Japanese Culture Teaching Notes


Thursday

Origami: A Brief History of the Ancient Art of Paperfolding

No one really knows when and where origami was invented. Some origami historians argue that since the invention of paper is credited to Ts'ai Lun of China in A.D. 105, paper folding must have been invented soon after. Paper was then introduced to Japan in the late sixth century by Buddhist monks, and paper folding was brought along with it. In Japan, paper was considered an expensive commodity, and it was used in many aspects of Japanese life, most notably in architecture. Certain origami models were incorporated into religious (Shinto) ceremonies. In fact, the word for paper, kami, is a homonym for the word for spirit or god. The designs associated with Shintoist ceremony have remained unchanged over the centuries. However, since there are no known Chinese records of paper folding, and since the oldest Japanese records date only to the 18th century, other historians claim that origami is definitely a Japanese invention. Regardless of its ultimate origin, Japan is recognized as the country that most fully developed the traditional art of origami.

The Japanese transmitted their designs via an oral tradition, with the recreational designs being passed from mother to daughter. Because nothing was ever written down, only the simplest designs were kept. The first written instructions appeared in AD 1797 with the publication of the Senbazuru Orikata (Thousand Crane Folding). One portion of the Kayaragusa (also known as Kan no mado or Window on Midwinter), an encyclopedia of Japanese culture published in 1845, included a comprehensive collection of traditional Japanese figures. The name origami was coined in 1880 from the words oru (to fold) and kami (paper). Previously, the art was called orikata ("folded shapes").

Meanwhile, paperfolding was also being developed in Spain. The secret of papermaking reached the Arabic world in the eighth century, and the Arabs brought it to Spain in the 12th century. The Arabs were devoutly Muslim and their religion forbade the creation of representational figures. Instead, they followed their mastery of mathematics and their paperfolding was a study of the geometries inherent in the paper. After the Arabs left Spain, the Spanish went beyond the geometric designs and developed papiroflexia, an art this is still popular in Spain and Argentina.

Modern origami owes a great deal to the efforts of YOSHIZAWA Akira. After centuries of people folding the same traditional models, Master Yoshizawa published books with completely new models starting in the early 1950's. He, together with American Sam Randlett, also developed the standard set of origami diagram symbols that is still used today. Exhibitions of his work, both in Japan and around the world, introduced origami to many people, leading to the formation of various origami associations including the Origami Center of America (now OrigamiUSA), and the British Origami Society. Now there are origami masters and enthusiasts in many countries, forming a widespread but close-knit community. Today, Yoshizawa, aged 93, is regarded as the grandmaster of origami in the world.

Today, master paperfolders can be found in many places around the world. New and improved folding techniques have produced models that would have astounded the ancients. They still manage to astound many people today. Where once it was considered a feat to fold a representational insect that gave the impression of a segmented body and multiple legs, anatomically correct insects are now considered commonplace and the feat is to create insects that are of a recognizable species. Happily, not all paperfolders have reduced paperfolding to greater and greater achievements of technical skill. The artistry of paperfolding is also flourishing.

Composition and paper choice play an important role in this newfound artistry. Yoshizawa has also led the way in this area, producing fabulous displays that capture the life of his subjects, whether shown as a diorama, as a mobile, or in a shadow box. He has developed a technique known as backcoating that is the lamination of two layers of washi to produce a paper that is unparalleled for folding. Also, a technique known as wet folding, where a heavily sized paper is folded while wet, allows the folder to sculpt his model into soft curves and 3D forms.

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Burakumin

(Not written by me)
Even today burakumin is a word that many people do not say and refuse to listen to.


Burakumin are a group of people in Japan that have suffered discrimination and hardships. The problem that the Burakumin face comes from the jobs that the descendants of the current Burakumin held during the Edo period (1603-1867) of Japan. These people took jobs that nobody else would. These jobs were considered "dirty" jobs. Work such as working with leather, dealing with dead animals and many more. Because these jobs where considered dirty, the people faced discrimination and were labelled Burakumin which has the meaning of outcast. The current Burkumin face difficulties in getting a good education and steady jobs just because of the jobs their descendants held. Some Burakumin Links.


