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ARTS&CULTURE

ARTS&CULTURE April 26, 2017

Carps, Cranes and other Symbolic (but Real) Animals

Like most traditional cultures around the world, the Japanese see animals not merely as fellow creatures, but as symbols of a variety of qualities they would like to express or benefit from. No, we’re not talking about Hello Kitty and Godzilla, though their popularity could be a new wrinkle in this old theme; nor are […]

ARTS&CULTURE April 12, 2017

Origami and Kirigami

The traditional Japanese arts are, generally speaking, all about making things with natural materials and as little “processing” as possible. The idea is that human creations should appear to be as natural as possible. Thus, the ideal ikebana flower arrangement should appear not to be arranged at all, but rather, to have just fallen into […]

ARTS&CULTURE March 29, 2017

Concept of Uchi-Soto: In-Groups and Out-Groups

Japanese social customs are complex and dynamic, and often depend, and change, based on circumstance, social standing, age, professional position, and myriad other considerations. The dichotomy of honne-tatamae – the concept of a public face and a true face – is one expression of this duality. The duality of uchi-soto is another. Uchi literally refers […]

ARTS&CULTURE March 22, 2017

The Kimono, Japan’s Traditional Garment

The kimono may be a cultural marker as familiar as the baseball cap, and it has been adapted for continued use in a country that long ago adopted Western clothing by Imperial edict. The kimono is a simple visual shorthand that says “Japan” as strongly as do sushi or anime. But the actual kimono, whether […]

ARTS&CULTURE March 16, 2017

Sumo Wrestlers: A Life of A True Warrior

Along with the samurai and the geisha, one of Japan’s iconic character types is the massive sumo wrestler, a figure of great cultural, as well as physical, heft. In Japanese, of course, this sport is not called “sumo wrestling”; it is simply sumo, which literally means ”striking one another.” But unlike various forms of boxing […]

ARTS&CULTURE January 30, 2017

The Heian Period: Japan’s Classic

Japan’s “classical” period, when what we now know as Japanese culture first flowered, came later than classical periods in the West, China and India. But once it began in the late eighth century C.E., the four centuries of the Heian period saw the archipelago transformed. The Heian period – named for the original name for […]

ARTS&CULTURE January 24, 2017

Amaterasu and the Gods of Ancient Japan

The early myths of Japan were first compiled beginning in the fifth and eighth centuries C.E., in books known as the Kojiki and the Nihongi. This is rather late compared to the myths of nearby China, not to mention Greek and Rome. But perhaps because of their relatively recent vintage, these myths seem to resonate […]

ARTS&CULTURE January 17, 2017

Honne vs. Tatemae

In English, it is called a “white lie”: the not-quite-true fabrication, or shading of the truth, that is designed to soften what would otherwise be a hurtful comment or uncomfortable social reality. Most cultures around the world recognize that giving an unvarnished opinion or stating a truth plainly can cause not just personal distress, but […]

ARTS&CULTURE January 9, 2017

Elements of a Traditional Japanese Wedding

The whole world around, there is probably no event more important, and more common to every culture, than the wedding ceremony. The Japanese take this ceremony very seriously: The amount of money the Japanese spend on clothes, decorations, food and venue can match a year’s wages, and the attention to detail can be uniquely Japanese. […]

ARTS&CULTURE December 29, 2016

From Food to Flooring: The Many Amazing Uses of Bamboo

If one could create out of thin air a single physical thing that humans could use to create a variety of products, it would be difficult to come up with something better than bamboo. There are other crucial plants in Japan: Rice and rice straw are ubiquitous and fundamental, tea has been bred and processed […]