Co-existing comfortably beside late 20th and early 21st century cultural icons such as Pokemon, Hello Kitty, Ultraman, Doraeman, Anpanman, their friends and companions, and many other cartoon characters are numerous traditional cultures, in which a sizeable proportion of the population participates, whether as a spare-time pursuit, by attending classes, or as a vocation. The many aspects of Japanese traditional culture can be grouped together into the following categories.
The tea ceremony (sado) was a popular form of relaxation for samurai warriors, its calmness and serenity an ideal way of unwinding between battles. Observing a tea ceremony teacher or master going through the intricate motions is a fascinating experience. The process might appear simple, of making tea from a green powder, but a close look at all the movements will show the incredible attention to detail involved.
For a start, the room in which the ceremony is performed must be set up in a specific way. Every movement during the ceremony is much-practised and extremely precise, including steps taken around the room, pouring water, whisking the water and powder together, handing out the bowls for drinking and the sweets for eating, and the manner in which the tea is drunk. Gaining a full understanding and knowledge of the whole process can take years, even decades of lessons and practice, a highly enjoyable experience for those ladies who take up the hobby.
Examples of ikebana, flower arrangement, can be seen in many homes, department stores and hotel lobbies. The practice emerged out of both the Shinto and Buddhist religions, in which flowers were presented as offerings to their gods. Arrangements prepared for the home are usually quite simple, utilising just one or a small number of seasonal plants or flowers. Originally, the longest flower represented heaven and the future, the second represented humans and the present, and any other was the earth and the past. Another form of plant arrangement, rikka, is for use in garden settings, where trees, shrubs and flowers are arranged so as to reflect a scene from nature. The ocean is represented by raked pebbles and islands by large rocks, often with moss partly covering them.
Calligraphy (sho) dates back to around the 5th century, when the Chinese writing system first came to Japan, and involves creating works of art out of writing in Japanese, usually kanji characters. Also highly developed as an art form in China and Korea, since its earliest times calligraphy has passed through various phases and styles, including an avant-garde version in Japan that emerged in the second half of the 20th century, which appears a little like western art.
Many Japanese homes have one or more examples of calligraphy hanging on their walls, such as in their tokonoma, an alcove in the tatami room. Calligraphy can substantially increase in value, especially if penned by people of stature, such as well-known politicians. It is customary for people adept at calligraphy to write a poem or something else of significance to them on 2 January each year, to mark the start of the year.