Japanese Culture Essay Sample

Japanese Culture Pages
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            Japan Nation is an island in the Pacific Ocean found in the East of the Asian continent. It is a large country that is made of at least 3,000 islands with four main islands that are very large in size accounting of over 90% of the country. This implies that the other islands are very small in size hence the numerous number. Most of the Japanese islands are characterized by volcanic mountains. Because of Japan being located along a volcanic line in the Pacific Ocean, its mountains and other features are characterized by a lot of volcanic activities. Some of the mountains still are active and occasionally erupt.  The country experiences frequent earthquakes and has many hot springs distributed all over it. The country is so hilly and mountainous that some of the small hills are usually flattened to create land for habitation. Most of the land is reclaimed from the many rivers and the Pacific Ocean. The rivers in Japan are steep in nature and have rapid flows as a result of the mountainous topography. These rivers are also very shift meaning that they do not flow over a long distance. Japan has a very extensive and long coastal line that is characterised by many inlets providing several harbours to the country.

            The Japanese culture is one of the oldest cultures in World. This culture has several aspects most of which are is greatly influenced by the concept of the four seasons. The Japanese religion is characterised by Buddhism and other religions that do not practice Buddhism. Shinto which was initially the Japanese state religion is the most common practiced religion and refers to all the ethnic religious practices that are not Buddhist (Wybe, 1988). Shinto ethnic religion involves two major practices namely animism and polytheism (Jordan, 2005). Animism  refers to the spiritual belief that souls are not only present in human beings but also do exist in other animals and natural features such as mountains and rivers. This implies that Shinto religion is characterized by worship and fear of animals and other natural phenomenas. The mountains and rivers which characterize the geography of the Japanese country were the most worshipped natural phenomenas (Jordan, 2005)

            The second major characteristic of the Shinto religion is polytheism. This involves the belief and worship of many gods. It involves those who practice the religion placing the gods and other forms of deities on some form of a platform that resembles an altar and worshiping it. The worship often is accompanied by the rituals that are associated with the god or goddess (Assmann, 2004). These deities are not worshiped all at once and neither are they treated equally. Some gods and goddesses are believed to be more powerful and important and are given more worship and adoration than others (Assmann, 2004).

The Shinto religion though worships many deities such as the moon and the storm, specialises in worship of one deity, the sun goddess which is considered to be the most important deity. The religion also is characterised by worship of spiritual beings. This spirits are referred to as Kame in the Japanese language.  These spirits are believed to reside in some specific places and have specific roles. Other spirits are however universal and are worshipped by all those who practice the Shinto religion (Ury, 1990).  An example of such a spirit is Amaterasu whose worship takes place at a special shrine known as the Ise Shrine. Amaterasu is the Japanese sun goddess that is worshipped all over the country (Ury, 1990).  This deity does not have only the religious focus but is believed to influence all the other sectors of the country. It is the most universal deity in the country.

            Shinto religious practices do not emphasize much on life after dearth. They concentrate more on human beings relate with each other while they ate still alive. The main feature of this religions love for nature hence adoration of the natural phenomenas such as waterfalls and rivers being returned to spirits. The deities in the religion are believed to exist just as humans do making same mistakes hence are not exalted as highly as the deities are in other religions.

            The Shinto religion has four components that guide the believers. These are physical campaniles which involves taking baths and washing of hands to keep clean, the Matsuri events that involve worship of the spirits and deities. Respect for family and traditions and finally respect for nature and all that is in it.

            The Ise Shrine is the religion’s shrine where the Amaterasu deity (the sun goddess) is worshipped. This shrine whose location is in the Ise city is the largest shrine of the religion as the Amaterasu is the most important and universal deity of the Shinto religion. The ceremonies conducted at this shrine depend on the four seasons of the year. The four ceremonies and prayers held at the shrine include the first one which is usual held to ask the goddess for a plentiful harvest before the crops are planted. The  two other prayers that take place in  May and August  that ask the goddess for rains and a good weather so that they the crops can do well and the fourth and most important offering at the shrine  takes place in October  where the individuals thank the goddess for their  first harvest . This event is characterised by offerings of the harvests to the Amaterasu (Yoshio, 1997).

            Another unique aspect of the Japanese culture is the Shinden-zukuri architectural style. This is the Japanese unique domestic design of the palaces and other governmental buildings which also includes leader’s houses (Yoshio, 1997). Shinden-zukuri architectural design is characterized by a unique symmetry of buildings which have some unoccupied space left between them. In front of the space that was in front of the main building was a stream of water that run across the entire space and created a pond that had bridges that were mountain shaped (Yoshio, 1997).  This was the usual resting place for guests.

