Buddhism is a major religion in Japan, as it is in much of the west. It is founded on the beliefs of Gautama Buddha, who is believed to have lived in India in the fifth century and died at the age of eighty. There are several different sects of Buddhism. In the stories about Buddha’s early life it was said that he was born to a kind and a sage told the king shortly after Buddha’s birth that he could either be a king or a holy man. The determination of what he would become depended on whether or not he ever saw life outside of the palace boundaries.
As much as the king tried to shield Buddha, eventually he came to know and understand suffering through a period of time which is referred to as “The Four Sights.” The four sights referenced a meeting he had with a monk, a rotting body, an elderly gentleman, and a diseased man. These things affected the sheltered man, and Buddha tried to overcome all of the things revealed to him by becoming a monk and running away from palace life.
For awhile Buddha strove to abstain from any from of worldly pleasure through the practice of asceticism, but he decided to instead focus on meditation as a way to inner peace. To achieve this he sat under a fig tree and vowed to stay until his reflections could lead him to the truth. It took him forty-nine days of mediation before he achieved the state of enlightenment he was searching for. It was after this transformation that he officially became known as the Buddha.
Buddhism is broken down into five different periods of the evolution of the religion. Although some periods ran concurrent with others and overlapped, it is generally believed that the order is:
· Early Buddhism
· Sectarian Buddhism
· Early Mahayana Buddhism
· Later Mahayana Buddhism
· Esoteric Buddhism
Buddhism did not become a widely held religion until Asoka the Great became the Mauryan Emperor. The leader believed strongly in the teachings of Buddha and helped to construct many religious st?pas (dome shaped relics that housed Buddhist icons). This helped to spread the word of Buddhism to areas of Central Asia and Sri Lanka, which eventually helped China absorb Buddhism and pinpoints the period in time when the religion began to spread outward from India.
Around the year 538 BC, it is believed that Mahayana Buddhism was culturally integrated into Japan. It is believed that the religion of Buddhism was brought into Japan by the Korean Baekje king Seong. There were some problems getting the religion to the public. Even though a clan closely associated with Emperor Kimmei, the Sogas, wanted to model some governmental policies after facets of Confucianism from China, as well as Buddhism, there were other families like the Nakatomis and the Mononobes, who resisted the influence of such an outside religious doctrine being integrated into Japanese society. Eventually the Soga family won out and not only succeeded in allowing Buddhism into the society, but they also modeled several of Japan’s policies after Chinese ideals. However, despite this, there were tensions between the three clans for more than a hundred years afterward.
This period of Buddhism in Japan was known as the Nara period, which lasted until 784 AD. There were six main beliefs that could be found in the Nara Period. Among these were two of the leading Buddhist viewpoints, and during this time the Mahayana theology was firmly put together through the teachings of the Madhyamaka and the Yogacara schools of thought. These two teachings varied as the Madhyamaka believed that in the end nothing is truly real and that all phenomena in the world can only be counted on to both be impermanent and without substance. The Yogacara believed that the only phenomena that ultimately existed in the world was through the power of the mind mind. Other schools of thought during this period were the Kegon, the Kusha, the Ritsu, and Jojitsu.
The Nara period came to an end when Esoteric Buddhism was introduced to the island country through China around the year 794 AD. This marked the beginning of the Heian Period, which would last until around 1185 AD. The two schools of thought during this time were the Tendai and the Shingon. However, both of these religious variations were cross blendings of teachings which had begun in China and were imported to Japan.
It wasn’t until the beginning of the post-Heian period that Japan began to stabilize its own Buddhist views. During this time Japan would see the start of the two schools of Buddhist thought which would affect the country the most.
One of these was known as the Amidist, or Pure Land, school of thought. This branch of Buddhism currently remains one of the largest sects in Japan and other parts of Asia. One of the core beliefs of those practicing Pure Land Buddhism was that reaching the state of enlightenment or Nirvana is almost impossible through mediation alone and that one must ask for the assistance of the celestial Buddha or Amitabha. This form of Buddhism was especially popular to the lower castes as it taught that anyone could achieve enlightenment and be guaranteed a place in the “Pure Land” if they shoed complete devotion to Amitabha.
Zen Buddhism also had an extreme impact on the whole of Japanese culture as it focuses more on the philosophical impact of the teachings of Buddha and highlighted the ability to achieve awakening though meditation. In doing so it taught that it was not as important to understand the religious texts as it was to experience meditation in order to achieve full realization. This is known as Buddha-nature. To those practicing Zens, all beings with self-awareness in nature are capable of achieving a path to enlightenment through being cognizant of the world around them and watchful of the daily experiences in life. Then, combining these factors with meditation, one could discover his own Buddha-nature though a form of introspection and intuitive nature.
Some modern Japanese practice a sect of known as Nichiren Buddhism, which was established in the twelve hundreds by a monk in Japan. This branch of Buddhism is said to focus on the doctrine of the Lotus Sutra. This is a belief which states that anyone is capable of achieving enlightenment during the current life they are living instead of having to wait for the next level of reincarnation.
It is also important to note that Buddhism in Japan did not just affect the way that people perceived their spiritual selves, but it also began to show its influence in their art as well. Because many were just beginning to understand their religion, they drew on previous examples set forth by other cultures. Sometimes these influences were from as far away as Greece, while others took on more of an East Asia styling. For example, many of the artistic renderings of Buddha himself take on more of an East Asian flair, but there are deities depicted as being in Buddha’s court like the wind god Fujin and the protector Vajrapani, which definitely seem to be similar representations to the Greek’s gods Boreas, and Herakles.
Greek elements can also be found on some of the older tiles of Japanese houses. These tiles depicted scenes of traditional Greek lifestyle like grapes and vines, and there are examples of this dating as far back as the seventh century. It is believed that much of this influence was a result of the massive trading that was done along the Silk Road during this time period. It can be difficult to know for sure, but it is certain that if you directly compare many of the Greek artistic renderings of this time period with some of the Japanese, that you will come across many similarities.
