Traditional Japanese Art

Traditional art has a very important place in Japan. It is composed of several other traditional arts inspired by Zen Buddhism, Shintoism and sometimes foreign influences. For the Japanese, traditional art is an inexhaustible source of wisdom and inspiration that highlights a very refined local culture and extreme elegance whose practice is passed down from generation to generation as laws to be respected.

old japanese prints

Old Japanese print 

Among other traditional, Japanese arts, there are prints, calligraphy, martial arts, Ikebana, tattooing, tea ceremony, kintsugi and many others that you will have the chance to discover when you go there next time for your vacation.

Japanese prints, a traditional art that connects man and nature

Japanese print

Another old Japanese print 

Between simplicity and elegance, Japanese prints present as a special art that links man and nature. A nature that is considered a source of infinite wisdom that man cannot get rid of if he wants to evolve. Japanese prints are a traditional and artistic form of expression. They are a form of painting that is done on wood and are inspired by several woodcutting techniques.

This traditional Japanese art was born during the Edo era while the Ukiyo-e art movement was in vogue. It was also during this era that this traditional art spread throughout Japan. Regarding the ukiyo-e art movement, it should be noted that it is a tradition filled with Buddhist connotations that convey the impermanence of a floating world.

Estampe ukiyo-e

Japanese print of the ukiyo-e artistic movement

Japanese prints are, for the most part, typical representations of everyday Japanese life. They can be fantastic creatures, wonderful courtesans, erotic sequences called Shunga, natural objects, kabuki theater performers and many others. In short, Japanese prints are the representation of subjects of greater interest to the growing urban bourgeoisie during the Tokugawa shogunate.

But starting in the 18th century, this art gradually ran out of steam because some people used it for political purposes. In 1790, Japanese prints were censored by the military government called bakufu. Among Japanese prints, the most famous is The Great Wave of Kanagawa which is a realization of the painter Hokusai. This painting is the true embodiment of the ukiyo-e movement of the Edo era.

the great wave of kanagawa print

Print of The Great Wave Kanagawa

In the late 19th century, Japanese prints came back to the forefront because they became the focus of Western interest. Great artists such as Paul Cézanne and Gauguin drew inspiration for their work while avoiding depicting themes that were censored in Japan.

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The tea tradition in Japan, a whole codified art

traditional japanese tea ceremony

Tea ceremony - Chanoyu

Also known as Chanoyu, the tea tradition in Japan is an inescapable art that is inspired by Zen Buddhism. In the land of the rising sun, green tea or matche is prepared and served with finesse and serenity to a small group of guests as a celebration. Tea is a prized beverage in Japan and is accompanied for the most part with delicacies.

To return to the origins of this art, it should be noted that this Japanese tradition originated in China. But it was the Buddhist monks who spread this tradition that became more than an art whose practice is done according to certain rules. It was not until the 9th century that the art was imported to Japan by the monk Eishu.

Once imported to Japan, tea drinking was reserved for the aristocracy who were very fond of it. Soon after, this Japanese tradition that originated in China found its way into other social strata.

Large Japanese cast iron teapot

Large traditional Japanese cast iron teapot 

In the 16th century, this practice gained the rank of the samurai, who made it all codified ritual. A ritual that can be described in several stages that are: the spiritual preparation of the master of ceremony, the reception of guests, the cleaning of tools, the actual preparation of green tea, the service and the cleaning of tools that were used for the preparation and service.

Japanese tea service

Careful preparation of Japanese tea 

The practice of this art requires that the Chanoyu practitioner be someone who has had extensive study. The guests on their part must have a very good command of gestures, polite formulas and dress in accordance with this practice.

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Ikebana, the art of traditional floral decoration

ikebana vase

Ikebana vase

Inspired by Buddhist rituals, Ikebana is a traditional art that features a style of decoration using flowers. Initially, these were rituals that were done with flowers used as offerings during religious ceremonies. But over time, this purely religious tradition began to spread because it appeals to the Japanese for its aesthetic appeal.

Thus, this form of decoration has become very popular in Japanese homes for the simple reason that the presence of beautiful flowers in a place embodies harmony with nature. Ikebana is a Japanese art form that is highly respected by Japanese people and is part of their daily lives.

japanese ikebana vase

The art of ikebana vases

Signifying the ''way of flowers'', Ikebana is not simply decorating with flowers. It is a whole art that is based on three main pillars that are respect for line, asymmetry and simplicity.

The beauty of flowers, elegance and sobriety are also the criteria on which to base oneself when assembling the different flowers since according to the Japanese tradition, Ikebana is the representation of heaven, earth and all humanity.

Irezumi or the art of tattooing in Japan 

traditional japanese back tattoo

Japanese tiger and dragon tattooing | Source tattoodo - Chris Garver 

Tattooing is not always well regarded in Japanese society. But Irezumi is a form of tattooing that fascinates many. It is an art whose origin goes back to prehistoric times. During that time, Irezumi was a way for the natives to tattoo themselves with symbols that proved their social belonging. It was also a means of protection and distinction that allowed them to differentiate themselves from outsiders.

During the Edo era, Irezumi was used to distinguish criminals and prisoners through gruesome tattoos. There were also honorary tattoos that distinguished those who showed bravery at some point in their lives.

japanese yakuza tattoo

Tattooing yukuza 

At the end of the Edo era, the yakuza took over the art to give it a negative image. Indeed, the yakuza used Irezumi to tattoo themselves with distinctive symbols of the mafia. But in 1872, Japan formally banned the practice of this art, which gives a negative image of the land of the rising sun to the rest of the world.

