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The culture of Japan has evolved greatly over millennia, from the country's prehistoric Jmon 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.

Geisha ( "person of the arts") are traditional Japanese artist-entertainers. The word Geiko is also used to describe such persons. Geisha were very common in the 18th and 19th centuries, and are still in existence today, although their numbers are dwindling. "Geisha," pronounced /ge a/ ("gay-sha") is the most familiar term to English speakers, and the most commonly used within Japan as well, but in the Kansai region the terms geigi and, for apprentice geisha, "Maiko" have also been used since the Meiji Restoration. The term maiko is only used inKyoto districts. The English pronunciation gi a ("gee-sha") or the phrase "geisha girl," common during the American occupation of Japan, carry connotations of prostitution, as some young women, desperate for money and calling themselves "geisha," sold themselves to American troops. The geisha tradition evolved from the taikomochi or hkan, similar to court jesters. The first geisha were all male; as women began to take the role they were known as onna geisha (), or "woman artist (female form)." Geisha today are exclusively female, aside from the Taikomochi. Taikomochi are exceedingly rare. Only three are currently registered in Japan. They tend to be far more bawdy than geisha. Other public figures who contributed to the creation of the modern geisha were Oiran, or courtesans, and Odoriko, dancing girls.

The Odoriko in particular influenced geisha to include dance as part of their artistic repertoire. Geisha were traditionally trained from young childhood. Geisha houses often bought young girls from poor families, and took responsibility for raising and training them. During their childhood, apprentice geisha worked first as maids, then as assistants to the house's senior geisha as part of their training and to contribute to the costs of their upkeep and education. This long-held tradition of training still exists in Japan, where a student lives at the home of a master of some art, starting out doing general housework and observing and assisting the master, and eventually moving up to become a master in her own right (see also irezumi). This training often lasts for many years. The course of study traditionally starts from a young age and encompasses a wide variety of arts, including Japanese musical instruments (particularly the shamisen) and traditional forms of singing, traditional dance, tea ceremony, flower arranging (ikebana), poetry and literature. By watching and assisting senior geisha, they became skilled in the complex traditions surrounding selecting, matching, and wearing precious kimono, and in various games and the art of conversation, and also in dealing with clients. Once a woman became an apprentice geisha (a maiko) she would begin to accompany senior geisha to the tea houses, parties and banquets that constitute a geisha's work environment. To some extent, this traditional method of training persists, though it is of necessity foreshortened. Modern geisha are no longer bought by or brought into geisha houses as children. Becoming a geisha is now entirely voluntary. Most geisha now begin their training in their late teens. Are Geisha Prostitutes? Strictly speaking, geisha are not prostitutes. Because they entertain men behind closed doors in an exclusive manner, there has been much speculation about the underpinnings of their profession. The confusion that surrounds this issue has been complicated by Japanese prostitutes who wish to co-opt the prestige of the geisha image, and by inaccurate depictions of geisha in Western popular culture. Although a geisha may choose to engage in sexual relations with one of her patrons. The first geisha was indeed a courtesan named Kako. Over time, she discovered that she had no need to engage in the red-light district. Kako was directly or indirectly to heir to many schools of Japanese art. She called herself a geisha ("arts-person") and confined herself to giving artistic performances. Occasionally, a geisha may choose to take a danna (an old fashioned word for husband), which is typically a wealthy man who has the means to support a geisha mistress. Although a geisha may fall in love with her danna, the affair is customarily contingent upon the danna's ability to financially support the geisha's lifestyle. The

traditional conventions and values within such a relationship are very intricate and not well understood, even by many Japanese. Because of this, the true intimate role of the geisha remains the object of much speculation, and often misinterpretation, in Japan as well as abroad.

Samurai ( or sometimes ) is a common term for a warrior in pre-industrial Japan. A more appropriate term is bushi () (lit. "war-man") which came into use during the Edo period. However, the term samurai now usually refers to warrior nobility, not, for example, ashigaru or foot soldiers. The samurai with no attachment to a clan or daimyo was called a ronin (lit. "wave-man").

Samurai were expected to be cultured and literate, and over time, samurai during the Tokugawa era gradually lost their military function. By the end of the Tokugawa, samurai were essentially civilian bureaucrats for the daimyo with their swords serving only ceremonial purposes. With the Meiji reforms in the late 19th century, the samurai were abolished as a distinct class in favour of a western-style national army. The strict code that they followed, called bushido, still survives in present-day Japanese society, as do many other aspects of their way of life.

