ARTS&CULTURE June 16, 2017

Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan

pe of modern Japan more than the “opening” of the country by American naval commander Matthew Perry in 1853-4. Of those three epochal events, Perry’s mission was the first, and led in large part to the subsequent two. Commodore Perry’s mission, though military in nature, was driven by Western commercial expansion in the Far East, […]

ARTS&CULTURE May 30, 2017

5 Internationally-known Contemporary Japanese Artists

Unsurprisingly, for a country with as deep and ancient arts as Japan, the country’s fine art scene is one of the world’s most important. Art is as basic a form of expression to the Japanese as any activity, and artists are honored for their contributions to the country’s cultural life. Contemporary Japanese artists are on […]

ARTS&CULTURE May 18, 2017

8 Japanese Films You Must See Before You Visit Japan

The Japanese film industry has a long and illustrious history, with dozens of films that have had impacts outside of Japan on international filmmaking, and many hundreds more that have touched the Japanese. Classic directors such as Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, Masaki Kobayashi, and Kenji Mizoguchi made films that have not just been popular outside […]

ARTS&CULTURE May 15, 2017

Zen Buddhism v. Pure Land Buddhism

Buddhism has, in 2500 years, taken many different forms. Spread over most of the Asian continent, it changed from a philosophy to a religion as it traveled from India, where it was born in roughly the fifth century, BCE. As it entered Sri Lanka, Tibet, China, Burma, Thailand and other nations over many centuries, it […]

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 […]

FOOD&DRINK April 18, 2017

The 8 Most Important Condiments and Ingredients in Japanese cuisine

Nearly everyone who lives in a modern city is familiar with Japanese food, which along with Italian, Chinese and American cuisines is a commonplace part of an international diet. Everyone knows that rice, noodles and tofu, along with chicken, fish and beef and a great variety of vegetables, are familiar Japanese staples. But what often […]

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 […]

TRAVEL April 5, 2017

The Grand Shrine at Ise

Japan’s original, pre-historic religion was a form of nature worship that centered around a number of gods associated with certain natural elements and processes. Chief among them was Amaterasu, the sun god. Unlike most other sun gods around the world, Amaterasu was a female deity. She is the most important Shinto god, and the Japanese […]

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 […]