The word burakumin comes from buraku (部落), a designated village where burakumin were forced to live in the Nara and Edo period. Many burakumin were and still are tanners or butchers and much of the prejudice that surrounds them comes from the Shinto association with the pollution of death and Buddhist teachings against the killing of animals. Those connected with the killing of animals or the sale or treatment or their meat or skin were considered to be tainted and were shunned. Many slaughterers, butchers and leather-workers were dubbed eta (pollution abundant) or hinin (non-person) and forced into buraku or ghettoes. Ghettoes that still exist around Japan's major cities. The Meiji government abolished the terms eta and hinin and emancipated the burakumin. However, the piecemeal legislation was not fully implemented and had little effect in altering the deep-seated hatred that existed towards the burakumin.


Today there are at least 3 million burakumin in Japan. It is impossible to establish a true figure as many desperately hide their origins, some even falsifying documents to pretend never to have been born in or lived in a buraku. Burakumin are six times more likely to be unemployed than their non-burakumin counterparts.

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Ninja - Weaponry

Much of the mystique of the ninja lies in their arsenal of weaponry. Books published as long ago as 1676 illustrate many of the ninja weapons and techniques that were in use. The main weapons used by the ninja were the same weapons employed by samurai: the sword, the small sword, the bow and arrow. Other weapons, however, seem to have been unique to the ninja art:

Clawed Weapons: There are two principal kinds: the neko-te or "cat's claws," and the shuko or "tiger's claws". The neko-te consists of sharp pieces of metal extending from the end of each finger, like the claws of a cat. This is supposedly a defensive weapon, used mainly by female ninjas. The shuko, on the other hand, has many applications. In addition to use in combat, they can also be used to assist in scaling walls and climbing trees. A matching pair can go on the feet.

Sickle Weapons: The short handled sickle, or kama was a weapon that could be put to good use by ninja operatives. Since owning a weapon was banned to all but samurai, a ninja walking around with a utility belt full of swords and shuriken may stick out a bit. But the kama was a common farming tool, and a ninja carrying such a weapon would not call attention to himself. It can also be attached to a chain and becomes a much more complicated and dangerous weapon then, with greater range and utility.

Shuriken: No discussion of the ninja is complete without mentioning the famous shuriken, or "throwing stars."

Invisibility Weapons: The ability to disappear or become invisible is one of the legendary traits of the ninja. To aid in this ability there was developed metsubushi, or "sight removing" techniques. A powder concoction would be created, the recipe of which differed from clan to clan, ninja to ninja, but usually included a variety of eye irritants (like our modern day pepper spray), and placed into an egg shell or nut shell for quick use. Combined with small explosives, the shock and surprise and itchy, running eyes should have been enough to allow a ninja to make his escape.

Mudras: Part of the mystic side of the ninja arts is the forming of various hand signals called "Mudras." These Mudras are now a core component of the spiritual ninja's training, and can be seen in many films. In ninja legends and myths, these hand signals would usually be made to perform magic. However, these hand signs have very little connection to the ninja. Probably they became part of ninja mythology as part of their association with the yamabushi, the mountain pilgrim monks.

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Ninja - Myths and Legends

During the relative quiet time of the Edo period, under the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the arts flourished. Stories, woodblock prints, and plays all told dramatic stories from the past. In these tales, the ninja became semi-mythical beings, whose ability to hide, stay silent, to siege castles, and to kill, grew to superhuman heights, and so the only explanation for their powers became sorcery. In one play a ninja is able to turn himself into a rat. Stories tell of another ninja who knows 'Toad Magic,' and rides on the back of a giant toad. In another tale, a ninja meets a sorcerer on the road, and when the ninja cuts the sorcerer open, and his intestines continue to attack the ninja, the ninja begs him to teach him the magic arts. In the face of such powers as these, the ability to fly or turn invisible seems commonplace.

Part of the mystical aura that surrounds the ninja may be due to their longstanding association with monks, especially the yamabushi. They would take long, mountain pilgrimages in the belief that such hardship combined with worship and fasting would reveal their religion to them, and at the same time be granted powers beyond that of ordinary humans. Iga and Koga provinces, being very mountainous, were both destinations for yamabushi. Add to this the rumours that ninjas often disguised themselves as wandering monks for purposes of concealment on intelligence missions, and it is easy to see how the magical powers ascribed to one can so easy be passed to the other.

