Japan, 1000 years of continuous tradition

Japan is a close neighbor of China and has a history of over 2,000 years of interaction with China. Every nation in the world has its own unique culture, whether it be the two river civilizations created by the ancient Babylonians in the two river valleys, the Buddhist civilization created by the Indians on the banks of the Ganges, or the long-standing Chinese civilization that stretches back to the present day, and of course Japan is no exception. But Japan is a complex cultural phenomenon that has developed its own culture while at the same time absorbing a great deal of cultural and spiritual achievements from other countries to enrich its own culture and form a unique cultural tradition. The famous Japanese sinologist Hunan Naito once said, “Before the Japanese nation came into contact with Chinese culture it was a pot of soya bean paste; Chinese culture was like brine; once the Japanese nation came into contact with Chinese culture it became tofu.” This statement shows how deeply Japanese culture was influenced by Chinese culture. The Heian period in Japan was a time of great admiration for the culture of the Chinese Tang dynasty, and the court nobility in particular was proud to be conversant with Chinese texts. However, Japan did not just ‘take it and use it’, but settled down and developed its own unique culture. The Japanese government has long been engaged in the systematic discovery, conservation and use of traditional national culture, cultural relics and art, and has preserved traditional national culture and art in its entirety.

The kimono is the traditional Japanese national costume, famous for its high artistry and unique style. “A piece of cloth with a hole through the middle and a head through it, without having to be tailored to fit the body.” -Wei Zhi – Biography of the Japanese This is the clothing of the Japanese as recorded in Chinese history books, and this is the prototype of the kimono. The current kimono has a large collar that extends to the waist and is tied with a cloth sash to the left, the sleeves are wide and short, the cuffs are about two to three feet long, the lapels are perpendicular to the back of the feet, and the waist is tied with a cloth sash. The main difference between men’s and women’s kimonos is that women’s kimonos are bright and colourful, usually with designs of people, animals, flowers and landscapes. Men’s kimonos, on the other hand, are generally monochrome fabrics with a relatively short belt around the waist.

What makes the kimono an art, in addition to the style and vivid colours, has to be attributed to the elaborate and detailed nature of the kimono. Japanese women wear kimonos with a sash around their backs to keep the kimono from spreading, to show the beauty of the form and also to decorate and add colour to the gaudy kimono. The sash is also tied with different knots on the back, symbolising different meanings and expressing the beliefs and prayers of the Japanese people. According to statistics, there are 289 different types of common knots in the Japanese belt, the most famous being the Nagoya belt. This belt is 30 cm wide and 3.6 metres long. The kimono has a series of elaborate accessories to accompany the belt and knot, which make it very complicated to wear, and it usually takes 12 steps to get the whole outfit on.

The types of kimono are generally divided into dressy gowns, tattoos (also known as gowns with family crests), wedding gowns, mourning gowns and visiting gowns. It is traditional in Japan to get a new dress for the first month of the year, for rice planting, and for the Mid-Autumn Festival. Generally these costumes cannot be made into long-sleeved clothes, and the names of these costumes vary depending on the festival. For example, the first month costume, the midwinter costume, the festival costume, the festival costume, etc. The Edo period was the most prosperous period in the history of Japanese clothing, and most of the kimonos we see today are a continuation of the Edo period style of clothing, which has not changed much in the centuries since. Until the Meiji Restoration, Japanese people wore kimonos. It was only after the Meiji Restoration that western clothing became popular among the upper class men. Today, however, the kimono is still a favorite of the Japanese people and is worn on major occasions such as festivals, graduation ceremonies, weddings, funerals and the celebration of children’s “7-3-5”.

Japanese Kabuki is somewhat similar to Beijing Opera, the national art form of China. Kabuki has a unique Japanese style, with its bold, upright, simple and simple characters and beautiful movements that are pleasing to the eye. Kabuki as an art was finally perfected in the Genroku period. Kabuki was a favourite of the Japanese people for 100 years before it was developed into theatre. It is said that the founder of Kabuki was a shaman named Aguchi from the Izumo region. In order to renovate a certain shrine, Agukuni organised a kabuki troupe of mainly women. She led the troupe from Izumo to Kyoto and gave a fund-raising performance, which became a sensation in Kyoto. As the war had subsided and the Japanese people were enjoying a period of relative stability and peace, this new and refreshingly popular art was wildly popular and became the most popular pastime of the time. Thereafter, the Kabuki tradition began to concentrate on the art of performing stories with outlandish plots to attract audiences.

Kabuki can be divided into four categories. The first category is historical drama, also known as period rants. These plays are mainly historical stories and folklore. The second category is the Takemoto series, also known as the Yitafu Rant. The tunes for these plays were written by the master puppeteer Yoshitafu Takemoto, hence the name. The third category is the seiyuu, which is based on the life of the common people in the Edo period, and can be subdivided into the more formal seiyuu and the more realistic seiyuu. The fourth category is dance dramas, which are basically transformed from Nohaku dance dramas, both with and without lines. The music is divided into “Seimoto”, “Yitafu” and “Nagisa”.

The curtains used in Kabuki are dyed in the order of green, tea and black. These three colours are also the representative colours of Kabuki. Kabuki performers have a unique style of make-up called “Kuma-tori”. By sketching the faces the audience can get a general idea of the characters in the play.

The Japanese did not rush to simply imitate the Chinese culture after it was brought to Japan by a large number of envoys to the Sui and Tang Dynasties, but refined and transformed it, eventually elevating what had been simple and straightforward to “Tao” and adding a solemn and mysterious element. Tea culture entered Japan and gave rise to the “tea ceremony”.

Hongren years, Japan’s court and senior monks in the popular open tea culture, this is the first peak of tea culture in Japan, the academic community called “Hongren tea style”. At this time, Japanese tea drinking from content to form completely copied the Tang Dynasty. It was Eisai that really popularized tea in Japan and made tea drinking a trend, forming the second peak of tea culture with the temples as the centre. It was during the Higashiyama period that the tea ceremony took shape and its main elements were formed. The tea culture of the Higashiyama period was a religious style of shugen tea, which was a closed, quiet and simple tea culture. The form and content of Japanese tea culture underwent several dramatic changes culminating in the tea ceremony.

The “four rules” of the tea ceremony are “harmony, respect, clarity and silence”. The word “harmony” means “harmony”; respect, the simple respect of the mind between the guest and the host; and silence refers to the environment and atmosphere of tea drinking, which needs to be quiet and elegant. This is the spirit that permeates the tea ceremony. The tea used in the tea ceremony is matcha, which is made from new buds that have not been exposed to direct sunlight for a fortnight prior to being picked, steamed, dried, crushed, crushed and then dried before being ground into powder with graphite. Matcha is subdivided into strong tea and thin tea, with strong tea being the most solemn ritual of the tea ceremony. The host must wear a black kimono with white decorations. Before the tea ceremony, the guests are shown the tea ceremony utensils and the host invites them to have tea and snacks. There is little conversation between the master and the guest during the ceremony. When offering tea, the guest holds the tea bowl in his right hand and places it in the palm of his left hand, gently turns it twice and turns the pattern on the bowl towards the person offering the tea and raises the bowl to his forehead to return the gesture, finishing it in three sips as a general ritual. When you have finished drinking, rub the side of the bowl with your index finger and thumb, then turn the bowl left twice and place it back in front of your knee, and say something auspicious to praise the beauty of the tea service, the elegance of the setting and to thank the host for his hospitality. The tea ceremony has a long history because it creates a peaceful and tranquil spiritual world outside the chaos of the human world.

By Irving

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