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Culture of Japan

Empress Michiko, then Crown Princess, wearing a Jūnihitoe, 10 April 1959
Castles in Japan were built to guard important or strategic sites.
Osechi, new year special dishes in three-tiered box

The culture of Japan has changed greatly over the millennia, from the country's prehistoric Jōmon Period, to its contemporary modern culture, which absorbs influences from Asia, Europe, and North America.[1]

Japan's indigenous culture originates primarily from the Yayoi people who settled in Japan between 1000 BCE to 300 CE. Yayoi culture quickly spread to the main island of Honshū, mixing with the native Jōmon culture.[2] Modern Japanese have an estimated 80% Yayoi and 20% Jōmon ancestry.[3]

Japanese culture was influenced from ancient times to the Middle Ages primarily by multiple Chinese dynasties and to a lesser extent by other Asian countries. For example the Japanese language uses Chinese characters (kanji) for writing, but Japanese has no genetic relationship with Chinese.[4] In the near-contemporary history since the Meiji period Japan was primarily influenced by western countries. Repeated influence, absorption and selection in various ways have added to the development of a distinct and unique culture.[5][unreliable source?]

The inhabitants of Japan experienced a long period of relative isolation from the outside world for over 220 years during the Tokugawa shogunate until the arrival of the "Black Ships" and the Meiji period. Today, the culture of Japan stands as one of the leading and most prominent cultures around the world, mainly due to the global reach of its popular culture.[6][7]


Japanese is the official and primary language of Japan. Japanese 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 AD. The Japanese language has no genetic relationship with Chinese.[4] It belongs to a completely different language family called Japonic languages. However, it makes extensive use of Chinese characters, or kanji (漢字), in its writings.

Japanese is written with a combination of three scripts: hiragana and katakana were derived from the Chinese man'yōgana of the 5th century.[8]. Hiragana and katakana were first simplified from Kanji. Hiragana emerged somewhere around the 9th century.[9] It was mainly used by women in informal language. Katakana was mainly used by men and for formal language. By the 10th century, it was common and used by everyone.[10]. Kanji are Chinese characters that were imported from China, because Japan didn't have a writing system until it was introduced around 50 AD. It's mainly used for nouns, adjective stems, and verb stems. After centuries of development, there is a notable number of kanji used in modern Japanese which have a different meaning from hanzi used in modern Chinese. Japanese has much less simplified Chinese characters and people use less kanji in general.

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 very common.

Cultural Values

This map represents the world’s countries colored according to the cultural difference from Japan on the Emancipative Values Scale. Countries with less emancipative cultures than Japan's are colored in red while countries with a more emancipatory culture than Japan's are colored in green. The shade of the color is proportional to the magnitude of the cultural difference from Japan.[11]

In the cultural dimensions model proposed by the political scientist Christian Welzel, Japanese culture scores higher than most other contemporary human cultures on the emancipative values index.[12] Emancipative values refer to freedom of choice for individuals and equal rights for each person[13] The fact that Japanese culture ranks higher on the emancipative values scale than the majority of human cultures means that in Japanese culture, individual freedom and equal human rights are more strongly valued than in most other human cultures. Japanese culture is more empowering for individuals than those of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, South-East Asia, other parts of East Asia, Eastern Europe and Central America. The level of emancipative values in Japanese culture is similar with the level of emancipative values in American culture. However, Western European cultures and especially the cultures of Northern Europe rank higher than the Japanese culture on the emancipative values scale.[14][11]

Countries according to the cultural difference from japan on secular values. Shades of red mark countries that are less secular than Japan while shades of green signify that a country is more secular than Japan. The darkness of a shade is proportional to the degree of cultural difference.[11]

Secular values are the opposite of traditional and religious values. In cultures with a high level of secular values, there is a relatively low percentage of individuals who believe in God or gods, spirits and other supernatural entities as well as a low rate of attending religious rituals.[15] Japanese culture is more secular than most other cultures, as the secular values index shows.[14] Among the world’s cultures for which World Values Survey data is available, only certain European and East Asian cultures score as more secular than Japanese culture.[11]


Torii entrance gate at Kamigamo Shrine, Kyoto

Shinto and Buddhism are the primary religions of Japan, though a secular Christmas is widespread, and minority Christian and Islamic communities exist.