Ultimately the Silk Road was not merely a path for traders to peddle their wares, but it was also a transmission of ideas and sources of beliefs. While Japan may have been introduced to Buddhism through the Baekje king Seong directly, it is certain that this would not have occurred were it not for the exchanging of ideas and beliefs that often occurred along this now famous exchange route. It is through this travel that many different beliefs systems borrowed from one another and melded into something unique for each country, the evolution of Japan’s beliefs in Buddhism was not immune to this and the impact of it can still be felt in the country today.
Mainly a Chinese philosophical system which was derived from the philosopher Confucius (who lived from 551-479 BC), the principals of Confucianism have influenced Japan and several other Asian countries as well. Confucianism is a set of ethics that focuses mainly on the aspects of human morality and the impact of good deeds. It is a complex and multi-tiered system which has had impacts on the sociology, moral thought, political outlooks, and philosophical realm of many people.
While Confucius is given the credit for setting up this provocative way of thinking that has prevailed for nearly two thousand years, during his lifetime he was frequently expelled from the different states as the kings did not want to hear his ideas and very few people had heard of his teachings outside of his homeland where eventually he returned to spread his wisdom. There were no writing which had been directly passed down from Confucius, but his disciples and their students wrote down the texts that were filled with their recollections about his ideas and principals. However, many of these even were lost during the Qin Dynasty when many of the books were burned and the scholars who taught what was in them were killed.
Confucianism was applied to many societies’ governing principals. This was because one of the main tenets of Confucianism was that in order to learn to govern others one must first learn how to do so for himself by applying the same standards he may of ask of others. The loose understanding of this meaning was that the king’s own personal standards and virtue would spread out to others in the kingdom through example. The wonderful idea behind this for many governments is that by one simple act, the king could eliminate the need to have to meddle into small troubling affairs and can concentrate on much larger issues at hand.
This was all a part of his ideals on social harmony, the larger overall goal of Confucianism. The idea of social harmony stated that when each individual person knows his or her place and can not only accept that idea and stay in the social order, but when each of those same people interacted within the space they could truly achieve a harmonious balance and relationship with the government. Sometimes kingdoms have seized upon this as a means of trying to keep the social caste system in place, but no one is one hundred percent sure if that is what Confucius actually meant through this teaching. The idea of social harmony is more closely tied into that of relationships between different people and how they fill these roles to come together in harmony. Confucius also stressed the importance of how children should respect their parents and elders, while those same elders are supposed to have concern about those who are younger, completing a harmonious cycle of understanding and respect between the two groups.
One of the downsides to the stresses on relationships is that Confucianism is reluctant to use laws to enforce behavior. Confucius believed that if you punished people for breaking a law they would only seek to avid the punishments, but would continue to do bad things without a real sense of shame. His belief was that if you led them with a sense of excellence and continued to show them their place through ritual practices that they would not only learn a sense of self understanding and thereby shame, but they would also learn to conduct themselves in a harmonious way that would better benefit the rest of humanity. However, this ideal of promoting laws through personal responsibility and humility often falls short in governments where corruption can become common place.
A form of Confucianism which was revived many years after the original interest in it died down was called Neo-Confucianism. This would also make its way over to Japan during the early years of the Edo Period. This form of Confucianism in Japan was very important to the way that the early founding blocks of the modern means of political ideology and philosophy.
Some may consider the role of Confucianism a type of religious act, but for many it is just an important set of philosophical goals which are set up in order to help people maintain a sense of harmony with those around them while at the same time coming into a greater sense of self-awareness. One of the more important things that Confucius taught was that if you should conduct yourself with dignity and purpose other people around you will respond to that and through just a few simple steps the world may actually be better for it. It was this kind of belief that helped many of the people and governments of Asia come together under the philosophies of a man who was often shunned in his own lifetime, but who has gained a type of immortality through his time honored teachings.
Godzilla is something of a cultural phenomenon that unexpectedly took Japan, and the rest of the world, by storm in the 1950’s. The first film in which the odd monster was seen was in the 1954 Godzilla where he is awakened and mutated because of the tests that scientists are running on the atomic bombs nearby. To date he has made an appearance in an astonishing twenty eight Japanese films, and there does not seem to be any sign of his popularity slowing down as he has become somewhat of an iconic figure in modern film history. In fact, a complete American remake of the original Godzilla was shot in 2000, starring Matthew Broderick, but most of the Godzilla purists do not consider this as part of the series.
The name “Gojira” from which Godzilla is derived is made up from the combination of the Japanese words “Gorira” and “Kujira,” which mean gorilla and whale, respectively. It was said that the creature was named this because of his large stature and origins in the ocean. And while this may have been some of the reasoning behind it, Godzilla’s appearance is taken mostly from a compilation of different dinosaurs including Tyrannosaurus Rex, Stegosaurus, and Iguanodon. Some have claimed that the name Gojira was actually some film hand’s nickname, but that is highly unlikely as there is no real proof to this and to date no one has been able to prove his existence.
Over the years Godzilla’s image has changed a little over the years since his original introduction and there are at least eight different versions of the monster’s appearance in films to date, but he remains largely dinosaur like in nature. One thing that is a constant change is what Godzilla portrays in the different incarnations of his character. Sometimes he is the villain, while others he is the hero or anti-hero. The story of the odd creature has also been carried out in manga, comic books, and cartoon series, and these different versions of the creature help to put him into worlds he would not normally be able to go merely on film. They have also opened up the plight of Godzilla to a whole new audience.
It has been said that a lot of the sustainability of the Godzilla franchise was that it was a way for many of the Japanese to deal with their worries about the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In part this was because they were worried about what the long-term affects of such an unprecedented attack might be, and they were also concerned that some day it could happen again. Through the use of Godzilla to deal with these fears, the monster that they created for the movie not only gave them some form of odd comfort, but it also helped share these fears with the rest of the world in a way that was completely nonthreatening, and perhaps that is one of Godzilla’s greatest legacies.
