is broken up into six parts:
people spend money on ?
(Floating World pictures)
culture stretches back to at least 300 BC (JOMON PERIOD). This early
culture was influenced by Siberia to the north and from the south,
is quite difficult to understand Japanese culture until you
realize four important points about its make-up.
Japanese culture has many layers, old and new, foreign and native. This
is fairly clear if you think about clothing, food and housing. Japanese
people have always shown an interest for things outside of Japan and
taken the best of them and incorporated them
into their culture.
Japanese are homogeneous people. Culture varies very little throughout
the country. The reasons for this are perhaps the large population
living on a small area of habitable land and Japan has been ruled for
centuries by a central government, which strictly controlled everyone's
lives. The group plays a very important part in all Japanese lives with
Japanese make foreign culture their own. Japanese kana characters
were formed from more complex Chinese characters, before 900 AD (Heian
Period). Kamakura Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 6th century.
Japanization stretches across the whole culture.
Japanese are a very pragmatic people, dealing with specific points
rather than a wider truth. This has hampered those scientists who apply
themselves to research, and Japanese are sometimes
criticized for their lack of imagination. Japanese themselves do
not understand why most things should be "black and white" as
we in the West tend to think.
the above points in mind I will try to explain clearly, some of the
different elements that make up the culture in Japan.
A Typical Tokyo
climate and the customs of Japan, dictated to a large degree on
the design of traditional architecture. Traditional style houses
have good ventilation, with Tatami mats allowing a good air flow
throughout the house. This is vital during the hot humid Japanese
summers and a curse during the cold winters.
mats came into common use at the end of the Muromachi period and the now
traditional alcoves (tokonoma) and paper sliding doors (fusuma) in the
Azuchi Momoyama period. Tiled slanting roofs are another common feature.
Thatch roofs with long over hangs are common
in areas with heavy snow falls in the winter. Timber has been the
common building materials with lath and plaster walls.
building methods can still be witnessed in Japan. Very often, before
construction begins, a Shinto priest may hold a ceremony to purify the
building site. Another ceremony may be held once the frame for the new
house has been erected, leaving Sake and rice cakes on one of the
joists. I have been told that this custom varies from area to
Rural City (Mito City Ibaraki Prefecture)
in a Japanese house can be a very cold experience, if you are used to
central heating (as I was). The walls are thin and not insulated
against the cold, also as I have mentioned houses are well ventilated,
letting cold drafts blow through unabated. Traditional and often modern
housing doesn't have a central heating system, instead households
usually rely on kerosene heaters. The modern ones are pretty effective,
but have to be stopped once every few hours, to allow for any carbon
monoxide built up to dissipate.
favorite type of heating device is the Kotatsu. A Kotatsu is a low table
with an electric heater fixed underneath and a thick quilt cover placed
under the table top that hangs on all four sides to the Tatami mat. This
is a very cozy way in which to eat dinner, accompanied by a warm cup of
Sake. It is also very convenient if one has guests and one of them
passes out, from to much
Sake, he can be safely left in the Kotatsu for
the night, without freezing to death.
style houses used charcoal in a small charcoal burner placed in a square
well beneath the floor, with the Kotatsu and quilt covering the well.
This is more comfortable, as it allows you to put your legs down into
the well and not fold your legs under yourself, as in the modern type.
style housing is becoming more and more popular, with
imported houses from U.S. and Canada increasing. The young
generations of Japanese are looking for comfort (and fashion?) rather
than tradition, with one room covered with traditional Tatami mats and
the other rooms with wooden or carpeted flooring. Concrete and synthetic
materials are replacing wood constructed housing.
young people, compared with these in the West, can afford to buy a
house. Housing prices range from \30 million in the countryside to over
90 million Yen in Tokyo. Land prices across Japan have been falling in
recent years, but still out of the range of most people, especially if
you consider that the average Japanese house will last for about 40
years, nearly the same time it would take to pay for the mortgage. Many
people opt for buying a condominium type apartment, Mansion, with prices
in the 40 million Yen range in Tokyo, but the ongoing recession has hit
that market hard, with many empty new high rise apartments, left unsold
or being put on the market at reduced prices.
