-86189-298-5.  Review
  • Japan  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.
  • Diamond, Jared (June 1998). "Japanese Roots". Discover Magazine 19 (6). 
  • Goldstein-Gidoni, Ofra (Fall 1999). Kimono And The Construction of Gendered and Cultural Identities. 38. The University of Pittsburgh. 351–370. 
  • Martin, Richard (1995). Our Kimono Mind: Reflections on 'Japanese Design: A Survey since 1950'. 8. The Design History Society. 215–223. 
  • Nakagawa, Keiichirō; Rosovsky, Henry (Spring-Summer, 1963). "The Case of the Dying Kimono: The Influence of Changing Fashions on the Development of the Japanese Woolen Industry". The Business History Review (The President and Fellows of Harvard College) 37 (1/2): 59–80. doi:10.2307/3112093. JSTOR 3112093. 
  • Nippon The Land And Its People. 2006. 


  1. ^ Nihon Shoki, Chapter 22, 720.
  2. ^ a b Web, Japan. "Japan Fact Sheet" (PDF). Noh and Kyogen: The world’s oldest living theater. Archived from the original on 9 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  3. ^ a b Web, Japan. "Japan Fact Sheet" (PDF). Kabuki: A vibrant and exciting traditional theater. Archived from the original on 9 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  4. ^ Web, Japan. "Japan Fact Sheet" (PDF). Bunraku: Puppet theater brings old Japan to life. Archived from the original on 9 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  5. ^ "Takarazuka History". Takarazuka Revue. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  6. ^ Kuitert, Wybe (1988). Scenes and Taste in the History of Japanese Garden Art.. J.C.Gieben, Publisher, Amsterdam. ISBN 0-5063-021-9. 
  7. ^ "Whaling: The Japanese position". BBC. 15 January 2008. Retrieved 3. January 2011. 
  8. ^ "Japan's whale meat stockpile 'hits record'". 5 January 2011. 
  9. ^ "Cool Japan: Why Japanese remakes are so popular on American TV, and where we’re getting it wrong". AsianWeek. Retrieved on 2008-09-16.
  10. ^ Digital Content Association Of Japan
  11. ^ Japanese Content
  12. ^ Peter N. Dale, The Myth of Japanese Uniqueness (London: Routledge, 1990; ISBN 0-415-05534-2), passim.
  13. ^ Inglehart Values Map

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Japan FM — Création 27 février 2010 Slogan « Plus que du son, de la J music » …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force — (JMSDF) 海上自衛隊 (Kaijō Jieitai) Rising Sun Flag Founded …   Wikipedia

  • Japan Expo Awards — 2010 Description Remise de prix Manga, Anime, Jeu vidéo, Cinéma et J Music Organisateur Japan Expo Pays …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Japan — This article is about the country. For other uses, see Japan (disambiguation) …   Wikipedia

  • Japan Mint — nihongo|Japan Mint|独立行政法人 造幣局|Dokuritsu Gyōsei Hōin Zōheikyoku is an Incorporated Administrative Agency of the Japanese government. This agency has its Head office in Osaka with branches in Tokyo and Hiroshima.MissionThe Japan Mint maintains an… …   Wikipedia

  • culture — 01. In the [culture] of Japan, people bow to each other when they meet. 02. I have learned a lot about the [culture] of China from my students. 03. He is quite interested in the [culture] of Turkey. 04. In my [culture], the elderly are treated… …   Grammatical examples in English

  • Culture Day — Official name Bunka no hi (文化の日) Observed by Japan Type National Significance Promotes culture, the arts, and academic endeavour Date 3 November …   Wikipedia

  • Culture Brain — Inc. (株式会社カルチャーブレーン, Kabushiki gaisha Karuchā Burēn?), formally known as Nihon Game Inc. (株式会社日本ゲーム, Kabushiki gaisha Nihon Gēmu …   Wikipedia

  • Japan Expo — Vue de la convention en 2009 Coordonnées …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Japan — • Called in the language of the country Nihon or Nippon (Land of the Rising Sun), and Dai Nihon or Dai Nippon (Great Japan), situated north west of the Pacific Ocean and east of the Asiatic continent Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006.… …   Catholic encyclopedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.