Ichiro Suzuki is somewhat of a Japanese icon and hero as in 2000 when he was bought by the Seattle Mariners from the Orix Blue Wave he became the first person who had been born in Japan to have a starting position in the Major Leagues as an outfielder. This accomplishment for a Japanese player was a major point in proving that those who played in the Japanese leagues could be just as talented as those who played in American leagues.
Part of the credit for Ichuro’s immense talent and drive should go to the fact that when he was only seven years old he joined his first baseball team and immediately wanted to become a beter player. His father, Nobuyuki, began working with him each day by running through a routine which included teaching young Ichuro how to pitch, infield, outfield, and bat. These sessions continued throughout Ichuro’s youth, and although the young player had concentration stenciled on his glove and professional baseball on his mind he began to think of the daily training sessions as tedious.
Once he was accepted into a high school program things began to change a little and Ichuro also changed up his routine some, adding throwing tires and hitting plastic balls with a shovel in order to help bulk up his frame. Since he was only five foot nine and one hundred and twenty five pounds in 1991 when he entered the professional baseball draft many teams did not want to consider him and he wasn’t drafted until the final round despite some impressive numbers put up by Ichuro in school.
In 1992 when he began playing with the Orix he was only eighteen; however, he did not really get to play for almost two years because his manager did not like the way he swung his bat. Ichuro’s swing had been nicknamed the pendulum, and the trademark swing of his leg went against everything that traditionalists believed about batting. He got his break in 1994 when a new manager decided to use him regardless of his swing method and during that year he broke out in a major way, setting a single-season Japanese record with two hundred and ten hits in only one hundred and thirty games. This combined with his powerful .385 batting average helped to get him a Pacific League MVP award. This was the first of an award that would continue for two more years straight.
In 1995 the Orix Blue Wave made it the Pacific League pennant, and in 1996 the team went on to defeat the Central League champions, the Yomiuri Giants in the Japanese equivalent of the World Series. Ichuro never let go of his dream of wanting to play for a baseball team in the United States and even though he was a year away from being released from his contract with the Blue Wave, they allowed him to negotiate with the Major Leagues out of financial stress. Ichuro became the second player from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league to use the posting system as a means of allowing players to transfer between the NPB and MLB. During this time the Seattle Mariners won the right to negotiate with Ichuro and he eventually signed on with a fourteen million dollar contract that lasted for three years. Since then he has continued to play with the Mariners in Major League Baseball.
Once he was in the MLB, Ichuro had to again face the rumors and beliefs that his small frame might be too weak to make it against the professional players in the league. However, during his first season Ichuro proved them all wrong with a rookie record of two hundred and forty two hits and a batting average of .350. The season was extremely successful for the Mariners and Ichuro found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated by the middle of the season. Ichuro’s fan base grew tremendously both in the United States and Japan as people began flying back and forth from Washington to Japan to watch him play.
In 2004 Ichuro had a record breaking season. During this year he actually managed to set records in different categories in the Major Leagues, including the most single-season hits in MLB with an astounding two hundred and sixty two hits. Ichuro has also been an All-Star selection every year that he has played for the Major Leagues from 2001-2008, making it a grand total of eight years in a row. Through Ichuro’s success other Japanese players have been given the chance to come over to the Major Leagues and as such they have made more and more of a splash in the MLB scene in the years preceding his acceptance onto the Seattle Mariners. Hopefully this trend will continue in the upcoming years to provide MLB with a wider breadth of players.
Ikebana is the art of Japanese flower arranging practiced by both men and women. However, it’s not simply putting flowers in a vase. Instead, it’s a very disciplined art that allows for creativity within a strict rule set. The goal of ikebana is to create a beautiful arrangement with an eye towards color combination, shapes, lines and more. In contract to blooming flowers often used in Western arrangements, ikebana focuses on the lines of twigs, branches, and leaves. Most ikebana arrangements have only a few blooming flowers. The vase or container is also chosen very carefully and plays a larger part than it does in Western floral arrangements.
One of the driving concepts of ikebana is the Japanese love of nature and natural beauty. Even those Japanese who live in urban areas always have some potted plants or some form of nature around them. Even Tokyo, a huge city full of concrete and skyscrapers, has many different gardens. Learning how these gardens and nature overall changes and cycles is an important part of ikebana.
Ikebana has been practiced in Japan for over 600 years. It originated with the Buddhist ritual of offering flowers to the dead that was introduced to Japan during the sixth century, although ikebana didn’t become a high art form until the fifteen century. The first practitioners were, as would be expected, Buddhist priests. However, as time passed, others began practicing ikebana as well.
The rise of ikebana was largely due to the Buddish monk Shiun-ji. He was one of the most skilled flower arrangers in Japan, and many other priests went to him for instruction. His teachings were the basis for the Ikenobo school of ikebana, named after the lake near his home.
Styles of Ikebana
The original 15th century ikebana arrangements were enjoyed by everyone, not just the aristocrats or imperial family. However, the ikebana was very, very simple. Often, arrangements were made of only a few stems and twigs. However, the process soon changed, and by the late 15th century, there were books written on the subject and many fixed rules. Larger arrangements began appearing in castles and at court, including large arrangements called Rikka. These arrangements included seven symbolic branches that had to be arranged in a specific way.
Another style of ikebana was used for the tea ceremony. These arrangements, called chabana, are designed to be as simple yet elegant and contemplative as possible.
Ikebana’s Spiritual Side
There are several spiritual aspects to performing ikebana. Nearly all arranging is done in silence, with no background noise or music. The arrangement is not rushed—ikebana is designed to allow one to take the time to appreciate nature. The arranger should carefully choose each item to add to the arrangement, but it shouldn’t be stressful. One of ikebana’s goals is to relax the mind and body.