After the Second World War, which gave rise to an American occupation, Irezumi resurfaced and Japanese tattoo artists took enormous pleasure in tattooing Westerners who loved the colorful designs, dragon, snake, koi carp or even cherry blossom motifs.

Calligraphy, a traditional Japanese art in its own right

japanese calligraphy art

Art of Japanese calligraphy

Originally Chinese, calligraphy is a traditional art whose importance in Japanese culture is no longer in question. More than 3000 years old, calligraphy still called ideogram writing is a traditional art that is practiced with brush and Chinese ink. More than an art, calligraphy is a highly aesthetic means of communication that also raises the consciousness of Japanese people because each ideogram is meaningful.

Calligraphy is also a form of meditation practiced by Buddhist monks who find it a channel for communication with nature. In the past, calligraphy was a traditional art form whose practice was reserved for the aristocracy. But today, this art that continues to be passed down from generation to generation in Japan is widespread throughout the world because it is so spiritually and aesthetically meaningful.

Traditional Japanese theater, an ancestral art that cannot be ignored

Japanese theater

Japanese theater art 

Traditional Japanese theater is an art inspired by Japanese mythology and legends that are rich with beautiful and moving stories. Japanese theater is an art characterized by the special accoutrements worn by the actors.

Among other accoutrements, there are the original masks and typical costumes that represent fantastic creatures, demons or even ghosts. In addition to these accoutrements, there is also makeup that allows for a perfect combination of costumes and masks.

The traditional Japanese theater exists in two forms which are Kabuki and Noh:

1) Noh is a form of theater that is characterized by its poetic style that follows the rhythm of an orchestra. Noh is also characterized by the very slow scenes, songs and dances of typical beauty.

Noh theater mask

Noh theater masks 

For a performance of Noh theater, the actors must wear wooden masks that express several things depending on the inclination and light. Regarding the lyrical register of Noh theater, it should be noted that it appeals to the revered spirit of the samurai and strong emotions.

2) Kabuki on the other hand is the most popular and extravagant form of Japanese theater that emphasizes Japanese legends and epic stories. Kabuki is a mixture of drama and religious dance.

japanese theater kabuki

Statue of a kabuki theater performance

On a Kabuki theater stage, one can notice exaggerated body language and many special effects by the characters. In Japan, Kabuki theater actors are very popular stars among the Japanese.

Kintsugi, a traditional Japanese art to sublimate cracks

Japanese kintsugi

Traditional kintsugi art 

The use of ceramic objects is widespread in Japan. Yet ceramics is a more or less fragile material that can break at any time. And to repair broken ceramics, the Japanese have developed Kintsugi which is a centuries old traditional Japanese art.

In the first instance, Kintsugi is a spirit-saving art that is a symbol of healing and rebirth. In the second instance, Kintsugi is an art that goes hand in hand with the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi, which detects true beauty in simpler, imperfect things.

japanese art of kintsugi

The subtlety of Kintsugi

Although the practice of Kintsugi can give new life to cracked ceramic objects, it should be noted that the practitioner of this art must have a great deal of patience since it is a very painstaking repair technique.

Traditional japanese dress

Traditional Japanese clothes

Traditional Japanese clothing worn 

In the land of the rising sun, wearing clothes is a traditional art that is passed down from generation to generation. Better yet, the wearing of traditional outfits in Japan is a practice that has withstood many generations and continues to withstand the context of globalization. Among the most worn traditional Japanese garments are the kimono and the yukata.

To learn more, you can read this blog post: Ultimate Guide to Traditional Japanese Clothing

The kimono

Traditional Japanese Kimono

Two young women in Japanese kimono 

The kimono is a traditional Japanese outfit that has been worn for many centuries. The kimono is an outfit that is worn for special occasions such as weddings, traditional Japanese folk festivals, tea ceremonies, buyô dance, ikebana demonstrations and many others. The uniqueness of the kimono lies in its manufacture, which requires quite a bit of artistic knowledge.

In Japan, wearing a kimono is a tradition and an art that requires a certain knowledge.

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The yukata

Japanese Yukata

Young woman in Japanese kimono 

The yukata is a traditional swimwear that is worn by both men and women. Made with a layer of cotton, the yukata is a lightweight garment that can also be worn in the summer and used as a bathrobe for onsen outings.

Aside from the yukata and kimono which are the most traditional clothes worn by Japanese people, there are traditional accessories like Obi which is a traditional belt, Geta which are traditional shoes and socks.

Geta is a traditional shoe made with wood and cloth strap stuffed with cotton. As for the socks, they are called Tabi. They are used to distinguish between the thumb of the foot and the other toes.

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Buy a Japanese yukata for men

The traditional Japanese patterns

traditional Japanese patterns

Japanese wave pattern 

Traditional patterns are a great treasure for the Japanese given their history and meaning. Often depicted on traditional Japanese clothing such as the kimono or yukata, traditional Japanese patterns are unique symbols that carry very strong messages.

Among the traditional Japanese patterns are hemp leaves, shark skin, bird feathers, turtle scales, ocean waves, climbing plants and typical Japanese geometric figures. Traditional Japanese patterns are also printed on valuable fabrics that are worn by people of noble class.

Japanese traditional art is a collection of several traditions that originated many centuries ago. Despite the evolution of time, this Japanese traditional art crosses the world and generations and continues to be passed down from generation to generation.

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