Etymology of samurai The word samurai has its origins in the pre-Heian period Japan when it was pronounced saburai, meaning servant or attendant. It was not until the early modern period, namely the Azuchi-Momoyama period and early Edo period of the late 16th and early 17th centuries that the word saburai became substituted with samurai. However, by then, the meaning had already long before changed. During the era of the rule of the samurai, the earlier term yumitori (bowman) was also used as an honorary title of an accomplished warrior even when swordsmanship had become more important. Japanese archery (kyujutsu), is still strongly associated with the war god Hachiman.


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 colours, 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 the fall, kimono colors are not as bright, with fall patterns. Flannel kimonos are ideal for winter, they are a heavier material to help keep you 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 thread.

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. 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 summer or at home 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 don the traditional clothing. Happi is another type of traditional clothing, but it is not famous worldwide like the kimono. A happi (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 very distinct footwear. Tabi, an ankle high sock, is often worn with the kimono. Tabi are 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.

Japanese Wedding
If you look carefully you will be able to see how the Uchikake is very long and would touch the ground if it was not held up. Unlike traditional Western wedding dresses, that have train or material that flows along the ground at the back of the dress, the Uchikake is long all the way around. The Japanese bride has to be assisted by one of her attendants to walk in this kimono.

Japanese Dance
Bon Odori
Bon-odori is a Japanese traditional summer dance festival. The dance is very simple, you can learn within a few minutes practice! Its absolutely fun! Yukata is a Japanese informal summer kimono. You can see many beautiful competitors from the Yukata competition

During summer evenings everywhere in Japan, the local community enjoys Bon-Odori (dance) in the near-by park or playground. This tradition was originated when the farmers thanked the Rice Paddock God for the good summer crop. The Dance movement is simple and repetitive. Of course you can learn these dances at any age!

Japenese Music
Traditional Japanese drums are known as taiko or wadaiko drums. The original concept for the large drums came from China over 1,000 years ago. These first drums were made of slats of wood, but produced an inferior sound because of the secondary vibrations and loss of energy through the joins in the slats. The Japanese then developed a new manufacturing method to improve the sound. The improved manufacturing method involved the use of a single piece of wood from the trunk of a very large zelkova tree. The larger drums normally use cow hide for the "heads" of the drums. Toshinori Sakamoto is an accomplished player and teacher of Wadaiko. He has studied under renowned conductor and lead percussionist of the Kumamoto Philharmonic Orchestra, Takashi Fukuda. Toshi was a founding member of the Kumamoto based Wadaiko group, Rindo Daiko and played with them from 1987 until he moved to Australia in 1995. Since coming to Australia Toshi has performed at Japan Festivals in Melbourne, Sydney, Fiji, the Melbourne International Festival and many group recitals. Toshi performed with Rindo Daiko when they visited Melbourne in November 1996 and in October 1997 at their own concerts and as part of a world music Festival at Melbourne Town hall. He has visited numerous schools throughout Australia to introduce this highly accessible art form to both primary and secondary students. Toshi is accompanied by his wife Junko who is also an accomplished Wadaiko player and former member of Rindo Daiko in Kumamoto. Together they form Wadaiko Rindo in Melbourne in 2000.


The koto is one of the most popular Japanese traditional musical instruments. To many, the character of koto music is evocative of traditional Japan with the attributes of the western

harp, dulcimer and lute. (Photographs from the Japan Festival Melbourne 2002. Click on image to enlarge). Many Japanese legends refer to the origins of the koto. A popular one says that the koto was formed in the shape of crouching dragon, a charmed and mythical creature of ancient Japan and China. The koto was brought to Japan around the end of the 7th century by Chinese and Korean musicians who came to play in the Japanese court orchestra, gagaku. By the 15th century, solo repertoires for koto, sookyoku began to emerge. In the early Edo period (around the 17th century), sookyoku was a popular source of entertainment for the wealthy merchant classes. The thirteen strings of the koto are stretched along a soundboard of nearly two metres made of hollowed-out paulownia timber. The strings were traditionally made of silk, nowadays synthetic. It is tuned for different songs by movable bridges of ivory or plastic. The koto is played with ivory plectrum on the thumb and the first two fingers of the right hand, the left hand applying pressure to vary the pitch. The music ranges from the simplicity of the traditional to the melodic as well as challenging contemporary pieces.

Taiko drums

Of course no matter how big or small you are Taiko drums are great to play! Sometimes it pays to get a little bit of advice from someone who knows better! Unless you are too busy looking into the details of other important points of Japanese culture.

