Japan, the land of the rising sun, is one of the developed and advanced countries in the world. Though the island nation is prone to natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunami, and volcanic eruptions, the people of Japan have made a mark with cutting-edge technologies in various fields such as electronics, robotics, and high-speed automobiles. Also, one of the unique things about Japan is its heritage and tradition and the way people guard it amid all the modern chaos.
The civilization in Japan began as early as 14500 BC, and during this period the pottery art was famous. The Japanese empire rose around 660 BC, and the royal family to date give immense attention to indigenous art and religion. Today, there are different art forms like calligraphy, weaving, Ikebana(floral arrangements), Manga, woodblock printing, etc. Below are the probable reasons for the rich art culture of Japan.
- Long term isolation
The Japanese empire decided to cut off from the rest of the world for around 250 years, starting in the 17th century. During this period, there was peace, harmony, and independence. The country revived its traditional values and religion. At the same time, the Japanese developed their unique style of dance and drama.
The writing art, known as ‘shodo’ in Japan, is challenging as each character had a specific length and direction. The Japanese brush painting, Sumi-e, is distinct too. They use monochrome colors, usually black, and the objects drawn are natural like, bamboo trees, mountains, birds, flowers, etc. All these art forms kindled a new interest once the country opened up. The precise and aesthetic art from Japan continues to enthrall people at art fairs across the world.
- Close link to religion
The Shinto religion reflects the way of life in Japan. Today, practices like washing hands and rinsing the mouth, folding hands for ‘itadakimasu’ before having meals are part of Japanese culture. As per the Shinto religion, individuals need to excel in every skill and art that they pursue. It is their offering to the Kami, the divine spirits that influence human life. And, it is one of the reasons for the excellent work of Japanese artists.
Also, Shinto and Buddhist religions laid the foundation of aesthetic concepts of mono no aware and wabi-sabi. Mono-no-aware is for evoking powerful emotions in art, and wabi-sabi represents the philosophy of finding beauty in all components of nature, even in imperfect things.
- Support by the royals and wealthy
In Japan, one need not go to museums and cultural centers to see the work of artists. Art is part of everyday life in Japan. For example, the Japanese view having tea as an art and ritual. The ironware used and teacups bear artistic drawings. And, they change it according to the season like, during the spring, the utensils have pictures of cherry blossoms.
The imperial family of Japan oversaw the adaptation of rites, rituals, and art. Since 800 BCE, during the Heian period, the aristocratic Fujiwara family was devoted to art and literature. Later, in the 12th century, the military took care of politics and protection. The royals involved themselves in patronizing art forms. They awarded talented artists and artisans and encouraged them to come up with elegant styles and methods.
- Passed on from generations
In the olden days, Japanese artists passed on different art skills such as screen painting, lacquerware(Shikki), and traditional dance forms like Noh and Kabuki to their younger generations. An example is the Tatsumura family. They created luxurious textiles for kimono, obi, and tapestries. Cultural hubs like Yoshiwara existed in Japan as early as the Edo period (early 16th century). These became a center for the exchange of artistic and cultural ideas.
- Respect and protection
The world today considers the Samurai warriors as the warrior class of Japan. But they also learned art and literature with equal vigor. As per Japanese literature, a true warrior is respectful of the sword and art forms like calligraphy and painting.
Even today, the Japanese government considers talented artists as national treasures and endows them titles and prices. They have laws for the protection of cultural properties. The government provides financial assistance to industries in traditional arts like floral arrangements, gold foil lacquerware, silk kimono painting, origami, etc.
- Influence of other cultures
Before Sakoku (self-imposed isolation), the Japanese had trade relations with the Dutch, Portuguese, and Chinese. During this period, they adopted calligraphy and tea ceremony from the Chinese. Another import from China was silk fabric painting.
After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan opened up for trade again. The Japanese learn different painting techniques, enhanced their architecture, and imported loom machines from the West. After a brief period of combining foreign art forms, contemporary Japan secured a unique place in art through modern art forms like Manga, anime, and fashion designing.
- Detail-loving nature
In Japanese, artists are known as ‘shokunin’. These people dedicate their lives to perfecting their art form. And, it is their penchant for excellence that makes the art of Japan outshine. Today, in Japan, a growing number of people, after successful fintech or software jobs, start pursuing art as a second career.
Japanese people have a great reverence for art. Japanese art forms are unique, be it origami or Kintsugi-the art of fixing broken pottery. The best part is they have kept their traditional art forms intact. Meanwhile, new realms like Manga and game series like Pokemon are widespread across the world.