Shinto is an ethnic religion that focuses on ceremonies and rituals. In Shinto, followers believe that kami, a Shinto deity or spirit, are present throughout nature, including rocks, trees, and mountains. Humans can also be considered to possess a kami. One of the goals of Shinto is to maintain a connection between humans, nature, and kami. The religion developed in Japan prior to the sixth century CE, after which point followers built shrines to worship kami.[16]


Amida Buddha, Kōtoku-in

Buddhism developed in India around the 6th and 4th centuries BCE and eventually spread through China and Korea. It arrived in Japan during the 6th century CE, where it was initially unpopular. Most Japanese people were unable to understand the difficult philosophical messages present in Buddhism, however they did have an appreciation for the religion's art, which is believed to have led to the religion growing more popular.[citation needed] Buddhism is concerned with the soul and life after dying. In the religion a person's status was unimportant, as every person would get sick, age, die, and eventually be reincarnated into a new life, a cycle called saṃsāra. The suffering people experienced during life was one way for people to gain a better future. The ultimate goal was to escape the cycle of death and rebirth by attaining true insight.[16]

Social norms

The percentage of valid responses tolerant of divorce and homosexuality in various societies.[17]
The percentage of valid responses acceptant of divorce and homosexuality in different societies.[18]

PEW Research Center’s 2013 survey about moral norms around the world offers a glimpse into the differences between Japanese social norms and social norms from other cultures. Respondents were asked for eight specific behaviors which are known to be controversial in some cultures whether they consider the behavior morally acceptable, morally unacceptable or not a moral issue. An action deemed morally acceptable or not a moral issue is considered socially accepted according to the norms of the specific culture. The survey included samples from Western Europe, East Asia, North America, South Asia, Middle East and North Africa, South-East Asia, Eastern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, South America and Oceania.[19]

91% of the Japanese respondents (95% CI, 86% to 96%) affirmed that using contraceptives is either morally acceptable or not a moral issue, while only 5% (95% CI, 0% to 10%) of the Japanese sample answered that contraceptives are morally unacceptable.[20] When asked about the moral acceptability of abortion, 63% (95% CI, 58% to 68%) of the Japanese participants were of the opinion that abortion is either morally acceptable or not a moral issue. 28% (23% to 33%) thought that abortion is morally unacceptable.[21] Premarital sex was accepted by 73% of the Japanese, who considered it morally acceptable or not a moral issue. Only 21% (95% CI, 16 to 26%) of the Japanese sample affirmed that premarital sex is morally unacceptable.[22] 26% (95% CI, 21% to 31%) of the Japanese sample approved of extramarital affairs while 63% (95% CI, 58% to 68) of the respondents considered extramarital affairs morally unacceptable.[23] When asked if gambling is morally acceptable of not, 66% (95% CI, 61% to 71%) of the Japanese persons who participated in the survey said that gambling is morally acceptable or not a moral issue while 31% (95% CI, 26% to 36%) said that gambling is morally unacceptable.[24] 91% (95% CI, 86% to 96%) of the Japanese survey participants considered drinking alcohol to be either morally acceptable or not a moral issue. Only 6% (95% CI, 1% to 11%) to said that drinking alcohol is morally unacceptable.[25] Homosexuality was accepted by 63% (CI 95%, 58% to 68%) of the Japanese respondents, who said that homosexuality is morally acceptable, or not a moral issue. 31% of the respondents answered that homosexuality is morally unacceptable.[26] 82% (95% CI, 77% to 87%) of the Japanese sample approved of divorce while 13% (95% CI, 8% to 18%) said that divorce is morally unacceptable.[26]

The percentage of valid responses permissive of contraception and abortion in various cultures.[27]
The percentage of valid responses acceptant of alcohol drinking and gambling in different countries.[28]

By global standards, Japanese culture has very liberal social norms. Premarital sex, homosexuality, using contraceptives, having an abortion, gambling and drinking alcohol are more accepted in Japanese culture than in the cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, South-East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, India and other South Asian countries, other parts of East Asia, and the Orthodox Christian countries from Eastern Europe.[29] The cultures of certain Latin American countries have a lower degree of openness toward premarital sex and homosexuality than Japanese culture while in others there is a greater degree of openness. The social acceptance of premarital sex[22] (p < 0.001[30]) and homosexuality[31] (p < 0.05[30]) is higher in Japanese culture than in the culture of the United States. Only in Western European cultures is there a higher degree of acceptance for premarital sex and homosexuality. Extramarital affairs are more accepted in Japan than in the Middle East and North Africa, South-East Asia, Eastern Europe, the other countries of East Asia, most Sub-Saharan African countries, certain South American countries and the United States (p < 0.0001[30])[32]. Among the major world regions, only in Western Europe are extramarital affairs considered more socially acceptable than in Japan. The Japanese are more likely to consider divorce morally justifiable than Sub-Saharan Africans, South-East Asians, South Asians (including Indians), Latin Americans, Eastern Europeans, other East Asians, and the people of the United States. The picture is more complicated when comparing the acceptability of divorce in Japan with the Middle East and Western Europe. People in certain Middle Eastern countries (such as Tunisia or Turkey) are less likely to consider divorce jusifiable than the Japanese, while in other parts of the Middle East (such as Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon) there is a greater degree of social acceptability for divorce then in Japan. When comparing Japan with the countries of Western Europe, divorce is less accepted in Italy but more accepted in Spain, France, Germany and Britain.[33]

