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.
Japanese art covers a wide range of art styles and media, including ancient pottery, sculpture, ink painting and calligraphy on silk and paper, ukiyo-e woodblock prints, kirie, kirigami, origami, and more recently manga – modern Japanese cartoons – along with a myriad of other types of works of art. It also has a long history, ranging from the beginnings of human habitation in Japan, sometime in the 10th millennium BC, to the present.
Painting is the preferred artistic expression in Japan, practiced by amateurs and professionals alike. Until modern times, the Japanese wrote with a brush rather than a pen, and their familiarity with brush techniques has made them particularly sensitive to the values and aesthetics of painting. With the rise of popular culture in the Edo period, a style of woodblock prints called ukiyo-e became a major art form and its techniques were fine tuned to produce colorful prints of everything from daily news to schoolbooks. The Japanese, in this period, found sculpture a much less sympathetic medium for artistic expression; most Japanese sculpture is associated with religion, and the medium’s use declined with the lessening importance of traditional Buddhism.
Japanese ceramics are among the finest in the world and include the earliest known artifacts of their culture. In architecture, Japanese preferences for natural materials and an interaction of interior and exterior space are clearly expressed.
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” music). Japan is the second largest music market in the world, with a total retail value of 4,096.7 million dollars and most of the market is dominated by Japanese artists.
Local music often appears at karaoke venues, which is on lease from the record labels. Traditional Japanese music is quite different from Western Music as it is often based on the intervals of human breathing rather than mathematical timing. In 1873, a British traveler claimed that Japanese music, “exasperates beyond all endurance the European breast.”
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 colors, while women tend to wear brighter colors and pastels, and, especially for younger women, often with complicated abstract or floral patterns.
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 United States, Europe, and many other areas. Dishes such as sushi, tempura, 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.
Japanese is the official and primary language of Japan. 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 AD.
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.
Early works of Japanese literature were heavily influenced by cultural contact with China and Chinese literature, often written in Classical Chinese. Indian literature also had an influence through the diffusion of Buddhism in Japan. Eventually, Japanese literature developed into a separate style in its own right as Japanese writers began writing their own works about Japan. 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.
Japanese architecture is a great example of Eastern style architecture, which uses the natural element of the environment to compliment the building’s structure. Japanese architecture has many similarities when comparing traditional with modern architecture thanks to numerous timeless traditions.
Early architects in Japan created the idea of using resources at hand to develop buildings and allowing these resources to be as they were. This further adds to the concept of intertwining architecture with the existing environment to create a seamless flow.
Sports in Japan are a significant part of Japanese culture. Both traditional sports such as sumo and martial arts, and Western imports like baseball and association football, are popular with both participants and spectators.
Sumo wrestling is considered Japan’s national sport. Baseball was introduced to the country by visiting Americans in the 19th century. The Nippon Professional Baseball league is Japan’s largest professional sports competition in terms of television ratings and spectators. Martial arts such as judo, karate and modern kendō are also widely practiced and enjoyed by spectators in the country. Association football has gained wide popularity since the founding of the Japan Professional Football League in 1992. Other popular sports include figure skating, golf and racing, especially auto racing.
In the premodern calendar, a sequence of holidays occurred on numerologically auspicious days (such as 1 January, 3 March, 5 April); these remain popular holidays.
Other important traditional holiday seasons include O-ch gen and O-seib, in late June and late December, respectively, when one is expected to repay social obligations and exchange gifts with colleagues.
The following national holidays are observed: 1 January, New Year’s Day; 15 January, Adult’s Day; 11 February, National Foundation Day; 21 March, spring equinox; 29 April, Green Day; 3 May, Constitution Day; 5 May, Children’s Day; 20 July, Ocean Day; 15 September, Respect for the Aged Day; 21 September, the autumnal equinox; 10 October, Sports Day; 3 November, Culture Day; 23 November, Labor Thanksgiving Day; 23 December, Emperor’s Birthday.
The week between 29 April and 5 May is known as Golden Week because of the three successive national holidays. Many businesses close for the entire week, and vacation travel peaks during this period.
Several Western holidays, including Christmas and Valentine’s Day, have become very popular secular holidays. Valentine’s Day in particular has been adapted to conform to the Japanese gift-giving etiquette of reciprocity.