western style toilets are common. But some rest rooms still have the
Japanese style flushable toilet, whereby you have to squat down and not
sit on it. These can be often found in the countryside. I was a little
horrified once, when I was visiting someone
outside of Tokyo, and had to use the toilet, to discover, not only was
it a Japanese style lavatory, but I could look down through the hole
into the cesspit! Needless to say I had to hold my nose with my left
hand. This is not such a common sight anymore, some trains and public
rest rooms still use Japanese style flushable
toilets. I have never tried one on a moving train, but I can imagine it
must be quite an experience, for the untrained.
excellent Japanese custom, in regards to housing, is always removing
shoes before entering a house. There are a couple of reasons for
this custom. One is the fact that outdoor shoes could damage the Tatami
matting and the other reason is of course hygiene. It would be rather
unpleasant if someone tracked dirt through the home.
I think this custom should be adopted in
Western homes as well. It would cut down on cleaning and wear and tear. If
you go to eat in a Japanese restaurant, that has Tatami, you will have
to remove your shoes. Schools, many hospitals,
doctors surgeries and dental clinics also have this custom.
a bath in Japan is nearly a ritualistic event. If you are a guest in a
Japanese household, then you will be asked to
take a bath first, every night, during your stay. Don't be shocked, and
think that maybe you have a bad smell.
Japanese also take a bath every night.
should never get into the bath, before washing your body with soap and
rinsing it off, outside the bath. Never put
soap in the bath. To do so, is considered very bad manners. Once
your body is cleaned and soap free, you should enter the bath and stay
in for at least 2 minutes. Very often hot
water is being re-circulated through the boiler, you can add cold water
from the tap. When you get out of the bath, do
not pull the plug out. The bath water will be used for the whole family.
There is usually some order as to who takes a bath
first, second and so on. Always first is the guest, then
the husband, children, and finally the wife. This does vary from
household to household. For example, many
husbands and wives prefer to take a bath together.
|What do people spend money on ?
speaking, young people spend money on cars, holidays, clothes,
electrical goods, entertainment, and so on. The Japanese
are very fashion conscious and are far better dressed than their
peers in the West. It is easy to spot a Japanese in any other
country, only by looking at the quality of the clothes. There is,
however, some uniformity in the styles, the brand of handbag,
scarf, coat, etc. This uniformity stretches through the generations.
Housewives tend to wear similar clothes as the other members, of their
housewives circle. Go to any park during the day, when the mothers take
their small children to play, there will not
be anyone dressed in a nonconformist way. This is equally true of
young men and women in their late teens to early twenties.
Perhaps the most fashion
conscious age, yet they follow each other in their choice of fashion,
depending on which group they belong to.
This was quite striking when
Amuro (famous Japanese girl singer) was at the height of her popularity,
to see in Tokyo, hundreds of Amuro clones, from hair style to their
had a revival here 4 or 5 years ago. Again all the so-called punks
dressed in a similar way, not showing any individualism, therefore, I
think, not really succeeding in making any statement about their life.
Except that it was trendy to dress that way.
change rapidly, so, as in any country, a lot of money is needed to stay
on top of it. High school girls can be seen strutting around Tokyo with
Channel bags and other expensive accessories. Where do they get the
money from? Not from their parents!
I will discuss this issue in the crime section.
are important for young men, even if they live in a city. such as Tokyo,
where the car rental spaces can cost from 20.000-50,000 Yen a month
(nearly as much as the cost of one apartment room).
of the popular dating spots around Tokyo are really only accessible by
car, for example, Rainbow Bridge, which spans across Tokyo Bay. Also, it
is not possible to have an intimate conversation on a crowded train in
Tokyo, with so many ears listening to all your conversation.
people also have to save money, if they have any desire to be married in
the future. A wedding ceremony and reception for 100 guests, can cost
from 1 million to 4 million Yen, or more, depending on the number of
guests (, etc). I will discuss this more in the family life
Typical Small Roomed Apartment Building
houses and apartments being small, like rabbit hutches, there is a
limited amount of space to put furniture. People tend to buy more
expensive items, than we do in the West. It used to be a usual
occurrence, to find a two or three year old TV or other electrical
appliance, left at a rubbish collection point. This attitude has changed
over the last 3 or 4 years. Many recycle shops have sprung up across
Japan, as people become a little more aware of the environment, and not
waste valuable resources. Another reason for this change is economic.
