Japan Culture
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  • 1. KIMONO AND YUKATA Kimono and Yukata are Japan traditional cloth. It had been worn by all Japanese for generation. Kimonos are made of silk and are usually very expensive. Nowadays they are worn at formal or traditional occasions such as funerals, weddings or tea ceremonies. Only rarely kimono can still be seen in everyday life. Kimono differ in style and color depending on the occasion on which it is worn and the age and marital status of the person wearing it. To put on a kimono needs some practice. Especially tying the belt (obi) alone is difficult so that many people require assistance. Wearing a kimono properly includes proper hair style, traditional shoes, socks, underwear, and a small handbag for women. The yukata, on the other hand, is more of informal leisure clothing. It can even be worn without underwear and is very comfortable on hot summer days or after a hot bath. Yukata are relatively inexpensive and made of cotton. While staying at a ryokan, you will be provided with a yukata. (Picture in appendix page 13) RYOKAN Ryokan are Japanese traditional style inns. They come in all sizes and are found across Japan. A stay at a ryokan is highly recommended to all visitors to Japan, as it offers the opportunity to experience a traditional Japanese atmosphere. Typical rates for ryokan 1|Page
  • 2. range between 8,000 and 30,000 yen per night, per person. There are some no-frills establishments that offer rooms for less. Guests stay in Japanese style rooms with tatami floor and a low table. Shoes are usually removed at the ryokan's main entrance, where slippers will be kept ready. You are supposed to remove even your slippers before stepping onto tatami mats. Dinner and breakfast are included in the overnight stay, except at some no-frills establishments. Some ryokan serve meals in the guest room, while others serve them in separate dining areas. Both meals are in Japanese style and often feature regional and seasonal specialties. A yukata (Japanese robe) is provided to be worn during your stay at the ryokan. The yukata can be used for walking around the ryokan and as pajamas. In many onsen resorts, it is also okay to take a walk outside of the ryokan in your yukata. The yukata provided at Western style hotels, unlike those provided at ryokan, are not supposed to be worn outside of your room. During your stay, you will have the opportunity to enjoy a Japanese style bath. Most ryokan come with a gender separated, communal bath, but in many cases it is also possible to use the bath on a private basis by reserving a time slot. In hot spring resorts, the ryokan's bath water is directly supplied from the hot spring. Elsewhere on the site is a guide on how to take a bath. Ryokan guests sleep in the traditional Japanese style by using a futon, which is spread out on the tatami floor. The ryokan staff will prepare the futon for you before bed time. At inexpensive ryokan, you may have to do it by yourself. During the day, the futon is kept in a closet. (Picture in appendix page 13) 2|Page
  • 3. TEA CEREMONY The tea ceremony (Sado) is a ritual way of preparing and drinking tea. The custom has been strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism. Nowadays, the tea ceremony is a relatively popular kind of hobby. Many Japanese, who are interested in their own culture, take tea ceremony lessons with a teacher. Tea ceremonies are held in traditional Japanese rooms in cultural community centres or private houses. The ceremony itself consists of many rituals that have to be learned by heart. Almost each hand movement is prescribed. Basically, the tea is first prepared by the host, and then drunken by the guests. The tea is bitter matcha green tea made of powdered tea leaves. GEISHA Geisha are professional female entertainers who perform traditional Japanese arts at banquets. Girls who wish to become a geisha, have to go through a rigid apprenticeship during which they learn various traditional arts such as playing instruments, singing, dancing, but also conversation and other social skills. In Kyoto, geisha apprentices are called "maiko". Geisha are dressed in a kimono, and their faces are made up very pale. As a common tourist, you may be able to spot a maiko in some districts of Kyoto, such as Gion and Pontocho or in Kanazawa's Higashi Geisha District. 3|Page
  • 4. (Picture in appendix page 14) GARDENS Garden design has been an important Japanese art for many centuries. Traditional Japanese landscape gardens can be broadly categorized into three types, Tsukiyama Gardens (hill gardens), Karesansui Gardens (dry gardens) and Chaniwa Gardens (tea gardens). Tsukiyama Gardens Ponds, streams, hills, stones, trees, flowers, bridges and paths are used to create a miniature reproduction of a natural scenery which is often a famous landscape in China or Japan. The name Tsukiyama refers to the creation of artificial hills. Tsukiyama gardens vary in size and in the way they are viewed. Smaller gardens are usually enjoyed from a single viewpoint, such as the veranda of a temple, while many larger gardens are best experienced by following a circular scrolling path. (Picture in appendix page 14) Karesansui Gardens Karesansui gardens reproduce natural landscapes in a more abstract way by using stones, gravel, sand and sometimes a few patches of moss for representing mountains, islands, boats, seas and rivers. Karesansui gardens are strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism and used for meditation. (Picture in appendix page 14) 4|Page