As the legend of the ninja grew, so to did the amount of historic figures that were newly assigned ninja status. Any samurai who had an unaccounted for period of wandering in the mountains became a possible candidate: the warrior Yagyu Jubei, who served the Tokugawa but then took an unaccounted for ten year leave of absence, is a prime example. Hundreds of tales have been written about those unknown years and the events surrounding it, so much so that it is generally not questioned that Jubei, and in fact the entire Yagyu clan, were ninjas. And it could be true. Much less likely is the claim that Minamoto Yoshitsune, brother of the twelfth century shogun Yoritomo, was a ninja. Yoshitsune was forced to flee from his brother, who was trying to consolidate his power and make sure there would be no other claimants to the title of shogun. Yoshitsune has to disguise himself as a yamabushi to escape. But despite this ninja-like disguise, it would be several hundred years before ninjas really appeared in the historic record. But that doesn't stop ninja believers, who even go so far to claim that he founded a school of ninja arts, the Yoshitsune-Ryu.

In addition to the ninjas abilities in maritial arts and magic, one other power remains to be mentioned -- which is, they were legendary in the sack. As far back as the late eighteenth century, erotic art was being printed of ninja antics in the sack. Usually, the images were ones of violent entry and rape. The ninja, using his strength, his ability to gain entry to any place, would tie up or slay men and rape women at their pleasure. Japanese Ninja literature and cinema still contain a powerful element of the erotic.

With all of these stories of the ninja being written, it was only a matter of time before they appeared on the Kabuki theater stage. And then, the actors had a dilemma -- how does one portray a ninja? And more importantly, what kind of costume should be used? Sometimes, they wore garb not dissimilar to any other samurai when playing a ninja on stage. But the ninjas reputation as masters of stealth and invisibility suggested a costume to the actors. Because there already were people on stage, in many performances (especially of the Bunraku or puppet theater), who were supposed to be invisible. They were the kurogo, or stage-hands. The stage-hands, to indicate to the audience that they were not meant to be seen and should be ignored, wore black from top to bottom. And here, at last, we have the famous ninja uniform -- those black pajamas that seem to provide little protection from weapons, little cover in pitch darkness, and foolishly advertise to the entire world who you are. It makes little sense for an outfit such as this to be used in the real world, but in the conventions of Kabuki theater, it was the perfect costume. And to this day, every ninja movie, no matter how authentic they attempt to be, includes the Kabuki stage-hand's costume as an unquestioned and vital part of ninja outerwear.

And so, during the Edo period, the ninja moved from the battlefield into the imagination, and have remained there ever since. While popular plays were presented to lay audiences of ninja exploits, those who believed they carried on the tradition of the ninja continued to practice their skills in various schools throughout the country. Many of them kept secret books which showed weaponry, medicines, and food recipes. As the long peace wore on, however, the need to keep these books secret became less and less, and eventually, many of them were published. It is these guides which have been used ever since as reference for the many weapons and other equipment used by the ninja.

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Ninja History

'Ninja?'
The word itself derives from the Japanese Shinobi-no-mono, which is written with two kanji characters that can also be pronounced as nin-sha, if the Chinese pronunciation is used instead. The first character, nin, suggests concealment, while the second, sha, means person. Ninja: a person who hides his presence. In Japanese, the word is applied to a person who does covert, military operations.

We cannot leave the term with such a broad definition, though, else the CIA, the FBI, and the marines could all be considered ninjas. When speaking of the Ninja, then, we also imply that they are a secret organization, fraternity, or clan, whose skills and knowledge have been passed down in secrecy from generation to generation.

Iga and Koga Ninja
The Sengoku era marks a century of warfare in Japan. During the latter half of this centruy the powerful daimyo, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, struggled for dominance. Sometimes they allied together, and sometimes they dramatically opposed each other, until at last Tokugawa Ieyasu was named Shogun in 1603. Following his decisive victory at the Battle of Sekigahara, Japan was united once again. During this time, documented ninja activity was at its peak. Ninja raids, attempted assassinations, reconnaissance missions, and other military operations were recorded in semi-historical documents. These references, when taken as a whole, reveal exactly what role the ninja played in warfare of the time.

