Japanese Culture, Food and Diet Edit
Japan is a country with a rich and colorful heritage. Its traditions, customs and beliefs are still reflected in modern Japanese society – in its religion, art and cuisine.
Shinto, Japan’s state religion, is linked to Jimmu Tenno, the warlord who founded Japan’s first empire in 660 BC. The most sacred of all Shinto shrines, located at Ise near Kyoto, houses a mirror that the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami supposedly gave to Jimmu.
In the 6th century, Japan established relations with China by adopting its imperial policy and Buddhist religion. It was in the Muromachi (or Ashigaka) feudal period in the 14th century that shoguns or generals embraced the meditative sect of Zen Buddhism as their religion.
Today, about 84% observe Shinto and Buddhism in Japan, while the rest observe other religions. Christians comprise only 0.7% of the Japanese population.
Japanese culture has many facets, but perhaps the most fascinating one is that of Michi or “The Way”, the underlying fundamental principle in six bodies of beliefs and skills in Japanese art – Kado, Sado, Shodo, Judo, Kendo and Kyudo.
- Kado (“The Way of Flowers”) is the art of traditional Japanese flower arrangement. This art of arranging flowers goes for asymmetry and three-dimensional effect.
- Sado (“The Way of Tea”) is the Japanese tea ceremony wherein guests are offered powdered green tea in an established order.
- Shodo (“The Way of Writing”) is Japanese calligraphy that requires speed and artistic insight in execution of written works. Kanji (Chinese characters) and hiragana (Japanese characters) comprise Japan’s writing system.
- Judo (“The Way of Flexibility”) is a form of martial arts that does not require weapons. Instead, its focus is on developing agile motions and quick mental judgments necessary for self-defense.
- Kendo (“The Way of the Sword”) is the Japanese art of fencing. It is based on the two-handed sword of the samurai techniques. For the Japanese, mastering Kendo implies spiritual discipline.
- Kyudo (“The Way of the Bow”) is the traditional art of Japanese archery, whose emphasis is on form and etiquette.
In all six kinds of Japanese art, the basis of Michi is apparent – the upright position and movement.
Performance Traditions: Kabuki, No and Kyogen Edit
When it comes to Japanese performance, the first thing that comes to mind is kabuki, invented in the 17th century by a female dancer named Okuni. Kabuki is a dramatic form that depicts scenes of urban life. Today, Japan’s greatest kabuki actors are conferred the status of “Living National Treasures.”
No drama, a minimalist performance style, has its influence from Zen Buddhism, the chosen religion of the samurai. No dramas, which demonstrate the actors’ physical discipline and vocal techniques derived from Buddhist chants, are accompanied by kyogen, no’s comic companion form.
According to the CIA World Factbook, 81.15 years is the average life expectancy of the Japanese. Many attribute the Japanese’ long life to their diet. In fact, it is considered that Japanese food is one of the healthiest in the world.
A traditional Japanese diet has high fiber content, and is low in calories, cholesterol and fat. The Japanese diet consists mainly of rice as the staple food, raw fish, seaweed, sea cucumbers, kujira (whale), sea cucumbers, vegetables, tofu and noodles. Shoyu (soy sauce) or miso (fermented soybeans) is present in almost every Japanese meal, which is carried out three times a day.
A typical Japanese breakfast consists of boiled rice (gohan), miso soup, dried seaweed (nori) and green tea. udon or soba noodles are usually served for lunch, while rice, fish or meat, vegetables and soup are typical Japanese dinner fares.
Aside from being Japan’s main source of nutrition and staple food for more than 2,000 years, rice used to be Japan’s currency from ancient times up until the mid-19th century. Back then rice was used to pay for taxes and wages, and how much rice one had was also a status symbol in Japanese society.
Rice has made itself virtually irreplaceable in Japanese culture. In addition to being a staple food and a former currency, rice is the basic material or ingredient needed to make various products – from rice cakes and condiments to ropes, paper and sandals.
The Japanese believe in keeping balance and harmony in nature. This is the reason most Japanese food are eaten raw. When it comes to raw Japanese food, the one thing that comes to mind is sushi. Nigiri-zushi is a type of sushi that has raw or cooked fish slices on rice. The other type of sushi, norimaki, has fish and vegetable pieces rolled with rice in a nori (dried seaweed).
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