Concept of the self

The similarity versus difference and receptiveness to influence versus self-direction dimensions of self-construal[34]
The harmony versus self-expression and connection to others versus self-containment dimensions of self-construal[34]

Information about the Japanese concept of self in global perspective is provided by the large-scale study conducted by an international team of social psychologists coordinated by Vivian L. Vignoles and Ellinor Owe from the University of Sussex. They were interested in the idea of independence versus interdependence and analyzed the patterns of values and beliefs related to the individual self in 55 cultural groups in 33 countries from all main regions of the world. Traits such as individual uniqueness, self-expression, or autonomous decision making were associated by psychologists with independence while traits, like being similar with other people, maintaining group harmony and taking others' opinions into consideration when making personal decisions, were associated with interdependence. The authors expected to find a single dimension that distinguishes between cultures of independence and cultures of interdependence. No such dimension exists in reality. There are even traits that were typically considered as facets of independence but in reality, correlate strongly and negatively with each other when cultural differences are analyzed. Such is the case of individual uniqueness and self-interest.[35] A seven dimension model provided the best fit for the data. The dimensions included in the selected model are similarity versus difference, receptiveness to influence versus self-direction, harmony versus self-expression, dependence on others versus self-reliance, connection to others versus self-containment, variability versus self-consistency and commitment to others versus self-interest. [36]

The similarity versus difference scale measures values concerning how similar or unique someone should be and beliefs about how alike or unlike others does the individual think he or she is.[37][38] On this scale, the Japanese sample scored more toward the difference pole than samples from other cultures (rank 18 out of 55). This means that Japanese persons are more likely to consider themselves as unique individuals, to enjoy being noticeably different from others and to value having unique personal traits than people from other cultures. Among the culture zones studied, the Japanese lean more toward the difference pole than Sub-Saharan Africans, Middle Easterners, South-East Asians and most Eastern European peoples. The comparison with Western European, North American and South American samples is less clear-cut. Some samples from those culture zones are closer to the similarity pole than the Japanese while others are closer to the difference pole[34][39].

The receptiveness to influence versus self-direction dimension quantifies the degree of importance placed on obeying others and following their advice or taking independent decisions without caring for the reactions others even if they are part of the family or the group of friends.[37][38] The Japanese sample ranked higher on self-direction than any other cultural group included in the sample. This implies that making your own decisions without caring what others think and choosing your own future on your own are strongly emphasized in Japanese culture. The fact that the Japanese sample scored higher on self-direction than all other cultural groups in the study, even if the study included cultures from all major regions of the globe, means that in Japanese society it is more strongly valued for each individual to decide his or her future on his or her own than in almost any other human society[34][39].

On the harmony versus self-expression scale, which measures the degree of importance given to maintaining strong relationships with in-groups versus expressing personal opinions even if it may disturb group relationships, the Japanese sample ranked on place 27 out of 55.[37][38] In the global perspective, the Japanese are similar with people from other cultures when it comes to expressing their opinions in groups. They are more likely to express a controversial opinion in a group than people from most Sub-Saharan African, Middle Eastern, South-East Asian, Chinese and East European cultures, but less likely to do so than people from most West European, North American or Latin American cultures.[34][39]

The dependence on others versus self-reliance and variability versus consistency dimensions of self-construal[34]
The similarity versus difference and commitment to others versus self-interest dimensions of self-construal[34]

The connection to others versus self-containment factor concerns the degree to which the individual feels his or her self as being emotionally linked to that of close others or, on the contrary, sharply separated from that of in-groups.[37][38] The results show that in Japanese culture, the self-contained way of experiencing oneself is strongly preferred. The Japanese sample ranks 2nd (after the Baganda ethnic group from Uganda) toward the self-containment pole. Japanese persons are likely to have a strong and visceral sense of being distinct individuals, separated from other people, even from family or friends.[34][39]