There are many ikebana practitioners in Japan and around the world today. Some are actual ikebana professionals who teach the skill in schools and on television shows, although most are amateurs who simply enjoy arranging the flowers.
Baseball is reported to have been introduced onto the Japanese islands by Horace Wilson in 1872, and the establishment of a formal team actually came six years later in 1878. Since the game was considered a pastime in Japan, it was considered shameful for the players to take money for something they enjoyed doing, and the games were all free until 1906 as a consequence of this shame.
In 1908, professional teams from the United States began touring through Japan and played against several university teams that were made up of amateur players, it wasn’t until 1920 that Japan founded the first two professional teams which held special tours in Manchuria and Korea in an attempt to help spread knowledge and wide-spread acceptance of baseball as a sport in Asia. However, due to financial reasons the professional league disintegrated only three years later in 1923 for financial reasons, and all attempts at reviving its standing were formally dropped in 1929 when the league officially disbanded.
However, this termination of a coalition of professional baseball teams in Japan did not last long as the Greater Japan Tokyo Baseball Club was founded in 1934, and the Osaka Baseball Club began the next year in 1935. In later years these teams would go on to become the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers, respectively. In 1935 the American, Fumito “Jimmy” Horio began playing with the Yomiuri Giants. The success of the professional baseball revival was official in 1936 when five more teams began in Japan and the Japanese Baseball League started in full earnest.
The teams played baseball through most of World War II, only stopping in 1944 for one year, however, they resumed playing a half season shortly after the war had ended in November of 1945, and the next year full schedules started once again. Since then the field of professional baseball has been going strong ever since in Japan.
In fact, in 1986 a group of American Major League All-Stars began making a tour through Japan at the end of their normal season. During this time they played exhibition games against those players and teams who were involved in Japan’s professional league. They continue to do this biennial tour today and play in what is now known as the annual Major League Baseball Japan All-Star Series. Also, starting in 2005 professional baseball began hosting the Asia Series. This series combines the champions from leagues in Japan, Taiwan, South Korean, and Mainland China in an effort to showcase these Asian teams’ abilities at the great sport.
Although the Japanese greatly admire American teams like the Cubs, Red Sox, Mariners, Yankees, and Twins, their style of baseball has sometimes been classified as a different style than what most people see in the United States. It is often referred to as Samurai baseball, and some say that it is different because the Japanese way of life and cultural identity is different. There is a stress on not just the sport or the superstar individuals that may play within the game, but also on the group identity as a whole, as well as the team’s hard work, and a sense respect for those who are older and have come before them.
Whatever differences may have arisen between the way that the Japanese and the Americans see the sport, baseball is still the game that binds the two cultures. It is a game of both skill and determination, and sometimes watching a game is the perfect way to kick back and relax no matter which continent you are on.
The Japanese puppet theater known as Bunraku began in Osaka a few hundred years ago; however the modern puppet theaters in Japan today have made the name so well known that it is used to represent almost all of the traditional style of puppet theaters in the country today. The Bunraku puppets are generally large and can vary in size anywhere form four foot tall to the smaller sizes of two and a half feet. The size can vary depending on the region that the theater is located and those of the traditional Bunraku vein tend to be on the smaller side.
The making of a puppet can be a time consuming task as each of the hands and heads are carved out by specialists who have dedicated their lives to the creation of such puppets. With the intricate carvings that are required for some of the puppets this is quite a task and the faces are so mechanically well tuned that in some instances the faces can transform to represent demons. Other heads may not be quite so sophisticated, but they often still have movable eyes, noses, and mouths. The controls for many of the facial mechanisms are located on a special handle that comes down the puppets neck. They are reached through a hole in the back of the puppet’s torso, where the puppeteer can insert his left hand to reach the controls and maneuver the puppet’s expressions. The remaining portions of the puppets are assembled by the puppeteers.
It generally takes three puppeteers to maneuver one puppet fully. There is the main controller, or omozukai, who uses his right hand to maneuver the puppet’s right hand. The left-side puppeteer will use his right hand to make the puppet move their left hand, and a final third puppeteer will have to work separately to correctly operate the feet and legs. Unlike some other puppet performances, those done through the Bunraku style perform in full view of the audience while wearing special black robes and hoods to disguise themselves. However, in some instances the main controller will leave his hood off so that the audience can see him.
Generally, all of the speaking portions of the play are read by a single speaker, and that person will alter their voice slightly in order to portray the varying characters. However, in some plays multiple readers are used. These narrators sit on a moving platform that will turn to showcase different musicians for different scenes. Many of the Bunraku plays are known for their themes of lovers’ suicides, and are sometimes closely linked with kabuki plays.
The National Bunraku Theater is in Osaka and is supported by the government. Each year they offer approximately five shows that will run about three weeks each in Osaka and Tokyo. Sometimes the troupe will have other tours within Japan and even overseas. Puppet Theater is a dying art. In the later part of the nineteenth century there were hundreds of puppeteers that would perform on a variety of professional and amateur levels. Since the end of the Second World War, however, the numbers decreased and now there are fewer than thirty troupes and most of those only perform at special festivals or other yearly activities. There are some exceptions to this rule, though, and the Awaji Puppet Troupe is one of them as they actively tour and even offer very brief daily performances. Also the Tonda Traditional Bunraku Puppet Troupe, which was founded in the early eighteen hundreds, hosts programs for American students who are studying in Japan and wish to learn about the traditional form of Bunraku puppetry.
There is also some good news for the hopeful continuation of Bunraku Puppet Theater as more and more people have become interested in this art form, there are programs which are helping them learn about it at an ocean away. For example, the University of Missouri began a Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe in 2003, and has performed around the United States. Some of their more famous venues were the Smithsonian Institution and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. They have also toured some in Japan
While the overall future of Bunraku Puppet Theaters is unknown, the increase in those interested in this timeless art form hints to the fact that it is not yet ready to die off. With the skill and mastery that it takes to manufacture and operate these puppets it is certain that this is not a tradition the world wants to see disappear.