  • 5. Chaniwa Gardens Chaniwa gardens are built for the tea ceremony. They contain a tea house where the actual ceremony is held and are designed in aesthetic simplicity according to the concepts of sado (tea ceremony). Chaniwa gardens typically feature stepping stones that lead towards the tea house, stone lanterns and a stone basin (tsukubai), where guests purify themselves before participating in the ceremony. (Picture in appendix page 14) CHERRY BLOSSOMS (SAKURA) The cherry blossom (sakura) is Japan's unofficial national flower. It has been celebrated for many centuries and holds a very prominent position in Japanese culture. There are many dozens of different cherry tree varieties in Japan, most of which bloom for just a couple of days in spring. The Japanese celebrate that time of the year with hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties under the blooming trees. JAPANESE PLUM The Japanese plum or ume (sometimes referred to as a Japanese apricot) has played an important role in Japanese culture for many centuries. It was originally introduced from China. The plum is associated with the start of spring, because plum blossoms are some of the first blossoms to open during the year. In the Tokyo area, they typically flower in 5|Page
  • 6. February and March. The event is celebrated with plum festivals (ume matsuri) in public parks, shrines and temples across the country. Like cherry trees, plum trees come in many varieties, many of which were cultivated by humans over the centuries. Most plum blossoms have five petals and range in color from white to dark pink. Some varieties with more than five petals (yae-ume) and weeping branches (shidare-ume) have also been cultivated. Unlike cherry blossoms, plum blossoms have a strong fragrance. (Picture in appendix page 15) TRADITIONAL MUSIC • Gagaku: Ancient court music from China and Korea. It is the oldest type of Japanese, traditional music. • Biwagaku: Music played with the instrument Biwa, a kind of guitar with four strings. • Nogaku: Music played during No performances. It basically consists of a chorus, the Hayashi flute, the Tsuzumi drum, and other instruments. • Sokyoku: Music played with the instrument Koto. Later also accompanied by Shamisen and Shakuhachi. The Koto is a zither with 13 strings. • Shakuhachi: Music played with the instrument Shakuhachi, a about 55 cm long flute. The name of the flute is its lenght expressed in the old Japanese length units. • Shamisenongaku: Music played with the instrument Shamisen, a kind of guitar with only three strings. Kabuki and Bunraku performances are accompanied by the shamisen. 6|Page
  • 7. • Minyo: Japanese folk songs. SUMO Sumo is a Japanese style of wrestling and Japan's national sport. It originated in ancient times as a performance to entertain the Shinto gods. Many rituals with religious background are still followed today. The basic rules of sumo are simple: The wrestler who either first touches the floor with something else than his sole or leaves the ring before his opponent, loses. The fights themselves usually last only a few seconds and in rare cases up to one minute or longer. Six tournaments are held every year, each one lasting 15 days. Three of the tournaments are held in Tokyo (January, May, September), and one each in Osaka (March), Nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November). At the top of the sumo wrestlers' hierarchy (banzuke) stands the yokozuna (grand champion). At the moment, there are two yokozuna, Asashoryu and Hakuho, both from Mongolia. Once a wrestler reaches the rank of yokozuna, he cannot lose it anymore. However, he is expected to retire as soon as his results are starting to worsen. Most elite wrestlers are highly trained athletes and between 20 to 35 years old. Besides working out, the wrestlers are eating large amounts of food and go to bed right after eating in order to gain mass. The wrestlers are living in special sumo stables where the rules are very strict, especially for lower ranked wrestlers. (Picture in appendix page 15) 7|Page
  • 8. SWORDS The Japanese sword (nihonto) has been internationally known for its sharpness and beauty since feudal times. The sword used to be the distinguishing mark of the samurai. (Picture in appendix page 15) FESTIVAL (MATSURI) There are countless local festivals (matsuri) in Japan because almost every shrine celebrates one of its own. Most festivals are held annually and celebrate the shrine's deity or a seasonal or historical event. Some festivals are held over several days. Important elements of Japanese festivals are processions, in which the local shrine's kami (Shinto deity) is carried through the town in mikoshi (palanquins). It is the only time of the year when the kami leaves the shrine to be carried around town. Many festivals also feature decorated floats (dashi), which are pulled through the town, accompanied by drum and flute music by the people sitting on the floats. Every festival has its own characteristics. While some festivals are calm and meditative, many are energetic and noisy. Below follows an incomplete list of some of Japan's most famous festivals. Exact dates are available on the event calendar. 8|Page
