Japan is a country of many surprises with a geography made up of a long chain of islands stretching over 3,000 kilometers comprising the four major islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushuu and a clusters of islets comprising the bigger Ryukyu island chain to the south.
In recent travel narratives, Tokyo’s Shibuya has gained a most prominent role. However, there’s more to Japan than its blinding lights and busy streets.
Here are eight culture and heritage facts about Japan that might have been forgotten:
1. Shintoism and Buddhism
Worshipping of these two religions is commonly practiced in Japan. A US-educated Japanese professor once noted that a survey of Japan citizens revealed that 80% are Shintoists and 70% are Buddhists, which account for 150%! How is that so? Simple. A Japanese can say that he is both Shintoist and Buddhist. It is common to see two religious altars in Japanese homes: one is called Kamidana (Shintoism) and the other Butsudan (Buddhism).
The traditional theatrical art of kabuki only has male actors. Male actors, who specialized in the portrayal of women roles, are called “onnagata”. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has included kabuki in its list of intangible heritage. “Kabuki plays are about historical events and moral conflict in relationships of the heart,” UNESCO writes in its website. Elaborate make-up and costumes, monotone voices and traditional instruments characterize this dramatic play.
3. Tea Ceremony
This culture has spread to Japan and is seen as a form of self-reflection to appreciate the very moment a person is able to enjoy drinking a cup of tea. Preparing tea and drinking tea are elevated in the form of a tea ceremony. It is said that boiling water in an iron pot makes a light, high-pitch sound which is reminiscent of the soft wind blowing over the bamboo leaves. In a way, this analogy embraces the essence of the ceremony: to enjoy and savor what is in front of you for that very moment only happens once in a lifetime.
4. Martial Arts
When the Heavens created martial arts, it showered Japan with all physical and mental prowess needed to be great and admirable athletes. Name it, Japan has it! Kyudo, judo, karate, kendo and many others are now being practiced as sports. In the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, karate has been accepted as an additional sport.
In Asia, the Filipinos may be known as great karaoke singers but did you know that the karaoke (カラオケ ）is originally a Japanese word coined after “kara” meaning empty and “oke” meaning orchestra. Together, the word karaoke means singing with recorded music. This is in contrast to “nama-oke” or real orchestra. The term karaoke is now known all over the world and has landed in the pages of Merriam-Webster Dictionary and is defined as: “a device that plays instrumental accompaniments for a selection of songs to which the user sings along and that records the user’s singing with the music.”
The Japanese art of flower arrangement is called ikebana. Perhaps no other country in the world highly appreciates flower arrangement as an art that is being practiced by a large proportion of the population. Ikebana is more than just putting flowers and stems in a container. Much emphasis is placed on the arrangement of the different elements. The harmony of nature and human beings is valued in ikebana as natural beauty plays a major role in the life and lifestyle of the Japanese people.
Traditional Japanese food is called washoku, which literally means “food of japan”. It has gained worldwide recognition for being healthy and delicious. The presentation of dishes is a visual treat in itself. It has been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Japanese food tickles the senses and embraces different flavors: sour, salty, sweet, slightly bitter with full umami flavors. As a contrast to the Japanese food culture, we now see the proliferation of “instant noodle” that has since been widely accepted spinning a new food culture common to all corners of the world.
Yamaha, Toyota, Isuzu, Honda, Kawasaki, Daihatsu, Subaru, Mazda, Suzuki… what do they have in common? These are Japanese car brands which are distributed all over the world. Japan’s automobile production in 1960 was 500,000. The production grew 10 times in 10 years producing five million units in 1970. The peak production in Japan was in 1990 with 13.5 million units and it was about 10 million in 2014.
Japan is a colorful country with rich culture and heritage that has spanned thousands of years. There is more to learn about its story including manga, anime, cosplay and even the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Want to know more about Japan’s history, culture and heritage? Stay tune for more stories here in our site.
Liantine Imamichi/ Philippines