Within the country of Japan lies many distinct aspects to the ways of human life. Some of these aspects of Japanese life are found only in Japan and others are found elsewhere around the globe. The Japanese people use many different ways of life and put them together to what works best for them. This can be found in all forms within Japan.
Japanese culture comes from early contacts with the early civilizations of China and Korea. Influences of ancient China are found in Japanese literature, art, and music. Religion, especially Buddhism, has played an important role in the cultural life of Japan. Western influences, which began during the 19th century, exist side by side and often intermingle with the traditions and stylized forms of Japanese culture.
Most contemporary Japanese are not members of any formal religion, but their ethics are mostly Confucian, their concerns with life after death are Buddhist, and their participation in community activities often centers on Shinto celebrations. Shinto is essentially animistic, recognizing millions of kami, or spirits, in nature. Because Shinto and Buddhism focus on different aspects of a person's life, most Japanese have no trouble following both Shinto and Buddhist practices.
Poetry plays a central role in Japanese culture. Occasions of many kinds are celebrated with poems, and thousands of poems are submitted for the poetry prize awarded by the emperor each New Year. Most Japanese write short poems, called haiku and tanka. Japanese poems, which usually do not rhyme, are based on a syllable count.
A haiku is a three-line poem, with 5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second, and 5 syllables in the third. A tanka has five lines, with 5, 7, 5, 7, and 7 syllables. Due to the fact that haiku and tanka are short, they can only suggest a mood or a picture; the listener or reader has to fill in the details.
Japanese literature is noted for distinctive forms of drama as well as of poetry. The No, or Noh, play combines recitation, music, and slow dance. Japan's No plays are considered as scenes from the ceremonial life of lords and ladies during Japan's Middle Ages. The mood of these plays is usually serious and sometimes tragic and they are noted for their fine poetry, which is chanted by the actors and chorus. Because the No plays are short, five different types of plays are presented at a time, each with its own music. The first is usually about a god, the second about a warrior, the third about a woman. The fourth type of play varies in content; it can be a realistic, contemporary play, for example, or a play about a protagonist who becomes insane. The fifth type deals with demons and other supernatural beings.
Like the No play, the Japanese puppet play is serious drama combining words, music, and dancing.
Another type of drama is Kabuki, Kabuki drama has no rival. Kabuki plays are distinguished by sensationalism and melodrama. One of the most famous Kabuki plays is 'Chushingura', about 47 samurai who avenge their lord's death and then commit hara-kiri as required by the law of the time.
Japanese prose works tend to be series of loosely connected episodes. Diaries and books of random thoughts, which lend themselves to this style, are typical of Japanese prose literature.
The martial arts in Japan originated with medieval warriors, the samurai, who mastered at least one or two of them for use in battle. Today they are more important as competitive sports and as aids to physical and mental fitness. The martial arts were traditionally acquired through the family, but schools to teach them now thrive in Japan.
Sumo is one of the country's most popular sports. Professional sumo matches between two huge wrestlers dressed only in mawashi, or loincloths, are held in rings of sand. The actual bout is preceded by a ritual during which the wrestlers face each other, squatting and touching the ground with their fists. The match does not begin until both wrestlers come up at the same time. It ends only when a wrestler has been pushed out of the ring or when any part of a wrestler's body except his feet touches the ground. Several professional sumo tournaments are held each year