  • 9. One week in early February Sapporo Snow Festival Sapporo, Hokkaido Large snow and ice sculptures are built in the city's centrally located Odori Park during the Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri). April 14-15 and October 9-10 Takayama Matsuri Takayama, Gifu Large and elaborately decorated floats are pulled through the old town of Takayama. Held in spring and autumn Weekend in midday Sanja Matsuri Asakusa, Tokyo The festival of Asakusa Shrine, the Sanja Matsuri is one of Tokyo's three big festivals. Mikoshi are carried through the streets of Asakusa. July Kyoto Gion Matsuri Kyoto The festival of Yasaka Shrine, Gion Matsuri is ranked as one of Japan's three best festivals, featuring over 20 meter tall festival floats. The highlight of the festival takes place on July 17. 9|Page
  • 10. August 2-7 Nebuta Matsuri Aomori City The Nebuta Matsuri features festival floats with huge lanterns, some measuring more than 10 meters. The festival attracts several million visitors every year. August 12-15 Awa Odori Tokushima City This is the most famous of many traditional dancing festivals held across Japan during the obon season in mid August. October 7-9 Nagasaki Kunchi Nagasaki City The festival of Nagasaki's Suwa Shrine, the Nagasaki Kunchi features Chinese style dragons and floats shaped like ships. December 2-3 Chichibu Yomatsuri Chichibu City The Chichibu Night Festival is considered one of Japan's three best festivals featuring large festival floats (yatai). The festival's highlight takes place in the evening of December 3. 10 | P a g e
  • 11. (Picture in appendix page 16) CALENDAR With the year 1873, the Gregorian calendar was introduced to Japan. While the Christian way of numbering years is commonly used in Japan today, a parallel numbering system for years based on the reigns of emperors is also frequently applied The year 2000, for example, which happened to be the 12th year of the reign of the current emperor, whose posthumous name will be Heisei, is called "Heisei 12". Before 1873, lunar calendars, which were originally imported from China, were used in Japan for many centuries. The lunar calendars were based on the cycle of the moon, resulting in years of twelve months of 29 or 30 days (the moon takes about 29 1/2 days to circle the earth), and an occasional 13th month to even out the discrepancy to the solar cycle of 365 1/4 days, i.e. the discrepancy to the seasons. Various features of the lunar calendar remain intact in today's Japan. For example, years are still commonly associated with the twelve animals: mouse, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Another aspect of the lunar calendar that survives into modern Japan is the subdivision of the calendar into six days (rokuyo), similar to the subdivision of the modern calendar into seven weekdays. The six days are called taian, butsumetsu, senpu, tomobiki, shakko and sensho, and they are associated with good and bad fortune. 11 | P a g e
  • 12. Taian, for example, is considered the most auspicious of the six days and ideal for holding business or personal events such as wedding ceremonies, while butsumetsu is considered the least auspicious day, and holding funerals is avoided on tomobiki. HANETSUKI Hanetsuki is a traditional Japanese New Year's game, played with a wooden paddle called hagoita and a shuttle called hane. The game resembles badminton, played without a net. While the game's popularity has declined in recent times, beautifully ornamented hagoita are still a popular collection item. In the middle of December, the Hagoita Market (Hagoita-ichi) is held at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo, where ornamented wooden paddles (hagoita) are sold at numerous stands. The paddles come in different sizes, and most of them feature portraits of kabuki actors and beautiful Edo ladies. But also portraits of celebrities from entertainment, sport and politics such as Prime Minister Koizumi, Harry Potter, soccer players Nakata and Beckham and fantasy characters such as Kitty-chan and Spiderman can be found on some hagoita. (Picture in appendix page 17) REFERENCE 12 | P a g e
  • 13. http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2101.html Appendix (Kimono and Yukata) 13 | P a g e
  • 14. (Ryokan) (Geisha) Tsukiyama Gardens Karesansui Gardens 14 | P a g e
  • 15. Chaniwa Gardens (Cherry Blossom) (Umeboshi) Sumo Swords 15 | P a g e
  • 16. Sopporo Snow Festival awa odori Takayama Matsuri Nagasaki Kunchi Sanja Matsuri Chichibu Yomatsuri 16 | P a g e
  • 17. Kyoto Gion Matsuri Nabuta Matsuri Hanetsuki 17 | P a g e