Japanese calligraphy is widely known as one of the most beautiful writing forms in the world. Heavily based off of Chinese calligraphy, the Japanese style branched off after the introduction of hiragana and katakana symbols despite the fact that these two sets of characters aren’t actually used in calligraphy.
The oldest example of Japanese calligraphy is found on the Bhaisajyaguru statue located at the Horyu-ji Temple. This and some of the notes found in the temple date back to before the Nara period of Japanese history. A hand-copied sutra dating to 686 has also been found. Both these examples and many others from the Nara period show great influence by the Northern Wei style of Chinese calligraphy.
During the seventh century, the Chinese court sent many calligraphic texts to the Japanese. While all of the originals have been lost, several copies still exist. These copies are important in that they show scholars the calligraphic style of Wang Xizhi, one of China’s most famous calligraphers.
The first text that features distinctive Japanese calligraphy is the Soukou Shujitsu. A collection of poetry, this text was written in 749.
During the Heian period, the Imperial capital was moved from Nara to Kyoto. Chinese calligraphy still heavily influenced the Japanese at the beginning of the period, and many copied Chinese poetry texts. However, Japan’s distinctive style continued to emerge during this time.
The style created during the Heian period is still, with few changes, the style of Japanese calligraphy today. It’s taught in elementary schools, is offered as an art elective in high schools, and is even taught in universities. Some even have a department of calligraphic study. While all Japanese learn some calligraphy, it has also become very popular outside of Japan, where both amateur and professional artists practice it.
On January 17th, 1995, Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture was struck with an earthquake called the Great Hanshin Earthquake that measured 6.8 on the Moment Magnitude Scale as used by the USGS. It has been estimated that close to six thousand five hundred people lost their lives during that earthquake, and it entered the Guinness Book of Records for the two hundred billion dollar price tag that it caused, making it the “costliest natural disaster to befall any one country.” However, the Great Hanshin Earthquake was not the first of its kind to ever strike Japan, nor was it even the deadliest.
In 1923 the Great Kanto Earthquake is estimated to have killed close to one hundred and forty thousand people in Japan, with a magnitude ranging between 7.8 and 8.4 on the Richter Scale. Many of the fatalities in the quake occurred because of fire. In fact thirty eight thousand people lost their lives when they all went into the Army Parade Ground near the downtown Tokyo area seeking shelter and were killed by a fire tornado (also known as a fire whirl) which was caused by a conflux of fire and weather conditions that ignited a nearly city-wide firestorm.
In more recent years the Choetsu Earthquakes struck on October 23rd, 2004 in the Niigata Prefecture. The first quake hit the island at 5:56 p.m., and it rated at 6.9 on the Richter Scale. Sixteen minutes later at 6:12 p.m. a second earthquake struck the region with a magnitude of 5.9. The third and fourth earthquakes followed within the next hour and a half. It has been established since then that a total of fifteen earthquakes would occur in the Chuetsu area over the next two and a half days. However, only about thirty nine fatalities and a little more than three thousand injuries resulted from the earthquakes. Much of the lessening of casualties is attributed to the fact that after the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995, Japanese government authorities realized the need for quicker response times to these tragedies. In July of 2007 another earthquake off of the coast of Chuestu measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale struck, but damage was minimal.
Japan has known several earthquakes over the years and in a general sense those that befall the country can be separated out into three main categories.
1. Plate-Boundary Earthquakes: These quakes occur when two plates overlap; one pushing into the other as it slowly moves below the secondary plate and pushes into the earth. However, the stress will eventually cause a snap between the two plates in order to release the energy caused by the merging. It is this type of problem which is said to have caused the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake.
2. Subducing Sea Plates: This also occurs along the plate boundary, but it is an earthquake that is caused by differeing reasons. For example, in the first type of earthquakes the tension from one plate moving under the other causes the top plate to snap and release pent up energy. In the subducing sea plate method the bottom layer of the plate collapses somewhat and therefore causes the quake.
3. Shallow-Inland Type: This occurs when there is a well-defined break that is unusually long and deep throughout the layers of the earth’s crust. These faults generally have repeated seismic activities, and while the magnitude may not be as high as that occurring in a plate-boundary earthquake, they can still cause a lot of damage. This was the type of earthquake which struck Kobe in 1995, and it was caused by a very long fault line known as the Nojima Fault which appears above the surface of the rock in the north of Awaji Island, but the portion that caused the quake in Kobe was in fact below ground level.
There have been many other earthquakes which have taken place in Japan throughout the years, and because of the highly seismic land that the chain of islands sits on there is little doubt that the country will continue to experience earthquakes for many years to come. In recent years many attempts by the Japanese government have been made to hopefully help prevent as much future damage from these quakes as possible by installing large rubber blocks under many of the bridges to help prevent shock, and ensuring that many of the newly constructed buildings obey earthquake safety codes to prevent them from collapsing in the event of another quake.
While Japanese entertainment has changed over the years, some of the basic elements have remained the same. Many modern forms of entertainment in Japan are the same as those worldwide, such as music, movies, sports, and books. However, there are some forms of entertainment that either originated in Japan or have become known because of being played in Japan. Two of these are older games, Go and sudoku, while two, anime and manga, are more modern.
Go is a two player board game that actually didn’t originate in Japan. Instead, it was first played in China, although the Western world was first introduced to Go by the Japanese, and it is more widely known as Go, its Japanese name, than its Chinese name of weiqi. Likewise, many of the terms are known by Japanese words and defined in Japanese terms rather than Chinese. No matter the terms used, however, in both cultures, and in other Asian cultures, knowing how to play Go was often one of the marks of a person of learning.
According to legend, Chinese emperor Yao instructed his counselor Shun to create a game for Yao’s son, Danzhu. This game was to teach the boy concentration and discipline. The result was Go. Another story says that the game was created by military men and was based off of their use of stones to mark enemy locations on maps. Still others theorize that Go is based off of a method of fortune telling.