Popular culture

Musashi Miyamoto in Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue, adapted from an Eiji Yoshikawa's novel, Musashi. Japanese popular culture not only reflects the attitudes and concerns of the present but also provides a link to the past. Popular films, television programs, manga, music, and videogames 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. Many anime and manga are very popular around the world and continue to become popular, as well as Japanese video games, music, fashion, and game shows;[9] this has made Japan an "entertainment superpower" along with the United States and United Kingdom. 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 on portable music players. A wide variety of types of popular entertainment are available. There is a large selection of music, films, and the products of a huge comic book 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, which, in 2006, was estimated to be worth close to 26 trillion Yen (USD$ 400 billion.)

Visual arts
Painting Painting has been an art in Japan for a very long time: the brush is a traditional writing tool, and the extension of that to its use as an artist's tool was probably natural. Chinese papermaking was introduced to Japan around the 7th century by Damjing and several monks of Goguryeo, 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.

The flowing, brush-drawn Japanese language lends itself to complicated calligraphy. Calligraphic art is often too esoteric for Western audiences and therefore general exposure is very limited. However in East Asian countries, the rendering of 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 Shodo ( ) which literally means the way of writing or calligraphy or more commonly known as Shuji () learning how to write characters. Commonly confused with Calligraphy is the art form known as Sumi-e () literally means ink painting which is the art of painting a scene or object.


Traditional Japanese sculptures mainly consisted of Buddhist images, such as Tathagata, Bodhisattva and My-. The oldest sculpture in Japan is a wooden statue of Amitbha at the Zenk-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 Tdai-ji temple. Wood has traditionally been used as the chief material in Japan, along with the traditional Japanese architectures. Statues are often lacquered, gilded, or brightly painted, although there are little traces on the surfaces. Bronze and other metals are also used. Other materials, such as stone and pottery, have had extremely important roles in the plebeian beliefs.

Ukiyo-e 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.

Japanese architecture has as long a history as any other aspect of Japanese culture. Originally heavily influenced by Chinese architecture, it also develops 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 from Zen ideas.

Some modern architects, such as Yoshio Taniguchi and Tadao Ando are known for their amalgamation of Japanese traditional and Western architectural influences.

Japanese cuisine
Japanese cuisine has developed over the centuries as a result of many political and social changes throughout Japan. The cuisine eventually changed with the advent of the Medieval age which ushered in a shedding of elitism with the age of shogun rule. In the early modern era significant changes occurred resulting in the introduction of non-Japanese cultures, most notably Western culture, to Japan. The modern term "Japanese cuisine" (nihon ryri (?) or washoku ( ?)) means traditional-style Japanese food, similar to that already existing before the end of national seclusion in 1868. In a broader sense of the word, it could also include foods whose ingredients or cooking methods were subsequently introduced from abroad, but which have been developed by Japanese people who have made these methods their own. Japanese cuisine is known for its emphasis on seasonality of food (, shun) quality of ingredients and presentation. The Michelin Guide has awarded Japanese cities by far the most Michelin stars of any country in the world (for example, Tokyo alone has more Michelin stars than Paris, Hong Kong, New York, LA and London combined)

Sushi (, , , , , ?) is a Japanese delicacy consisting of cooked vinegared rice (shari) combined with other ingredients (neta). Neta and forms of sushi presentation vary, but the ingredient which all sushi have in common is shari. The most common neta is seafood. Raw meat sliced and served by itself is sashimi.

Common staple foods found on a national level (Shushoku)

Rice (gohan, ) Since its cultivation in Japan about 2000 years ago, rice has been Japan's most important crop. Its fundamental importance to the country and its culture is reflected by the facts that rice was once used as a currency, and that the Japanese word for cooked rice gohan () or meshi () also has the general meaning of "meal". The literal meaning of breakfast (asagohan), for example, is "morning rice". Japanese rice is short grain and becomes sticky when cooked. Most rice is sold as hakumai ("white rice"), with the outer portion of the grains (nuka) polished away. Unpolished rice (genmai) is considered less delicious by most people, but its popularity has been increasing recently because gemmai is more nutritious and healthier than hakumai. A second major rice variety used in Japan is mochi rice. Cooked mochi rice is more sticky than conventional Japanese rice, and it is commonly used for sekihan (cooked mochi rice with red beans), or for pounding into rice cakes. Rice is processed and prepared in many different ways. Some popular processed rice products are listed below, while a list of popular ways to use rice can be found here. okayu, sake, wagashi, senbei, mochi, donburi ( , "bowl") and sushi Noodles (men-rui, ) Noodles often take the place of rice in a meal. They are featured in many soup dishes, or served chilled with a sauce for dipping. Bread (pan, ) Bread/Pan is not native to Japan and is not considered traditional Japanese food, but since its introduction in the 19th century it has become common. The word pan is a loanword originally taken from Portuguese.