Siege Warfare: This is by far the most often referenced skill of the ninja. The ability to enter into a castle by means of stealth, and launch a surprise attack on the inhabitants, causing confusion within while the main army storms the castle from without. Typically the ninja party would scale the walls of a castle under the cover of night, then start lighting everything in sight on fire. They would not wear black, but rather, wear the costume of the castle defenders, making it difficult to tell friend from foe, and so make it seem like there is a rebellion within the ranks. Once chaos reigns inside the castle, the army lays siege on its walls from without. If there was any special skill, then, that these ninjas were famous for, this was it. These ninjas were also able to perform valuable services if they were part of the force under siege in a castle. The ninja could sneak out of the castle at night, and steal the banner of the opposing army, and hang it on the battlements in the morning to demoralize the attackers. One source tells of the ninja going out nearly every night from a castle to frighten and harass the attacking army, without doing any physical damage. Because of this the troops had to always be on the alert, and never able get a good night's sleep having to always be on edge waiting for an attack all night. They were therefore ineffective when the time came to launch an assault on the castle.

Scouts: Ninjas were often employed to assay the relative strength of the enemy. By one account, a ninja would lay in the tall grass just outside an enemy encampment and remain there until dawn before returning to report. In most cases, however, the scout simply goes on horseback, and is indistinguishable from scouts used in warfare anywhere in the world.
Assassins: This is what the Ninja is known for now. Even in the seventeenth century, the Daimyo feared assassination attempts by ninjas. All of the major generals seemed to have an assassin make an attempt on their life at some point or another. Of course, not all of these attempts are by ninjas In fact, nowhere have a found a single documented successful assassination been carried out by a ninja. They were feared throughout Japan for the possibility, but it seems that possibility never became reality. The ninja really did try to kill people, though, they just weren't very successful at it. One tactic was to lie down on a battlefield, and when your mark rides through, looking at all the dead bodies, the ninja suddenly springs up and attacks. Nobunaga had some close calls before he met his fate, once being shot twice in the chest, the bullets being stopped by his armor. Later, perhaps learning from the previous attempt, Nobunaga is surprised by three cannon wielding ninjas who try to take him out with a bang. They miss, but kill seven of his retainers. Most ninja assassins were hired by rival daimyo to kill their opponent, without much success. It is this element of ninja skill that has been over emphasized in our modern understanding of ninja warriors.

In many, but not all, of these accounts the ninjas in question originated from Iga or Koga province, now modern day Mie Province. This is considered the ancestral homeland of the ninja arts, and it does indeed seem to be the main area of ninja activity. Oda Nobunaga finally decided they were too dangerous and crushed Iga in a punitive expedition in 1581. Legend has it that surviving ninja dispersed to all parts of Japan after their defeat. Wherever they went, their usefulness was soon at an end. But where Oda Nobunaga looked at the ninja and only saw a threat, Tokugawa Ieyasu saw an opportunity, and soon he had a group of Koga ninja in his employ. They participated in the battle of Sekigahara, though without particularly distinguishing themselves. They worked for Tokugawa again in 1614-15, during the campaigns against the last Toyotomi heir, and one last time in 1638 against the Christian daimyo of Kyushu in the Shimabara Rebellion, in both cases operating in their traditional role as masters of siege warfare.

After the Shimabara Rebellion, there was peace at last. And lots of it -- over a hundred years worth. What's a ninja to do? Well, start a martial arts school, publish some weapon guides, and sit back and let the storytellers take over.

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Brief History of Japan

The Japanese archipelago assumed its present shape around 10,000 years ago. Soon after, the era known as the Jomon period began and continued for about 8,000 years. Its people were hunter-gatherers. Gradually, they formed small communities and began to organize their lives communally. They also began to use earthenware objects.
Rice cultivation reached Japan from the Eurasian continent around 300 BC during the Yayoi period, and settlements grew larger.

Japan can be said to have taken its first steps to nationhood in the Yamato period, which began at the end of the third century AD. During this period, the ancestors of the present Emperor began to bring a number of small states under unified rule from their bases around what are now Nara and Osaka Prefectures.