Go spread to Japan in the seventh century and became very popular in court by the eighth. Five centuries later, it was being played by nearly everyone in Japan, no matter what social class they were a part of. When Tokugawa Ieyasu became shogun, he named the best Go player in Japan, the Buddhist monk Nikkai, as Godokoro, or Minister of Go. Nikkai then created the Honinbo Go school. This and the several other Go schools were subsidized by the government and participated in tournaments held by the shogun. They created a system of ranks for players and standardized many of the Japanese Go rules.
Go is played on a 19 by 19 (or smaller, in some cases) grid similar to a chess board but without the different colored squares. Players choose either the black or the white stones and then take turns placing them on the board. In Go, black always moves first.
When a group of stones is completely surrounded by the other person’s stones, they become captured and are removed from the game. The overall goal of Go is to have more stones on the board than your opponent. A game of Go ends when players both pass their turn.
Go first came to the West around 1694, when Thomas Hyde wrote about it in his book De Circumveniendi Ludo Chinensium, or About the Chinese Encircling Game. It wasn’t until the 19th century, though, that the game became popular. It first caught on in Germany and Austro-Hungary, then moved to New York. The New York Go Club was created around this time. After that, Go spread across the U.S. The International Go Federation was later formed, and as of 2008, it has over 70 member countries. Go has even been played in space by American and Japanese astronauts.
Sudoku is a number puzzle game that has recently become very popular outside of Japan. However, like Go, sudoku may not have originated in Japan. The goal of sudoku is to fill in a 9 by 9 grid with a number in each square so that each row, column, and box (a 3 by 3 sub-region of the grid) contains only the numbers 1 through 9 once. Each sudoku puzzle has a few numbers already filled in, and the challenge is to work in the rest of the numbers so that the grid is complete and follows the one-number-only rule.
While the grid is generally a 9 by 9, it can be larger or even smaller. Likewise, the numbers 1 through 9 aren’t always used. Sometimes, other symbols or letters are used. For example, there are some hexadecimal sudoku games that are played on a 16 by 16 grid and use 1 through 9 plus the letters A, B, C, D, E, and F. Some sudoku puzzles for children use colored blocks instead of numbers. Some TV show related puzzles will use the faces of characters or other symbols from the show. There are even some giant sudoku puzzles that use a gird of 25 by 25 or larger.
Sudoku is a shortened form of a Japanese sentence that translates to “the numbers must occur only once,” which sums up the basic rule of the game. Puzzles like sudoku first appeared in French newspapers around the end of the 19th century. These “magic square” puzzles weren’t truly sudoku—they used double digit numbers and required players to add or subtract numbers. The goal was for each row, column, and 3 by 3 area to add up to the same number.
Three years after one newspaper began publishing these magic squares, a rival began publishing their own. These puzzles were much closer to today’s sudoku. Only 1 through 9 was used, but the 3 by 3 grids were not marked and each puzzle actually had two different solutions.
Most believe that the sudoku as its known today was created by Howard Garns, a retired architect from Indiana. His puzzles were first published in Dell Magazines in 1979. In 1984, the puzzle appeared in Monthly Nikolist, a magazine in Japan. In 1997, a retired judge saw a sudoku puzzle in a Japanese bookshop. He then created a computer program that produced the puzzles and marketed them to a British newspaper. The paper began publishing his sudoku in November of 2004.
Sudoku rapidly went from a new puzzle to an international sensation. Soon, puzzles were appearing in newspapers and magazines around the world. The game even transitioned to television, with several game shows pitting contestants against each other to see who could complete a puzzle the fastest. Sudoku video games and online games have also become very popular, especially since it’s much easier to change a number on these virtual grids.
Anime is the common term for Japanese animation, the earliest of which was created in 1917. The name is a shortened form of the word “animation.” While some draw direct parallels between anime and Western cartoons, the two only share the same medium. Anime often contains adult themes and plots, and while some of it, like the incredibly popular Pokemon, is aimed at children, many anime titles are marketed for older teens and adults. Anime comes in several forms, including television shows, movies, and direct to DVD shows. Some video games also incorporate anime videos to advance the plot of the game.
Anime first appeared in the early 20th century. The oldest anime clip from Japan was created in 1917 and runs for about two minutes. It features a samurai practicing with a new sword. By 1930, anime in Japan had become a full-fledged art form, especially when compared to Japan’s small live-action movie industry. Live-action films never really took off in Japan due to low budgets, few locations, and many casting restrictions. Animation allowed for films to feature many different characters and settings.
Anime really took off in the 70s, especially when anime studios began adapting manga, or Japanese comics, into animated series and movies. During this time, several genre unique to anime began to appear, such as the Mecha genre (featuring giant robots like those featured in the Gundam series) and the Magical Girl genre (featuring young girls who transformed into super heroes, such as the popular Sailor Moon series).
While anime became more popular in the 70s, it didn’t go mainstream until the 80s and 90s. The late 90s, especially, saw anime explode into the Western world. While it had been popular in the U.S. since the 80s, it was mostly an underground market. With the Americanization of series like Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Dragon Ball, and Pokemon, anime became more than just a hobby enjoyed by a few.
There are several different styles of anime. Some focuses on being as realistic as possible, drawing people and animals as proportionate as possible. Sometimes, anime characters have large eyes, strangely colored hair, or other very distinctive characteristics. The super deformed style features characters with very large heads and few details, making them look almost like children’s drawings. Often, anime drawn for girls features this style more often than the action anime targeted at boys.
Japanese anime in the U.S. is licensed through specific distribution companies like ADV Films, Manga Entertainment, and Disney. Generally, the scripts are translated to English and the dialogue is re-recorded by English voice actors, although most anime DVDs also include the original Japanese audio with English subtitles. Some anime, especially those series shown on television, are edited to delete scenes found inappropriate for children. Again, most DVDs feature uncensored versions of the shows.
