Japan has absorbed many ideas from other countries over the course of its history, including technology, customs, and forms of cultural expression, and has developed its unique culture while integrating these imports. The Japanese lifestyle today is a rich blend of Asian-influenced traditional culture and Western-influenced modern culture.
Traditional performing arts that continue to thrive in Japan today include kabuki, noh, kyogen, and bunraku. Noh, kabuki, and bunraku are recognized by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage.
Kabuki is a form of classical theater that evolved in the early seventeenth century. It is characterized by the rhythm of the lines spoken by the actors, extravagant costumes, flamboyant makeup (kumadori), and the use of mechanical devices to achieve special effects on stage. The makeup accentuates the personalities and moods of the characters. Most plays draw on medieval or Edo period themes, and all the actors, even those playing female roles, are men.
A scene from the noh play Dojoji (Kin-no-Hoshi, Watanabe Shashinjo)
Noh is Japan's oldest form of musical theater. The story is told not just through dialogue but also through utai (singing), hayashi (musical accompaniment), and mai (dance). Another feature is that the leading actor, dressed in a colorful costume of embroidered silk, usually wears a lacquered wooden mask. The masks depict such characters as an old man, a young or old woman, a divine figure, a ghost, and a young boy.
Kyogen is a type of classical comic theater that is performed with highly stylized actions and lines. It is staged between noh performances, although it is now sometimes performed in its own right.
Bunraku, which became popular around the end of the seventeenth century, is a kind of puppet theater that is performed to the accompaniment of narrative singing and music played on the shamisen (a three-stringed instrument). Bunraku is known as one of the world's most refined forms of puppet theater.
Sado, or chado, a traditional way of preparing and having tea (JNTO)
Other traditional arts, such as the tea ceremony and ikebana, live on as part of the everyday lives of Japanese people. The tea ceremony (sado or chado) is a highly structured method of preparing green tea. But there is far more to sado than the ritual making and serving of tea. It is a profound total art that requires a wide range of knowledge and a delicate sensitivity. Sado also explores the purpose of life and encourages an appreciation of nature.
Ikenobo-style ikebana, or flower art
Japanese flower arrangement (ikebana), which evolved in Japan over seven centuries, has its origin in early Buddhist flower offerings. This art is distinguished from purely decorative use of flowers by the extreme care taken in choosing every element of each work, including the plant material, the container, where each branch and flower is placed, and how the branches relate to the container and the surrounding space.
Classical music was brought to Japan from the West and enjoys a broad following. Concerts are held all over the country. Japan has also produced many conductors (such as Ozawa Seiji), pianists, and violinists who perform around the world.
Since Kurosawa Akira won the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival in 1951, Japanese cinema has been the focus of global attention, and works by great directors like Mizoguchi Kenji and Ozu Yasujiro have been widely hailed. More recently, Kitano Takeshi won the Golden Lion Award at the 1997 Venice Film Festival with HANA-BI and the best director award at the 2003 festival with Zatoichi. Okuribito (Departures) won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Oscars.
Japanese anime (animated shows), which have been entertaining Japanese children since the 1960s, are now exported all over the world, and series like Astro Boy, Doraemon, Sailor Moon, and Dragonball Z are now global children's favorites. Meanwhile, director Miyazaki Hayao's Spirited Away won the Oscar for best animated feature in 2003, and Howl's Moving Castle was chosen for the Osella Award at the 2004 Venice Film Festival.
In literature, Japanese Nobel Prize winners include Kawabata Yasunari and Oe Kenzaburo, while the works of more modern authors like Murakami Haruki and Yoshimoto Banana are popular among young Japanese and have been translated into many languages.