The Japanese sample ranked 2nd closest to dependence on others (after the Baganda people from Uganda) on the dependence on others versus self-reliance scale.[34][39]. This implies that the Japanese find it important for themselves to work in a team when pursuing their goals rather than work alone more than do people from most other cultures.[38][38]

On the variability versus self-consistency scale,[38][37] the Japanese sample scored closest to the variability pole among all surveyed cultural groups. Japanese individuals prefer to adapt to each situation rather than maintain a rigid and unchanging attitude[34][39]

The commitment to others versus self-interest factor measures the degree of altruism versus egoism as manifested in close relationships.[37][38] The Japanese sample scored higher on in-group altruism than most other cultures. They are more altruistic toward in-groups than Sub-Saharan Africans, South-East Asians, Latin Americans, people from the eastern provinces of China, and certain East European cultures. However, the results showed that the Japanese are more self-interested and prioritize personal success more than maintaining their relationships with family and friends, when compared with people from most West European and North American societies.[34][39]

The Japanese sample scored highly on variables which are positively correlated with economic development (in particular those related to independent decision making, individual uniqueness and commitment to others).[34][40] This signifies that the view of self in Japanese culture is similar to the view of self in other economically developed regions (such as North America, Western Europe) and different from the view of self in the economically developing regions (such as Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Northern Africa, or South-East Asia).


The global study realized by cross-cultural researcher Michael Minkov and his collaborators revealed two dimensions of cultural differences related to values that parents from around the world teach to their children.

The qualities emphasized by parents when educating children according to Michael Minkov’s cross-cultural model, with the Japanese culture highlighted.[41]

The first dimension distinguishes between the collectivistic cultures of developing countries and the individualistic cultures of developed countries. It contrasts a collectivist emphasis on following social norms strictly, respecting traditions, avoiding conflicts with others and being always humble with an individualistic emphasis on choosing freely which rules are worth respecting and which are not, learning scientific knowledge, expressing oneself even if this may lead to a conflict with others and accepting praise with pride.[42]

In contrast with parents from most other cultures, Japanese parents prefer to give their children an individualistic education based on values such as ignoring outdated social norms instead of following them, learning modern science instead of cultural traditions, saying what they think even if it may lead to a conflict with others and accepting praise with pride. Japanese parents teach individualistic values to their children more than do parents in Sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia, Central Asia, India, Latin America, Eastern Europe, other parts of East Asia and the United States. Among the world’s major culture zones, only parents from Western Europe place such a high emphasis on individualism when raising their children as Japanese parents do.[41]

The second dimension identified by the authors in the values parents teach their children differentiates between monumentalist cultures and flexibility cultures. Monumentalism is a set of cultural values and norms which stress the importance of stability, persistence, tradition, and having a proud and unchanging identity, like a monolithic monument. Flexibility denotes the opposite cultural profile, which is based on adapting to change, challenging and improving oneself.[41]

Education achievement on international tests such as PISA and TIMSS are strongly correlated with a mode of educating children centred on flexibility flexibility. The Pearson correlation coefficient between the country level monumentalism versus flexibility index in child education and the highest score on PISA or TIMSS tests that samples from a country ever achieved is r(48) = -0.74 (p< 0.01).[43] This shows that student education achievement is highest in flexibility cultures and lowest in monumentalist cultures. The Japanese sample scored higher on the flexibility emphasis in child education than any sample in the study.[44]

National character

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,[45] though noted examples have also been written by foreign residents, journalists and even scholars.


Early works of Japanese literature were heavily influenced by cultural contact with China and Chinese literature, often written in Classical Chinese. Eventually, Japanese literature developed into a separate style in its own right as Japanese writers began writing their own works about Japan.[citation needed] Since Japan reopened its ports to Western trading and diplomacy in the 19th century, Western and Eastern literature have strongly affected each other and continue to do so.

Visual arts

Page from the Man'yōshū
A page from the Man'yōshū, the oldest anthology of classical Japanese poetry

Japanese calligraphy

The flowing, brush-drawn Japanese rendering of the 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 'shodō' (書道) which literally means 'the way of writing or calligraphy' or more commonly known as 'shūji' (習字) 'learning how to write characters'. Commonly confused with calligraphy is the art form known as 'sumi-e' (墨絵), literally meaning 'ink painting', which is the art of painting a scene or object.