Some of the most well-known anime television series include Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball (one of the longest running anime ever, with over 600 episodes), Mobile Suit Gundam, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Digimon. When it comes to movies, the films of Studio Ghibli, especially those written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, are known throughout the world. Miyazaki’s works include Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Disney has dubbed and distributed most of Miyazaki’s work in the U.S.—a fitting move since Miyazaki is often referred to as the Walt Disney of Japan.
Manga, the Japanese term for comics, are similar to anime in that, while some Westerners may see them as children’s comics, many feature complex, mature storylines. Manga, which means “whimsical pictures,” cover a wide range of genres. While in the U.S. most comics are either humorous or focus on super heroes, manga are often romances, mysteries, sports-related, historical, and fantasy. Some are even focused on sexual scenes and are definitely not for kids.
Manga became quite popular during the 1950s, although most weren’t translated and disturbed in other parts of the world until the anime boom of the 1990s. Since many anime are based on manga and vice verse, publishers saw a chance to capitalize on the sudden popularity of anime by translating their manga counterparts. As of 2006, over $200 million dollars in manga were sold in a year. While this is a lot, it hardly compares to the $4.4 billion manga industry of Japan.
Not all manga published today is translated from an original Japanese book. Instead, many manga series are created in other countries like Taiwan, China, and France. In the 2000s, many original English language books were created, some of which focused on original stories, while others were based on television series or movies. For example, a recent series of English language manga based on the popular science-fiction series Star Trek has recently been released in 2007.
Early manga appeared in the Meiji period of Japan, but it didn’t really take off until after World War II. While Japan was under U.S. occupation, many soldiers brought U.S. comic books to read. These comics influenced Japanese artists, who began copying the style. One of the most famous early manga writers and artists was Osamu Tezuka, who created the popular Astro Boy series. Astro Boy quickly became a huge success, and it’s still one of the most popular series today.
Women entered the manga market in 1969 when the group Year 24 Group was formed. These female artists created the genre of shojo manga, or manga aimed at girls. While few American comic books are written with girls in mind, in Japan, the genre has a large following. Most shojo books are focused on romance or magical girls, though this does not mean they aren’t as well-written or as complex as manga aimed at boys. In fact, sometimes shojo characters are much more developed.
In Japan, most manga are first published in magazines or small comic books. Once a number of issues are printed, they are usually collected into trade paperback sized volumes. Each volume may contain anywhere from six to a dozen or more of these smaller issues (sometimes called chapters).
One of the most interesting aspects of manga is the fact that, in Japan, copyright laws are quite different. Amateur manga artists are allowed to draw dojinshi, or fan-made manga, using characters created by professional manga artists. Often, dojinshi feature sexual relationships between characters that do not appear in the real manga series. Dojinshi don’t always have to be based on another series, and many who want to be professional manga artists start out by creating original dojinshi.
Japanese Entertainment Around the World
Sudoku, anime, and manga have become almost house-hold words today, and Go, while not quite as popular, is still fairly well known. With the production of original anime and manga in several countries, Japanese entertainment is no longer limited to Japan.
Gardens made in the traditional Japanese style are often found in many places, from the backyard of a home to the grounds of temples and castles. In Japan, creating a garden is considered a high art form and can be compared to painting and calligraphy. The most well known of these traditional gardens are the Japanese rock gardens. Another traditional garden design was created by tea masters. Generally, gardening techniques are passed down from teacher to student, although in modern times, schools offer landscaping classes.
The first Japanese gardens were greatly influenced by the Chinese and by monks. These include the art of bonsai growing and the concept of miniature landscaping. The Asuka period gardens were designed to look like many of the areas in China, which was supposed to help express Buddhist thoughts.
Heian period gardens shifted from being purely religious to being a location for both ceremonies and private enjoyment and contemplation. Many were located in front of buildings and featured water flowing into ponds or in streams through the garden. Later, gardens shifted again, this time influenced by Pure Land Buddhism. These gardens were modeled after those at the Amitabha hall.
During the Kamakura and Muromachi periods, improved gardening techniques allowed for many new styles to develop. Zen also played an important place in garden design, as did the fact that the shogun greatly enjoyed gardens and gardening. During this time, the dry sand garden concept appeared.
Following these periods, the Japanese garden and the tea ceremony slowly started to merge. Visitors to a tea house would walk through a short garden before arriving at the house for tea. During the Edo period, the use of gardens as religious symbols completely vanished and was replaced with gardens as a symbol of the shogun’s power and prestige.
Finally, Meiji period gardens took advantage of many modern gardening practices. Many were created by politicians and wealthy businessmen. Many of these gardens are still in existence today and are open to the public.
Features of a Japanese Garden
Many Japanese gardens share some of the same features, although they many not include all of the traditional ones. Many gardens are designed around a center, or place for viewing the garden. Many contain rocks, streams or ponds, a lantern, a pavilion or tea house, a form of enclosure (fence, hedge, etc.), stepping stones, and a bridge. Many home gardens are not as elaborate due to lack of space and money.
While some gardens are designed to be viewed from one location, the strolling gardens are designed to be viewed as one walks through them. These gardens include a marked path for the visitor to follow. Often, they include uneven areas that allow visitors to look down or out at the rest of the garden or up at hanging ornaments and baskets of flowers.
Stones are used to make paths and bridges in gardens. In symbolic terms, they represent mountains and are often placed in triangular groups. Streams and ponds are added to gardens in as natural a way as possible, and no artificial fountains are added. Most ponds have lanterns placed near them. Sometimes, gardens will be designed around dry waterbeds and ponds. These are just as important as those filled with water.
Japanese Gardens Around the World
Today, many Japanese style gardens are created in other countries. The most popular of these is the rock garden because few other cultures have such a style. Of course, many in the Western world are unaware of the many different religious and symbolic functions of the rock garden. Instead, they’re built because they look different and for aesthetic purposes.
