Japanese Culture

Japanese Culture

Introduction

The country of choice is Japan. The reason for selecting this country is because Japan is one of the countries with the most diverse cultures in the world. They have regional variations in socio-cultural patterns. The Japanese often attribute traits of personality to people from different regions and regional identity is expressed through dialects and culinary specialties. Japan consists of four major islands and more than six thousand minor ones. The whole area covers approximately 378, 000 square kilometers with enormous climatic variation (Beardsley, Richard, and Smith, 78). Japan directly faces the Pacific Ocean along the eastern and southern coastline. To the north is the Sea of Japan and to the West is the East sea of China. The closest point to the mainland in Asia is the Korean peninsula. Japanese life has always been ocean oriented. The official language is Nihongo also known as Japanese, which linguistically is related to Korean. The Japanese were Neolithic hunters and gatherers before being introduced to rice farming. Their interaction with the Asian community had a major influence on them and they became a community based on irrigated rice cultivation. The Japanese culture has several elements that are going to be discussed in this paper. Some of these elements include; Urbanism & architecture, social stratification, political life, marriage, family and kinship, gender roles, socialization, religion, and arts and humanities.

Urbanism & Architecture

Japan is one of the most developed and highly urbanized societies in the world today. The cities of japan have a long history. They began with imperial capitals such as Kyoto and Nara. Those cities resembled the Chinese T’ang dynasty and reflected the architectural principles of the imperial court of China. During the civil wars around the fifteenth and sixteenth century, castle town was the characteristic urban place. The castle town was the headquarters for the Provincial warlords at the time (Beardsley, Richard, and Smith, 77). For a period of times, castle towns remained as the key economic and regional administrative centers. Many castle towns declined after the Meiji restoration as industrial and economic opportunities led to the migration to new centers in a bid to reconfigure the urban network. Industrialization was centered on established cities such as Tokyo and Osaka. During the World War II bombing, almost all the cities got destroyed. However, they got restored quickly and a massive urban movement transpired. Today Japan has one of the most industrialized cities in the world (Beardsley, Richard, and Smith, 77). They have since heavily invested in education to produce one of the world’s best engineers and architects. Their complex structures and infrastructure can be attributed to the work of their engineers and architects.

Food and Economy

The Japanese have an extremely wide variety of cuisines. They make use of different culinary elements from all over the globe. Their cuisine borrows elements from Korea, Southeast Asia, China, North America and Europe. The defining characteristics in their cuisine include styles of preparation, ingredients and aesthetics (Beardsley, Richard, and Smith, 87). White rice is the staple ingredient found almost in every meal. Other commonly found ingredients are the likes of sea food, and soy food. The Japanese are very fond of fish since most of their lands border the Pacific Ocean. One could attribute their intelligence to the type of foods that they eat since sea food and soy beans are usually considered to be brain foods. They usually like their sea food raw or grilled. Vegetables and sea food sometimes are packed and prepared as pickles. Their cuisine does not heavily rely on things like spices, and seasonings. Flavoring is a rare practice in the Japanese culture (Macwilliams, 24). Their meals often contrast in flavor and get served in small dishes rather than serving main course meals. They value the visual presentation of a meal. Their diet mostly used to consist of vegetarian cuisine. Their Buddhist principles prohibited them from taking meat products. However, after World War II their intake in dairy products, bread, beef and other western food increased drastically. Eating habits were altered by a change in domestic life.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Shinto beliefs on ritual purity and pollution warranted the exclusion of women from aspects of ritual life. Women could not enter some certain sacred places. They were prohibited. Some villages even prohibited their women to enter fishing vessels or mines or tunnels. They had little role to play in the society. They were regarded as a lower or less inferior gender to men. Most of these rituals no longer exist. However, in some ritual contexts they are still prohibited to do certain things such as entering a sumo wrestling wring (Macwilliams, 54). All social roles had been defined under neo-Confucianism as pertaining to hierarchical relationships. Women at all times should show subordination to their husbands or the male household. This became a recognized law in all of Japan. Women’s authority in the traditional setting was for domestic matters. A man in the household would represent the family in outside affairs. Within the house, however, the wife could help the man in managing day to day family affairs. After World War II there was some alteration in the family structure and the Patriarchal domination has since been eroded from the households. Women continue to obtain more rights than they previously had. The 1947 Japan constitution established the principle of gender equality. However the practical application and impact of these legal changes has been a gradual process.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Generally, marriage is between two people with mutual attraction. This type of marriage, popularly known as ‘love marriage’ was different from the known ‘arranged marriage’ of traditional society. Weddings take place in hotels and wedding halls with an extravagant ceremonial meal for several dozen guests (Macwilliams, 42). The wedding ceremonies integrate elements from Shinto marriage rituals and Christian weddings. Their attire usually consists of robes both for men and women. Weddings go through a series of well-planned processes that see the bride and groom go through several costume changes. Most families are nuclear families, especially in the urban areas. The families consist of parents and the children. Extended families that maybe comprise of an elderly parent living with another couple together with their children are not common in Japanese culture. In matters regarding inheritance, the Japanese primary aim of a family was to ensure the survival of future generations (Macwilliams, 42). Usually they would do this by securing assets and other family possessions that the ancestors had left. In the traditional agrarian life, land was never subdivided. They believed that subdividing land would tamper with the survival chances of the future generation. The kinship system before the World War II was that of an upper-class family pattern. Traditional kinship patterns still shape the social ways of family.