            The Japanese culture also has high value of gardens and regards it as an intimate and special art. This is because of the culture’s value and respect for nature. The art of gardening in Japanese was handed down from the teachers to their apprentices. Japanese traditional gardens were designed in such a way that the home stood in the middle of the garden so that it could be viewed and admired from anywhere within the home (Slawson, 1987). These gardens were characterized by having water, stones that formed a lantern, a pavilion, a fence and a bridge that connected the gardens to an island. The Japanese gardens are of three styles. These include the Karesansui Gardens whose main features are rocks and moss. These gardens have no water. The second type is the Tsukiyama Gardens (Slawson, 1987).These gardens have water and are designed to look bigger than they really are. They usually are fenced and the surrounding buildings blocked so that the only reflection in the water is that of the mountains in the nearby regions (Slawson, 1987). The third type is the Chaniwa Gardens (Slawson, 1987). This design is used for gardens that are used to hold parties such as tea or lunch parties. They have water with stepping stones that connect them to the house. They also have stone lanterns and basins where individuals can wash themselves.

            Dry (Zen) gardens are literal dry gardens that are used for meditation. These gardens have stones with patterns and sand that resemble water. They are made using the Karesansui gardens design where stones and water characterise the entire garden. These gardens are usually not entered and one can only view them from a distance (Slawson, 1987). The sand and gravel are arranged in a way that resembles water waves and ripples are the stones which look like islands in an ocean (Slawson, 1987).  The quietness of the gardens is what is used to meditate as it makes the mind still. These gardens are associated with the Buddhist practice of mind purification.

            The Japanese Party of the Meandering Stream is another aspect of the Japanese culture that involves seven poets dressed in brightly coloured costumes sitting along a small river or stream that comes from a shrine (Yoshio, 1997). The purpose of these poets is compose poems based the activity which includes the placing of cups filled with Japanese sake on to the backs of mandarin ducks and let to flow towards the poets. The poets drink the sake when it gets to them and replace it with flowers before letting continue to flow downstream. Usually music that is traditional characterizes this party. The purpose of this party is to make the poets compose creative and entertaining poems.

            The Japanese  philosophies of Wabi and the beauty of simplicity and Sabi and the beauty of transience were  borrowed from the Chinese and emphasizes on the need for individuals to appreciate simple things of life that maker them happy. These philosophies emphasize on simplicity and have no room for perfection. Their intention is to let individuals realize that there is existence of beauty in imperfection (Yoshio, 1997). This helps individuals to stop being complicated and appreciate the nature’s simple things. These philosophies have been used by the Japanese in their designs of everything. Everything in this case refers to buildings, gardens, poems amongst others. These philosophies seem to be true because we all appreciate the fact that Japanese designs are simple but very beautiful.

            The Japanese poetry is characterised by reference to seasons. The word that associates something to a particular season in Japanese is Kigo (Gill, 2007). Kigo is used in verses by the Japanese poems to show which time of the season the poem was composed.  Rules in writing of Japanese poetry stipulated that the verses especially the opening one had to have a kigo reference so that the readers can get to know of the season the theme of the poem was created. This implies that seasons influenced every aspect of the Japanese culture as almost everything was done based on season.

            The Japanese culture since time immemorial has been influenced by concepts of the four seasons and seasonal transition. Japanese poets composed poems based on the four seasons; the artists drew images from the created poems which gave a clear image of the four seasons (Miyeko, 2000).  The artists used to draw images that represented the different seasons (Miyeko, 2000). For example, drawings of trees without leaves meant it was autumn, trees with blossoming flowers meant spring amongst other examples. The seasonal aspect also is a very important component of Shinto practices. One of the guides of the Shinto religion is value and respect for nature. This implies that all the activities of the religion are centred on seasons. The religion believes that everything in life has a season; emotions of loss and grief are associated with the dull times of the four seasons which are winter and autumn. The Shinto ceremonies performed universally were also centred on the four seasons.  As explained before, Ise Shrine ceremonies are the most important in the Shinto religion and just like the four seasons, the ceremonies also are performed four timers a year, each time corresponding to each of the four seasons.  We can conclude that the concept of the four seasons had a great impact on the art, poetry and religious aspects of the Japanese culture.

List of Reference

Assmann, J. (2004).  ‘Monotheism and Polytheism’ in: Sarah Iles Johnston (ed.), Religions         of the Ancient World: A Guide. New York, Harvard University Press.

Gill, R. (2007). The Fifth Season — Poems to Re-Create the World: In Praise of Olde Haiku:      New Year Ku; Books 1 & 2, Paraverse Press.

Jordan, P. (2005). The Deities are Many: A Polytheistic Theology. New York, , State       University of New York Press.

Miyeko. M. (2000).  Bridge of Dreams: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection of Japanese Art.       New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Slawson, D. (1987).  Secret Teachings in the Art of Japanese Gardens (New York/Tokyo:           Kodansha.

Ury, M. (1990). Readable Japanese Mythology: Selections from Nihon Shoki and Kojiki            Robert Borgen:The Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese. 24 (1):70

Wybe. K. (1988). Scenes and Taste in the History of Japanese Garden Art. Amsterdam,J. C.      Gieben.

Yoshio. S. (1997). An Introduction to Japanese Society. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge      University Press.

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