The traditional Japanese haiku is a unique form of poetry consisting of three lines. This form, however, has not always been classified as a type of poetry in itself. What we call a haiku began as one three-line stanza of a renga, a linked poem written by two or more authors. The first and third lines of a traditional haiku have 5 syllables each, while the second has 7 syllables. Modern or Western haiku writers (haijin), however, have broken these rules.
Traditionally, a haiku includes some aspect of nature and some season-identifying image. In almost every haiku, it is possible to tell the season and the weather. Most of the time, these details aren’t mentioned out-right but must be inferred; a poem might mention cherry blossoms, for example, to indicate springtime.
Another traditional aspect of a haiku is what some call a “a-ha” moment. It usually comes in the third line—a phrase, which sometimes seems like a non sequitur, which ties the other two lines into something meaningful. While this “a-ha” idea is very hard to explain, it works something like this: the first line has an image; the second line builds on this image or idea; the third line, then twists this image around into something the reader wasn’t expecting at all, and makes the reader make the connection between the images and whatever the poet was trying to say.
Many haiku use animals to stand in for humans or humankind. Issa, a very prolific and impoverished haiku writer, wrote many poems about his cricket friends. He often calls them his family or roommates, joking about his own poverty. Issa, more than many other traditional haiku writers, enjoyed injecting humor, silliness, and mockery into his poetry.
Lately, Western poets have been using what they call “modern” haiku form. In this form, it is not necessary to follow the 5-7-5 syllable pattern or even to include nature-related images.
The Beginnings of Haiku
A haiku is actually a small part of a collaborative poem called a renga. The Renga is written between two or more people, with one person writhing a 5-7-5 stanza, the next writing two line 7 syllable, 7 syllable stanza, then another 5-7-5 stanza, and so on. There are different renga patterns, each with its own unique length and topic.
While the haiku, or hokku as it was called then, did not begin as its own independent poem, it was recognized as a stand-alone piece of writing by the 1600s. It was during that time that Matsuo Basho made the hokku very popular. The father of the haiku, Basho wrote many of the small poems. By the nineteenth century, the hokku was renamed the haiku by Makaoka Shiki, and the term was retroactively applied.
In addition to Basho, Ueshima Onitsura was another early haiku writer. Most of the haiku Basho and Onitsura wrote were intended to be the first verses of renga or, in Basho’s case, as short bits for his prose or diaries. One of his collections, the Narrow Roads to the Far North, is still one of Japan’s most famous literary works and has been translated into many different languages.
Following Basho, Yosa Buson (1716-1783) moved the genre of haiku from its more formal form to a more modern style. Buson himself became one of the most well-known haiga artists. Haiga combines painting with a haiku to create one unified piece of art. In fact, Buson was more known as a painter than as a writer. However, his ability to arrange words in conjunction with his art lead to more playful, impulsive haiku formed from the imagination instead of based on experiences.
The next major haiku writer was Kobayashi Issa. Issa brought a more individual, humanistic tone to his haiku, writing about his poverty and his devotion to Buddhism. His haiku were more approachable than those of Basho and Buson, and he is known for making haiku accessible to a much wider audience.
After Issa, the popularity of haiku declined somewhat. It fact, during the eighteenth century, haiku was more or less regarded as trite poetry and not taken seriously at all. It wasn’t until Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) began writing haiku that the verse was taken seriously again. An agnostic, Shiki worked to separate haiku from Buddhism and other religious aspects.
Today, haiku has spread around the world, and many different writers attempt to create haiku. Some attempt to write in the 5-7-5 syllable count despite the fact that their native language doesn’t carry the same meaning-laden words as Japanese does. Others drop the syllable count and simply write minimalist poems.
Haiku has become especially popular with US writers. The Haiku Society of America was founded in 1968 and has become one of the most renowned haiku publications today. Many top poets write English haiku in either free verse or following the traditional syllable count, including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Hass, and Billy Collins.
Kimono, which literally means “a thing to wear,” is the garment most closely associated with Japan. The kimono has a long history and has changed over time to reflect the society and culture of that period. There are different kimonos worn on specific occasions and seasons. For women, the kimono will also reflect the wearer’s age and marital status. Men do not wear kimono often in modern Japan, but they do don then occasionally during special ceremonies.
In the spring, bright colors and spring floral patterned clothing are worn, and in the fall, fall colors are worn. The motifs on kimono generally fall into the fallowing categories: (1) the natural world-seasons, flowers, trees, insects, birds, waves, clouds; (2) human-made objects-fans, baskets, bridges, buildings, ribbons; (3) imagery based upon well-known poems, literature, folk tales, and legends that are easily recognized; (4) symbols from Chinese Confucianism and Japanese Buddhism; and (5) small, intricate geometric patterns often based on nature-mountain motifs, tortoise shell grids, thunderbolt zigzags.
An unmarried woman will usually wear a brightly colored kimono with flowing sleeves. The most formal kimono, called a furisode, has an overall design that runs diagonally from the shoulder down to the hem.
For married women, the most formal kimono is the tomesode of black silk crepe with the family crest in five spots. A married woman will also wear kimono with shorter sleeves than her single counterpart.
For less formal festive occasions, both married and unmarried women of all ages can wear homongi, which is made of the same type of silk as the furisode and tomesode and comes in many designs and colors from the shoulder to the hem. During funerals, all women can wear a montsuki of plain black silk over a white silk under-kimono.
With kimono various types of long sashes called obi are worn. Men can wear kaku-obi, three-inch-wide stiff silk tied in a half-bow, or heko-obi, a soft black or gray silk obi that is at least 20 inches wide and long enough to wrap around the body two or three times. The heko-obi are worn tied or tucked in just under the waist.
Women’s obi is made of silk about one foot wide and 10 to 13 feet long. It is tied in the back in various fashions depending on the age and marital status of the wearer. The most common way to tie obi for an adult woman is with otaiko, a square shaped bow.
The kimono has a very long history in Japan, and its design and style has changed over time to reflect the changes in