Japanese painting

Painting has been an art in Japan for a very long time: the brush is a traditional writing and painting tool, and the extension of that to its use as an artist's tool was probably natural. Japanese painters are often categorized by what they painted, as most of them constrained themselves solely to subjects such as animals, landscapes, or figures. Chinese papermaking was introduced to Japan around the 7th century. 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. Schools of painting such as the Kano school of the 16th century became known for their bold brush strokes and contrast between light and dark, especially after Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu began to use this style. Famous Japanese painters include Kanō Sanraku, Maruyama Ōkyo, and Tani Bunchō.[46]


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 (生け花, 活花, or 挿花) 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.

Traditional clothing

The clothing of Samurai is also a kind of Kimono. This Samurai is in armor in 1860s

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. The earliest kimonos were heavily influenced by traditional Han Chinese clothing, known today as hanfu (漢服, kanfuku in Japanese), through Japanese embassies to China which resulted in extensive Chinese culture adoptions by Japan, as early as the 5th century AD.[47] It was during the 8th century, however, that Chinese fashions came into style among the Japanese, and the overlapping collar became particularly women's fashion.[47] 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 colors, styles, and sizes. Men mainly wear darker or more muted colors, 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 Autumn, kimono colors are not as bright, with Autumn patterns. Flannel kimonos are most commonly worn in winter; they are made of a heavier material and are worn mainly to stay 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 threads. 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.

Woman in kimono at Fukuoka City Hall.

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 the Japanese summer festival 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 do the traditional clothing.

Happi is another type of traditional clothing, but it is not famous worldwide like the kimono. A happy (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 a very distinct footwear. Tabi, an ankle-high sock, is often worn with the kimono; Tabi is 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.

Installation arts


Japanese architecture has a long history as any other aspect of Japanese culture. Originally it was heavily influenced by Chinese architecture, it has developed 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 by 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 architecture is as important as building architecture and very much influenced by the same historical and religious background. A primary design principle of a garden is the creation of the 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.[48]


Traditional Japanese sculptures mainly focused on 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 traditional Japanese architecture. Statues are often lacquered, gilded, or brightly painted, although there are little traces on the surfaces. Bronze and other metals are not used. Other materials, such as stone and pottery, have had extremely important roles in the plebeian beliefs.



Fumie Hihara playing shamisen (Kabuki dance, Guimet Museum, Paris)

The music of Japan includes a wide array of performers in distinct styles both traditional and modern. The word for music in Japanese is 音楽 (ongaku), combining the kanji 音 "on" (sound) with the kanji 楽 "gaku" (enjoyment).[49] Japan is the second largest music market in the world, behind the United States, and the largest in Asia,[50] and most of the market is dominated by Japanese artists.[citation needed]

Local music often appears at karaoke venues, which is on lease from the record labels. Traditional Japanese music is quite different from Western Music and is based on the intervals of human breathing rather than mathematical timing.[citation needed] In 1873, a British traveler claimed that Japanese music, "exasperate(s) beyond all endurance the European breast."[51]

Performing arts

Noh play at traditional Noh theatre

The four traditional theatres from Japan are noh (or ), kyōgen, kabuki, and bunraku. Noh had its origins in the union of the sarugaku, with music and dance made by Kan'ami and Zeami Motokiyo.[52] 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 kyōgen, traditionally in number of five, but currently in groups of three.

The kyōgen, of a humorous character, had an older origin, in 8th-century entertainment brought from China, developing itself in sarugaku. In kyōgen, masks are rarely used and even if the plays can be associated with the ones of noh, currently many are not.[52]

Kabuki appears in the beginning of the Edo period from the representations and dances of Izumo no Okuni in Kyoto.[53] 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.[53] 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.[54] In 1914, appeared the Takarazuka Revue a company solely composed by women who introduced the revue in Japan.[55]

Sports and leisure

Two students practicing kendo at Hiroshima University

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, kendo, 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 into modern sports, called gendai budō. Judo was developed by Kanō Jigorō, who studied some sects of jujutsu. These sports are still widely practiced in present-day Japan and other countries. Baseball, Association 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, soccer, football, and ping pong are the most popular sports in Japan. Association football gained prominence in Japan after the J League (Japan Professional Football League) was established in 1991. Japan also co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup. 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.


Traditional breakfast at ryokan

Through a long culinary past, the Japanese have developed sophisticated and refined cuisine. In more recent years, Japanese food has become fashionable and popular in the United States, Europe, and many other areas. Dishes such as sushi, tempura, noodles, and teriyaki are some of the foods that are commonly known. 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.