In 604 Prince Shotoku laid down Japan's first constitution. Also from this time, Buddhism that was introduced from the Eurasian continent began to take root in Japan. The Nara period began at the beginning of the eighth century with the establishment of the country's first permanent capital in Nara. Toward the end of the century, the capital was transferred to Kyoto, launching the Heian period, during which noble families predominated and a distinct national culture blossomed.

From the Kamakura period, which began at the end of the twelfth century, to the close of the Edo period in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Japan was ruled by samurai, or warrior class. Order broke down around the middle of the fifteenth century, and Japan was torn by civil warfare for nearly 100 years as samurai lords of different domains fought one another. The agent of pacification and national unity was Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Tokugawa Ieyasu set up a government in Edo (now Tokyo), and the Edo period began. The Tokugawa regime adopted an isolationist policy that lasted for more than 200 years, cutting off exchange with all countries except China and the Netherlands. But with the arrival of American Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853, the nation began to open itself up to the United States and European powers.
The age of the samurai came to an end with the Meiji Restoration of 1868, and a new system of government centered on the Emperor was set up. The new government promoted modernization, adopted Western political, social, and economic systems, and stimulated industrial activity. The Diet was inaugurated, and the people began to enjoy limited participation in politics.

From around 1920 a democratic movement gained strength. But amid a global economic crisis, the military came to the fore, and Japan eventually marched down the road to war.

With the end of World War II in 1945 Japan put into effect a new Constitution, committed itself to becoming a peace-seeking democracy, and succeeded in relaunching its economy. In 1956 the nation's entry into the United Nations was approved. Since then, Japan has contributed to world peace and prosperity as a member of the international community.

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Wednesday

KYUDO

Kyudo is traditional Japanese Archery. However Kyodo is much more than just ordinary archery. Its techniques are created to train the mind and spirit.

The History of Kyudo
Historically, Japanese archery has been shrouded in myth and legend, making it difficult to assemble a completely accurate account of its development. Still, by focusing on the similarities recorded in ancient chronicles, historians have managed to piece together a reliable picture of the historical development of kyudo.

The Prehistoric Period
It goes without saying that the evolution of Japanese archery closely coincides with the development and use of the Japanese bow. The earliest known inhabitants of the Japanese islands, a hunter-gatherer culture known as the Jomon relied heavily on the use of the bow. Their bows were of different lengths but most were the short, center-gripped type common to other primitive cultures. The Jomon bow was primarily used as a hunting tool but it is quite probable that it was also used in tribal warfare and ritual. From around 250 B.C to A.D. 330 the Yayoi culture flourished. During this time the bow came to be used as a symbol of political power. Legend says that Japan's first ruler was Emperor Jimmu, who ascended to the throne in 660 B.C. In paintings and descriptions of his life Jimmu is always depicted holding a long bow, a symbol of his authority. A bronze casting from the Yayoi period appears to show the use of a long asymmetrical bow. And a written account compiled by the Chinese in the third century describes the Japanese as using a bow with upper and lower limbs of differing length, so it is highly likely that the unique asymmetrical design of the Japanese bow was adopted during the Yayoi period.

The Ancient Period
During this period Japan was strongly influenced by Chinese culture. It was then that ceremonial archery became an important part of the court system. The Japanese bowmakers also began to borrow the composite construction used by the Chinese and by the tenth century had developed a two-piece composite bow using bamboo and wood. The Ancient period also saw the rise of the samurai, or warrior class, and the bow saw even greater use as a weapon of war as the samurai struggled to establish themselves as a powerful new social class.

The Feudal Period
In 1192 Minamoto no Yoritomo was granted the title of shogun, or military governor, and established stricter standards for his warriors. As part of that training, Ogasawara Nagakiyo, the founder of Ogasawara Ryu, was instructed to teach mounted archery in a more formal manner. It was during this time that the kyujutsu ryu, the schools of archery technique came into their own. One of the most influential archers of the time was Heki Danjo Masatsugu, the founder of Heki Ryu, who lived from 1443 to 1502. He is credited with standardizing the training of kyujutsu which no doubt assured its continued growth and development, even into modern times. It was during the Feudal period that the construction of the Japanese bow reached its peak. By the late sixteenth century it was regarded as being near perfect in design. So much so, that the bamboo and wood laminate bows used in modern kyudo are nearly identical to those made four hundred years ago. As it turned out, the end of the sixteenth century also spelled the end of the bow's usefulness as a weapon of war when Oda Nobunaga, commanding conscripts armed with muskets, defeated the opposing force of kyujutsu archers in a major battle in 1575.