Socialization

Infant care is important in Japanese culture. They consider child rearing very vital and it is not common to hear a Japanese couple with no children. Married couples often get their first child a year after marriage. Child rearing involves emotional and physical interaction of the mother and the child to a certain high degree. The fathers are not as involved as the mothers in child rearing. Traditionally, it is the sons who got more favor than the daughters. The eldest son got raised differently from the other, in most cases, letting him assume the leadership role in the family. Particularly, there were strong bonds between mothers and their oldest sons. In urban contemporary families close psychological ties exist between the mothers and their children. Childhood socialization is guided by the notion that a child is a passive being with innate talents. The differentiation of students by their academic ability does not take place until elementary school whereby the emphasis lies on social integration, reading and writing skills, self-discipline and fundamental skills in arithmetic (Shively, 69). Elementary school begins at age six. Prior to that there are two other levels of pre-school, nursery from age three and kindergarten from age five onwards.

Religion

The Japanese commonly believe in Shinto, which is a contemporary term for beliefs about relationships between people, the state and the natural environment. Shinto teaches that Japan is the gods’ lands. Their religion does not have a formal dogma. In Japanese history, Buddhism and Shinto have influenced each other and religion as a whole (Shively, 56). Buddhism came into Japan from China and Korea during the 6th century. It comprises of two branches, Mahayana and Teravada. Mahayana Buddhism is the one that has a lot of Chinese and Korean influences while Teravada Buddhism is the one practiced in Southeast and Central Asia. Teravada teaches that salvation is only available to a chosen few, more like the symbolic 144,000 people who will go to heaven as mentioned in the Christian bible (Teo, Alan, and Albert, 42). They believe that salvation belongs those who are able to practice doing well unto others and achieve enlightenment. Mahayana Buddhism, on the other hand believe that the mercy and grace if Buddha will intercede on behalf of humanity and save the masses. They believe that through devotion, anyone can receive salvation. Confucianism, shamanism and Taoism also have major influences in the Japanese religion. They involve common practices such as martial arts and Tai chi.

Political Life

Japan has been a monarchy since the Meiji constitution in 1890. Japan parliament consists of a House of councilors and Representatives. House members get elected from the local and national constituencies. There is the Upper house members and the lower house members. The members of the lower house possess a much higher political power than members of the Upper house. Members of the lower house are the ones who elect prime ministers and other cabinet positions (Teo, Alan, and Albert, 52). They bare the power to make legislations and amend the constitution. The positions at the local level have an elected governor or assembly. The cities, villages and towns have chief executives and assemblies. Municipalities have limited powers and are primarily the providers of every day service. The police and fire protection department are units under municipal authority and are controlled at the national level. The state controls firms and companies in indirect fashion. The governmental departments are very powerful and the most powerful department is the Finance ministry which handles pretty much everything, from drawing the national budget to raising taxes and managing the economy.

Arts and Humanities

There is widespread support and appreciation for arts and humanities in Japan. The government fully supports and offers encouragement in this sector as people popularly participate in the same (Teo, Alan, and Albert, 55). The education system in Japan openly supports arts as there are both private and public institutions that offer training in arts. There exists even many art colleges where one can train and practice arts as a professional career. The ministry of education caters for the patronage of arts. This includes arts education in public libraries, in the schools, in museums and other institutions. The ministry has a conservative stand, however, towards traditional and crafts (Teo, Alan, and Albert, 73). It mostly favors these traditional practices together with ‘high culture’. One interesting part of the Japanese arts culture is the design on the national treasure. National treasures consist of great art works such as sculptures, paintings and architectural masterpieces. They also include artists and other art forms.

Conclusion

The Japanese culture is splendidly ancient and wonderfully rich. The words used in this essay best describe a superficial introduction and a body that did not fully justify and elaborate on this amazing culture. There is still a lot to be said on this wonderful culture. The description is well covered, however, there is more to be discovered of the Japanese culture. This essay provides a comprehensive report on the various cultural identities and cuisines that the Japanese appreciate and integrate in their lives. It is evident in the essay how the Japanese culture has its elements deeply rooted in religion and spiritualism. The Japanese pay keen attention to Confucius and his teachings. Confucianism has played a major role in influencing the Japanese culture. Cultural arts like the martial arts are practiced only in Japan, China and Korea. Some of these elements of arts culture arts are quite interesting such as the Tai Chi, which is a form of martial arts practiced by the Chinese and the Japanese. This form of art involves harnessing energy from within and attaining higher levels in awareness and wisdom. It involves a lot of discipline, which is another facet of the Japanese culture. The Japanese emphasize a lot on discipline. It is even taught in almost all levels of education.

Work cited

Beardsley, Richard K., and Robert J. Smith. Japanese culture: its development and characteristics. Routledge, 2013.

Macwilliams, Mark Wheeler. Japanese visual culture: explorations in the world of manga and anime. Routledge, 2014.

Shively, Donald H., ed. Tradition and modernization in Japanese culture. Princeton University Press, 2015.

Teo, Alan R., and Albert C. Gaw. “Hikikomori, a Japanese culture-bound syndrome of social withdrawal?: A proposal for DSM-5.” The Journal of nervous and mental disease 198.6 (2010): 444-449.

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