Visitors can partake in such traditions as flower arranging or the tea ceremony and observe national pastimes ranging from Kabuki theater to Sumo wrestling. Museums are also great repositories for everything Japanese, from stunning artwork to folk items used in every day life.
Japanese flower arranging, called Ikebana or Kado, is like painting a picture with flowers, with each blossom, stem, vase and stand chosen with great care and arranged in perfect grace, harmony and beauty. Originally related to the tea ceremony as a special but simple way to decorate the tea room, Japanese flower arranging evolved into different schools of thought, each with their own methods and philosophies. Today there are more than 20 well-known schools of flower arranging, a few of which open their doors to foreigners eager for a quick lesson in English. Department stores sometimes have ikebana shows. Incidentally, Ikebana has spread throughout the world largely through the efforts of Ikebana International.
Chanoyu, the tea ceremony, is an aesthetic cult much in vogue in Japan. Introduced from China, it was formalized as a ceremony in the 16th century based on the tenets of Zen, when civil war plagued the nation and samurai sought relief in the stylized ritual as a form of disciplinary training for mental composure. Today, many Japanese still practice the tea ceremony as a spiritual balance to today's hectic world. It is also revered for its lessons in elegant manners and etiquette, with many different schools practicing their own style of ceremony. Visitors can experience the tea ceremony, which features a special type of powdered green tea, at several hotels with tea rooms (most notably in Tokyo), at many of Japan's famous landscape gardens and at tea-ceremony schools.
Cultural Places of Interest
The Japanese garden is designed to be a faithful representation of nature and to impart a sense of simple, unspoiled beauty. Its style therefore contrasts with that of a Western garden, which relies on shaping nature into a kind of geometrical beauty. There are three main styles of Japanese garden; Tsukiyama, Karesansui, and Chaniwa.
A 'Tsukiyama' - style garden is arranged to show nature in miniature, with hills, ponds and streams. The Karesansui style of garden developed in the Muromachi Era as a representation of Zen spiritualism. In this style, sand or gravel is used to represent rivers or the sea. It is charactarized by its force and simplicity. The Chaniwa is the garden adjacent to a ceremonial teahouse. This style of garden avoids any suggestion of showiness and strives for the utmost simplicity and naturalness.
Castles in Japan underwent their most intensive phase of development in the Sengoku (Warring States) era from the 15th to the 16th century. Built with the object of keeping the enemy out, they are elaborate in design and strongly fortified. Their magnificent architecture also served to demonstrate the power of the joshu, or lord of the castle.
The jinja, or shrine, is where believers in Japan's indigenous religion, Shintô, go to worship. Shintô originated in ancient peoples' fears of demons and supernatural powers, and their worship of these. It has no written body of doctrine, but it is Japan's main religion and is practised widely through ceremonies and festivals.
The main sanctuary of a shrine is called the Shinden or Honden. There are also ancillary buildings such as the Haiden, or outer hall, and the Hômotsuden, or treasury, but these are not arranged according to any particular specified layout.
There are many lucky charms and other such objects to be seen at a shrine. Some are used to determine the will of the gods and some as a way of communicating with the gods and asking for their protection.
The chief priest of a shrine is called the Kannushi. He is responsible for all the religious observances and the running of the shrine. The young girl assistants in a shrine are called Miko.
In ancient times, it was believed that people died when the soul left the body. To try and call it back, they used a form of magic called Kagura, which involved dancing and playing flutes and drums. This became formalized and developed into Noh and Kyôgen.
If you want to see the typical classical architecture of Japan, there is no better place to go than one of its many buddhist temples. These temples, with their images of the Buddha, were established for the practice and propagation of the Buddhist religion, which originally came from India.
The layout of the temple buildings differs depending on the particular Buddhist sect and the period, and the names of the buildings themselves are also different.
The most important buildings in the temple are the main hall (Hondô, Kondô or Butsuden) and the pagoda. Worshippers stand in the outer chamber facing the inner sanctuary, with its images of the Buddha, to pray, pressing their palms together.
In India, the temple building which houses what are said to be the remains of the Buddha is called a stupa. In its passage to Japan via China and Korea, this type of building changed its shape and became the five-storied pagoda of the typical Japanese temple.
The Bonsho is the Buddhist temple bell. It is struck 108 times on New Year's Eve to ring in the New Year and drive out the 108 evil desires that man is heir to.
Japan is literally soaking in hot springs, with a tradition of bathing that stretches back 2,000 years. Called onsen in Japanese, these hot-spring resorts offer mind-boggling variations in the simple act of soaking in hot mineral waters, from simple outdoor affairs to theme-based sophisticated facilities. Even mineral content varies widely, with certain baths attributed to curing different ailments. In any case, whether large or small, humble or grand, the procedure for bathing in a public bath is the same all over Japan. After completely disrobing and placing clothes in a locker or basket, bathers enter the bath area and head to the faucets with basins and stools, where they then soap down and wash off all traces of soap. Only when they're clean do they enter the bath, which may be so hot that it takes some time getting used to, especially for novice bathers. But with time, the hot water ebbs away all cares and tension, the perfect end to a day of travel. The second-most important rule of public bathing (after soaping down and rinsing prior to entering the water): never pull the plug, as public baths should be thought of in same vein as whirlpools. In any case, hot-spring spas are so popular, especially among groups of family, friends, and co-workers, that the Japanese are apt to visit the baths several times during a one night's stay: upon arrival at the resort, after dinner, and before departing the next day.
Japan is the land of landscape gardening and the tea ceremony, but it's also the unofficial king of pop culture. Godzilla was probably Japan's first ambassador of pop culture to the rest of the world, unleashed in a monster movie more than 50 years ago and copied many times over in subsequent films. In more recent times, Pokemon, created by Nintendo in 1996 for its handheld video game, Game Boy, spread to the rest of the world in the forms of a television series and trading cards, followed by Digimon, Yu-Gi-Oh! And Dragonball. Hello Kitty has captured hearts of girls everywhere with purses, notebooks and other accessories stamped with its trademark cat. And a global interest in anime (Japanimation) has spread ever since Astro Boy, anime's most well-known icon, was adapted for Western television in 1963. It was the beginning of a wave of anime imports, including Spirited Away which took an Oscar in 2003 and Appleseed. An interest in anime has spawned international animation fairs and shows in Japan, not to mention markets for Japanese movies and magazines.
Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved. Signature Travel Network and Japan Tourism Board.