The Transitional Period
In the seventeenth century Japan's period of civil war ceased and the emphasis of Japanese archery gradually changed from kyujutsu to kyudo, or, in other words, from the technique of fighting with a bow to the way of personal development. The Transitional period also saw the general public become more involved with the practice of archery. As the twentieth century dawned, Honda Toshizane, a kyudo instructor at Tokyo Imperial University, combined elements of the warrior and ceremonial styles to create a hybrid form that came to be known as Honda Ryu.

The Modern Period
In the early 1930's it became evident that modern kyudo would need to be standardized in some way to guarantee its continued growth. After World War II, the practice of kyudo, along with all other martial arts, was banned by the occupation forces. It wasn't until 1949 that final authorization was granted and the Zen Nihon Kyudo Renmei (All Nippon Kyudo Federation) was formed. In 1953 the kyudo kyohon (manual) was published, establishing the shooting procedures that are in common use today.

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Karate - A Brief Introduction

Karate is a martial art the comes from the southern island of Okinawa in Japan. Karate was formed by using techniques form Chinese kung-fu combined with local Okinawan self defence techniques. The term karate means "empty hand". Thus most of the techniques are hand to hand. Karate has become one of the most popular martial arts throughout the world.

The life of Supreme Master Gichin Funakoshi was the starting point of the art of karate. He changed the name of the art from "katrate-jutsu" to "karate-do", established the five dojo precepts, and through his magnificent philosophy of karata became the torchbearer of spiritual culture.

Funakoshi was born the son of a samurai in 1870 (3rd year of Meiji), in Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture. Because he was very physically weak he took up karate (at that time still the typically Ryukyuan art of self-defense) to strengthen his body. In 1913 (2nd year of Taisho) he became Chairman of the Okinawa Shobu Kai, and in 1922 (eleventh year of Taisho) he gave the first public performance of karate at a physical education exhibition sponsored by the Ministry of Education. This evoked great public interest, and as a result Funakoshi moved to Koishikawa, in Tokyo, where he set up his Meisei-Juku dojo. From 1924 (13th year of Taisho) he taught at various universities, including Keio, Tokyo, Takushoku, Hitotsubashi, Waseda, Hosei, Chuo, Senshu and Nippon Medical College.
In 1954 he was officially commended for his meritorious services to the Karate world at the Japan National Martial Arts Championships. In April,1957 he passed away at the age of 88.

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Kabuki: A Brief History

Created around the year 1600, around the same time the English began to form colonies on the American continent, the history of Kabuki is as long as that of the United States and just as multi-faceted.

Kabuki was created by Okuni, a shrine maiden from Izumo Shrine. Her performances in the dry river beds of the ancient capital of Kyoto caused a sensation and soon their scale increased and a number of rival companies arose. Early Kabuki was much different from what is seen today and was comprised mostly of large ensemble dances performed by women. Most of these women acted as prostitutes off stage and finally the government banned women from the stage in an effort to protect public morals, just one in a long history of government restrictions placed on the theater.

This ban on women, though, is often seen as a good move because it necessitated the importance of skill over beauty and put more stress on drama than dance, putting Kabuki on the path to become a dramatic art form. Another development was the appearance of onnagata female role specialists, men who played women.

The last quarter of the 17th century is referred to as the Genroku period and was a time of renaissance in the culture of Japanese townspeople. As the main form of theatrical entertainment for commoners, there was a great flowering of creativity in Kabuki. It was during this period that the stylizations that would form the base of Kabuki were created. The playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon and actors like Ichikawa Danjuro and Sakata Tojuro left strong legacies that can still be seen today. It was also during this period that the close relationship between Kabuki and the Bunraku puppet theater began and the two would continue to grow while influencing each other.

