Music & Art
Kabuki is a traditional Japanese form of theater. Kabuki plays generally historical events and moral conflicts in social relationship. The actors use an old fashioned language and speak in a monotonous voice accompanied by traditional Japanese instruments.
Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653~1724) spent the mid-part of his career writing kabuki dramas, and Ichikawa Danjuro II (1688~1758) created many great works and adapted puppet plays for the kabuki stage. Other great acqting dynasties include Onoe Kikugoro and Bando Tamasaburo.
Noh is the oldest existing form of theater, and though it can seem very inscrutable, Izumi Motoya is often refered to as the Prince of Noh, his sisters Junko and Miyake Tokuro, and Nomura Mansai.
Noh grew out of combination of Chinese performing arts, known as sarugaku, and traditional Japanese dance called dengaku. Noh's present form dates from around the end of the 14th century when the main playwright/actors were Kannami and his son Zeami. Zeami wrote many plays which are still performed today.
Bunraku, or Japanese puppet theater. The puppets are large - usually about one-half life size and the main characters are operated by three puppeteers. Many bunraku plays are historical and deal with the common Japanese theme such as giri and ninjo -- the conflict between social obligations and human emotions.
Bunraku is actually the name commonly used for ningyo joruri - ningyo meaning puppet and joruri being a kind of chanted narration. Puppet plays are believed to have their origins in the 10th or 11th century. Itinerant entertainers, many from Awaji Island in the Seto Inland Sea, presented plays in the nearby cities of Osaka and Kyoto.
The stories of bunraku and kabuki plays are similar; indeed the two types of dramas became such rivals for the attention of the audiences that in the eighteenth century some felt that the kabuki tradition would die away. In 1683, Monzaemon Chikamatsu, often called the "Shakespeare of Japan," left writing for kabuki theatre to give his attention to bunraku which allowed greater appreciation for the playfull genius with language. A single narrator recites all the dialogue for each of the puppets during the performance.
There are many large Japanese drums, or taiko. Most have two membranes which are nailed or laced and are struck with sticks. The most dramatic is the Odaiko (big drum). The physical energy and sheer excitement of an Odaiko performance is an integral part of many Japanese matsuri (festivals).
The koto is a 13-string zither, about 2 meters long and made of Paulownia wood. It is plucked using picks on the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand, while the left hand can be used to modify pitch and tone.
The biwa is a short-necked lute, used from the 7th century in gagaku, to accompany early puppet plays and also by blind monk entertainers, the Japanese equivalent of travelling minstrels. The biwa is held almost vertical and played with a large bachi (plectrum).
The shamisen is a 3-string lute. It is believed to be a variant of the Okinawan sanshin. The length of the shamisen varies from 1.1 to 1.4 meters. It first became popular in the pleasure districts during the Edo Period (1600~1868) and also began to be used for the musical accompaniment in kabuki and bunraku performances.
The most famous flute is the shakuhachi bamboo flute. It has 4 or 5 finger holes on the front face and a thumb hole on the rear face. As with other instruments above, it was imported from China for gagaku. In medieval times, the shakuhachi became associated with wandering Buddhist priests and played the shakuhachi as a spritual discipline during the Edo Period.
There are several schools of Sado, or tea ceremony. Tea, and in this case, O-cha (green tea), is as integral to culture in Japan. Also, its health benefits are widely touted and generally accepted worldwide.
The roots of today's major tea schools can be traced to tea master Sen No Rikyu (1522-1591). The sons of Rikyu's grandson Sotan founded their own schools: Ura Senke for commoners, Omote Senke for aristocrats and Mushanokoji Senke, which highly values the principle of wabi. (Wabi can be described as a moral and aesthetic principle which emphasises a quiet life free of worldly concerns).
Source: International Society for Educational Information (ISEI)
The name of Ukiyo-e, a art form, literally means pictures of the floating world. The term 'floating world' refers to a generally hedonistic way of life. Ukiyo-e wood-block prints first appeared early in the Edo Period (1600~1868) and depicted stories set in this after-hours world. Stylish kabuki actors were the most popular subjects. Later artists started depicting scenes from nature and works such as Hokusai's views of Mt. Fuji are among the most famous today.
Ukiyo-e also played their part in the development of Western art in the late 19th century, influencing such important artists as Van Gogh, Monet, Degas and Klimt.
In the mid-18th century, techniques were developed to allow full-color printing and the ukiyo-e which we see reproduced today on post cards and calendars date from this period on. Utamaro and Hokusai are the big names from this period, and other prominent artists include Hiroshige and Sharaku.
Kitagawa Utamaro (1753~1806) is famous for his depictions of beautiful women. He also designed some of the most beautifully illustrated books in the history of ukiyo-e.
Katsushika Hokusai (1760~1849) is best known for his nature scenes and his series 'Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji'. This series started a whole new style of landscape ukiyo-e. The famous illustration of a giant wave engulfing fishing boats, with Mt. Fuji merely a background detail, is one of the most familiar Japanese works of art.
Beneath the Waves off Kanagawa (from the series '36 Views of Mt. Fuji',1831) - Hokusai
Kambara (from the series '53 Stations of the Tokaido Road', 1833~4) - Hiroshige
Yanagisawa Kien (1704-58)
You can make a paper airplane using folded newspaper or a sheet from a notebook. These days, while some people consider it a real art form that is Zen like in simplicity and depth, origami is regarded mainly as an activity for children. Even in Japan, the most complicated design that most people master is the tsuru (crane), which has developed into a worldwide symbol of children's desire for peace.
Like many things in Japanese culture, origami (from "oru" meaning to fold, and "kami" meaning paper) has its origins in China. It is believed that paper was first made, and folded, in China in the first or second century.
Bonsai means 'pot plant' and the art form involves raising living trees, often over a period of several years. While they are small, bonsai are not actually different from the trees, they are not miniature species. Rather they are small branches of a tree, carefully chosen, pruned and cultivated so that they look like smaller versions of their own species. They are also displayed in a way that shows off their best features, usually in a simple, shallow pot. Bonsai is about the combination of the plant and the pot. There are many different styles of bonsai such as: broom style - a tapered trunk topped by a symmetrical area of foliage; cascading style - the pot is kept on a platform and the branches 'cascade' down below it; windswept style - resembles a tree that has grown up in an area exposed to strong winds.