Popular culture

Japanese popular culture not only reflects the attitudes and concerns of the present day but also provides a link to the past. Popular films, television programs, manga, music, anime and video games 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.[citation needed]

Many anime and manga are very popular around the world and continue to become popular, as well as Japanese video games, fashion, and game shows.[56]

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. A wide variety of types of popular entertainment are available. There is a large selection of music, films, and the products of a huge manga and anime 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.[57]

Cultural landscapes

There are 51 official cultural landscapes (文化的景観, bunkateki keikan) in Japan. These landscapes evolved with the way of life and geocultural features of a region, and which are indispensable for understanding the lifestyle of the Japanese people.[58][59][60][61][62]

Three Views of Japan

The Three Views of Japan (日本三景, Nihon Sankei) is the canonical list of Japan's three most celebrated scenic sights, attributed to 1643 and scholar Hayashi Gahō.[63] These are traditionally the pine-clad islands of Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture, the pine-clad sandbar of Amanohashidate in Kyoto Prefecture, and Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture. In 1915, the New Three Views of Japan were selected with a national election by the Jitsugyo no Nihon Sha (株式会社実業之日本社). In 2003, the Three Major Night Views of Japan were selected by the New Three Major Night Views of Japan and the 100 Night Views of Japan Club (新日本三大夜景・夜景100選事務局).

National symbols

Mount Fuji and sakura (cherry blossom) are national symbols of Japan

Japan has a number of national symbols. The Japanese archipelago is located to the east of the Asian continent. Japan is regarded as the most eastern Asian country, because east of Japan is the vast Pacific Ocean. Minamitorishima is Japan's easternmost island. Thus Japan is the land where the sun rises before the Asian continent. The kanji 日本 that make up the name of Japan literally mean 'sun origin'. It is pronounced as Nihon or Nippon in Japanese.[64] So it is often called by the epithet "Land of the Rising Sun".[65] The Nisshōki (日章旗, the "sun-rise flag") is the national flag of Japan. It symbolizes the rising sun and corresponds with the name of Japan. The earliest accounts of the rising sun flag is in the 7th century CE. In 607, an official correspondence that began with "from the Emperor of the rising sun" was sent to Chinese Emperor Yang of Sui.[66] Thus the central importance of the sun in Japanese culture is represented in the national flag and other cultural goods. Similarly, the Japan Self-Defense Forces have flags that symbolize the sun.

The sun also plays an important role in Japanese mythology and religion as the Emperor is said to be the direct descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu. Amaterasu is the personification of Japan. She is seen as the goddess of the sun and the universe in Shinto religion. The Emperor is "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people." Emperor Jimmu (神武天皇 Jinmu-tennō) is the national founder of Japan. The national animals are the Green pheasant, Koi fish and the Great purple emperor butterfly. The Imperial Seal of Japan is one of the national seals and a crest (mon) used by the Emperor of Japan and members of the Imperial Family. The Cherry blossom (Prunus serrulata) & Chrysanthemum morifolium are de facto national flowers of Japan.

Japan's de facto national dish is Sushi,[67] Japanese curry[68] and Ramen.[69] The de facto national liquor is sake.[70]

Mount Fuji (Fujisan) is the national mountain of Japan. It is one of Japan's "Three Holy Mountains" (三霊山, Sanreizan) along with Mount Tate and Mount Haku. It is also a Special Place of Scenic Beauty and one of Japan's Historic Sites.[71] The summit is considered a sacred place since ancient times. As a national symbol of the country, Fujisan has been depicted in various art and media such as painting, woodblock prints (such as the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji), poetry, music, theater, film, manga, anime and pottery.[72]


See also

Books on Japanese culture:


  • Cwiertka, Katarzyna J. (2007). Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity. Reaktion Books. ISBN 978-1-86189-298-0. Review
  • Japan  This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website [].
  • Goldstein-Gidoni, Ofra (Fall 1999). "Kimono And The Construction of Gendered and Cultural Identities". Ethnology. 38 (4): 351–370. doi:10.2307/3773912. JSTOR 3773912.
  • Martin, Richard (1995). "Our Kimono Mind: Reflections on 'Japanese Design: A Survey since 1950'". Journal of Design History. 8 (3): 215–223. doi:10.1093/jdh/8.3.215.
  • 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. 37 (1/2): 59–80. doi:10.2307/3112093. JSTOR 3112093.
  • Varley, Paul. Japanese Culture. 4th Edition. Honolulu. 2000.
  • Nippon The Land And Its People. 2006.


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Further reading

External links