The decades after the Genroku period saw numerous cycles of creative periods followed by refinement. In the early 18th century, the rise of skilled playwrites in the Bunraku puppet theater helped it to briefly eclipse Kabuki in popularity. Indeed, it was remarked by one observer that it seemed as though "there was no Kabuki." Actors responded by adapting puppet plays for the stage and creating stylized movements to mimic the puppets themselves. The late 18th century saw a trend towards realism and the switch of the cultural center from Kyoto and Osaka to Edo. One consequence of this was the change of tastes in onnagata acting. While onnagata trained in Kyoto who had the soft, gentle nature of that city had been valued before, now audiences preferred those who showed the strong pride and nature of Edo women. An increasing audience desire for decadence as seen in the ghost plays and beautification of murder scenes marked early 19th century.

The opening of Japan to the West in 1868 affected Kabuki and the rest of the country profoundly. Though it was freed from numerous government restrictions, Kabuki was faced with the important challenge of how to adapt to a changing world. Actors like Ichikawa Danjuro IX strove to raise the reputation of Kabuki, which since its beginning had been seen as base by the upper classes, while others like Onoe Kikugoro V worked to adapt old styles to new tastes. The defining moment of the period, and a symbol of the success of their efforts, was a command performance before Emperor Meiji.
Though Kabuki survived government oppression during the Edo period, the loss of many young actors in World War II and censorship by occupation forces after the war, it faces its most difficult enemies in modern forms of entertainment like movies and television. Its position as a "traditional" form of theater often makes it seem stuffy, and people are not as familiar with the special peculiarities of Kabuki as they used to be. Still, popular actors continue to bring audiences into the theater and there has recently been a "Kabuki boom" centered around young people. Kabuki continues to be a form of entertainment enjoyed by a wide range of people, just as it has been for 400 years.

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TATAMI MATS

Tatami is a thick firm mattress to cover the Japanese-style room floor. Recently, there are more foreign-style houses than Japanese-style houses.

Tatami has a long history. Emperor Shoumu used tatami as a bed in the Nara era (710-794). It was the beginning of tatami. In Heian era (794-1192), some rules were made about the use of tatami. People in different social ranks had to use different kinds of tatami. There were some rules about thickness of tatami and color and patterns of its edge. The edge of tatami for the emperor was made of the best silk fabrics. In the middle of Edo era (about 1730), tatami came into use among common people. In the Meiji era (1867-1911), farmers started using it.

In Japan, we usually explain the size of a room by counting the number of tatami mats which fit the room. For example, my room is flooring but I say, "My room is four and a half mat size." The size of a tatami is different from place to place. Tatami is classified into three types: kyou-ma, chuukyou-ma and kantou-ma. Today, kantou-ma type of tatami is the most popular.

type of tatami length width
Kyou-ma 191cm 95.5cm
Chuukyou-ma 180cm 90cm
Kantou-ma 176cm 88cm


Tatami is made of rush. The kind of rush to make tatami is called igusa. If you look at the surface of tatami closely, you can see that tatami is woven. To weave one surface of tatami, they use about four to five thousand pieces of rush. But the craftsperson doesn't use rush immediately after it has been harvested. They sort the rush by its use and grade (e.g., quality, length, color, etc.) before they use it. Nowadays the core is made of a particle wooden bark mesh. Unlike the original rice straw core, this material is pests free, easy to maintain, and suitable for various climates. Mats will gradually turn from sage-green to golden color as it ages.

Rush have some good effects, for example, tatami cleans air in the room because the rush of tatami absorbs carbon dioxide. The rush is soaked in the mud immediately after harvest. This process keeps rush from changing of color and it also makes the next process easier. The infrared rays are shed by this mud. Because of the lack of infrared rays, rush makes you relax. Also, rush has another wonderful function. Rush absorbs water when humidity in the room is high. When the humidity of the room is low, it discharges water. This also prevents an increase of ticks in the tatami.

Tatami is widely used by Japanese people. Because tatami is good to keep the room warm and let the air through. Therefore, you feel cool in summer when you sit or stand on tatami, and you feel warm in winter when you sit or stand on tatami.

Posted by ・Andrea :: 5:28 PM :: 1 Comments:

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