Japan is renowned as a country of contrasts. On one hand, visitors would be astounded by the level of sophistication used in their day-to-day objects, and on the other, one can still experience ancient traditions and arts that are as original as when they were first practised several centuries ago.
The nation’s cultural journey from its prehistoric period and today’s atmosphere where modern-and-tradition coexist is rich with tales of the change the people have gone through over the years. Here are a few fascinating observations of how much various aspects of Japanese culture have evolved over time.
Japanese architecture has its own signature style. It forms an integral part of Japanese culture, too. Believed to have been influenced by Chinese styles a long time ago, it boasts of aspects which are also indigenous to Japan. Good examples are the awe-inspiring castles that were built by local shoguns, or warlords, and remain a major tourist attraction today.
Today, Japanese architecture ropes in styles from European countries such as Italy and Spain, and merges it with the true Japanese style, to create something new and fresh, as can be seen from the multitude of modern buildings that pack the major Japanese metropolises such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya.
In the days of old, the Japanese believed that the healthiest foods were rice and fish. With a bit of salt and pepper, their meals remained simple for years. But Japanese cuisine has shed these rather simpler aspects of its culinary culture behind.
These days, what you see on your plate is a colourful melange of a much more sophisticated cuisine that borrows styles from the United States and Europe. However, most of what the Japanese eat today symbolise longevity. So, you could say that some traditions and belief of yesteryear still remain.
Much like their architecture, Japanese gardens are influenced by religious and cultural background. Most of the gardens that were built in Japan between the 18th and 19th century were beautiful examples of how deeply the nation’s people are influenced by Zen Buddhism.
The design and landscape architecture remains the same today as it was centuries ago, with bonsai occupying much importance in Japanese culture. However, one can see influences seeping in from countries such as France, Italy, Australia, and the USA when it comes to layout and macro-design. Although the flora is more or less indigenous, elements like metal lanterns are now added in the gardens, stepping away ever so slightly from the stone lanterns which were considered the “local garb” of a Japanese garden.
One of Japan’s most iconic artists, Tawaraya Sotatsu, gave the world Fujin Raijin-zu Byobu (Picture of Wind and Thunder Gods), a painting that has gained much popularity across the world. It is reflective of the religious times in which he lived. His style came to be known as a monochromatic painting where the ink was used very differently, almost as it were colour. Art since Sotatsu’s time has changed greatly in Japan.
At present, you can see broader brush strokes used by artists, giving most paintings a louder appearance. Besides the modern twist on traditional paintings and murals, Japanese art culture has seen a tremendous wave in the form of anime. These hand-drawn or computer-generated animations have taken the world by storm with their unique and colourful graphics. They also how far Japanese art forms have come in a matter of years.
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