People think twice before replacing
their 3 year old TV.
with Japan in deep recession, consumer spending has plunged, sending
some supermarkets and other stores into bankruptcy. The government has
been urging the general public to spend their money, without any
success. Maybe the public has more common sense than the government. The
government has issued shopping vouchers, instead of a cash tax rebate. I
cannot imagine who thought that absurd idea up. I, for one, wanted a tax
rebate so I can put it into my bank account.
Like most Japanese, I should think.
is an art form using Japanese and Chinese characters. This decorative
calligraphy is much admired because each character has a
meaning and also the multitude of character shapes. Using only a brush
and black ink to form the characters.
has its origins in China. It was introduced into Japan in the 8th
century (Heian period). Emperor Saga, Kukai and Tachibana no Hayanori
are considered to represent Chinese calligraphy's classic beauty, they
are referred to as theThree Great Brushes (Sanpitsu：三筆).
the 10th and 11th centuries, Ono no Tofu, Fujiwara no Sukemasa and
Fujiwara no Yukinari developed a unique Japanese style, known as Wayo.
Fujiwara no Yukinari's style led to the birth of the Sensoji school and
Ono no Tofu style led to the foundation of
the Shoren school, which later developed the Oie style of calligraphy.
The Oie style was used on official documents during the Edo period.
basic styles of calligraphy:
block style, with little brush movement.
Between Kaisho and Sosho. A little more brush movement.
Using swift brush strokes, it has freedom of
movement and is a very creative style. One of the most popular.
Heian period women used this style. It developed popularity of Waka (和歌）poetry.
Kana is an elegant and refined form.
Ukiyo-e(浮世絵: Floating World Picture)
became popular in the middle of the 18th century, along with the
popularity of Kabuki (歌舞伎)
and new printing technology. It became possible to print full color
pictures and Suzuki Harunobu created the full color Nishiki-e (錦絵）prints, he drew
pictures of beautiful women with good detailed backgrounds.
Kitagawa Utamara was skilled at the O-kubi-e showing women from the
waist up. These portraits often used backgrounds with sparkling
mica, they are powerful and sensual pictures.
Sharaku used his skills to depict the characters of the Kabuki theater.
HE produced 150 pictures from Kabuki plays in Edo between 1794 and 1795.
the 19th century, there were many inferior prints produced on the topics
already mentioned. Katsushika Hokusai and Ando Hiroshige develped a new
theme. Hokusai became famous for his 36 views of Mount Fuji and other
tourist site. Hiroshige is well-known for his 53 stations on the Tokaido
and 69 stations on the
Kisokaido. These series of pictures portray Japanese scenery and the
sights of travelers.
Ukiyo-e found themselves in Europe influencing Monet, Van Gogh, Degas
and other impressionists.
wood, cloth and other materials are coated with layers of
lacquer. The lacquer is extracted from the lacquer tree. Lacquer
ware has been produced throughout Southern Asia for more than two
thousand years. In Japan the lacquer making technique became so
sophisticated that the term japan has became the generic term for
lacquer ware, as China is for porcelain. In the 15th and 16th centuries
japan was exported to Europe by Dutch and Portuguese traders. Lacquer
has been used since ancient times as a glue and a varnish to protect
wooden, bamboo or cloth objects. The earliest known use of lacquer in
Japan was as a glue and protective coating for bows and sword hilts.
the best Japanese lacquer ware is principally an art form. Well-known
types of lacquer ware are, Wajima, Aizu and Shunkei. Lacquer ware is
often used for New Year celebrations and other important occasions.
There are many plastic examples sold in shops today, they are a lot
cheaper than the real thing. So, you should
take time to look carefully for souvenirs.