Japan is a modern nation that remains steeped in tradition. Much of its people’s way of life reflects the richness of their culture, and for people from the outside looking in, it’s always enriching to understand the roots of the Japanese psyche. A great way to get an introduction to this is through cultural activities, and for anyone visiting Japan, these are the three unique experiences to immerse yourself in: the tea ceremony, Ikebana, and Nihon Buyo.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

Modern tea ceremony room in Japan.

Modern tea ceremony room in Japan. From Flickr

 

The tea ceremony goes beyond tea drinking and appreciation. It is a showcase of skill and mindfulness, and a ritual that exhibits the importance given by the Japanese to hospitality and etiquette. Its core principles are the ideas of inner harmony, tranquility, purity, and respect.

The journey of tea in Japan had been a long one. It dates back to more than a thousand years ago and traces its origins from its neighbor country China since tea wasn’t originally grown in the country. There was a time when tea was just regarded as a medicine until Buddhist monks started to incorporate the drink in religious rituals. Over time, traditions surrounding tea likewise evolved, and the tea ceremony as how it is practiced today flourished in the 1500’s under the influence of Zen scholar Murata Shukou.
How tea ceremonies are conducted varies with the season (colder vs. warmer months), formality (informal vs. formal gatherings), setting (indoor vs. outdoor space), time of day, and other considerations. The basic concept, however, revolves around the host preparing and serving a type of tea called matcha while following a sequence of precise movements and rules of etiquette. Guests on the receiving end of this hospitality also have roles to play in the ceremony, which will depend on their rank. The principal guest is called Shokyaku, the second guest is Jikyaku, while the rest of the party is referred to as Kyaku. Among the guests, the Shokyaku is the person to participate the most in the event.

The practice itself may be calm in nature, but the skill behind it is something that is acquired through dedicated training. All over Japan, there are special tea schools for this craft. On the other hand, visitors interested in partaking in this kind of gathering can make an appointment with tea houses or with their hotels, if applicable.

Be a part of Tea Ceremony

Hub Japan offers a plan to experience tea ceremony at a Japanese mother’s house. See details from below:

– Be a guest of Tea Ceremony at a Japanese mom’s house

Be a guest of Tea Ceremony at a Japanese mom's house

Be a guest of Tea Ceremony at a Japanese mom’s house

Nihon Buyo

Dance is a universal historian. Through these performances, stories and scenes from long ago are told and passed on to generations. It is the same with traditional Japanese dances, and one of its most prominent forms is the Nihon Buyo.

It is believed that Nihon Buyo is a performance that originally branched off another traditional art form, the Kabuki stage play, which developed during the 17th century Edo Period. Indeed, much of Nihon Buyo’s material are lifted from Kabuki repertoire, but at the same time, it has also grown to incorporate other influences like Noh (another traditional Japanese drama), folk dance, and even modern dance.

As a performance, it can be described as a mix of dance and pantomime. The movements are to a point restrained typically accompanied by Shamisen (a unique Japanese instrument) as well as an ensemble of drums, flutes, gongs, and other instruments. Generally, Nihon Buyo performers are mostly women as a result of Kabuki productions being an all-male production. There are many venues in Japan to watch Nihon Buyo. Cultural centers like the National Theatre of Japan in Tokyo regularly have show schedules for a variety of traditional Japanese performing arts. Alternatively, numerous dance schools also hold showcases, and in some cases, the admission is free. Workshops are likewise offered by these dance schools for those who want to truly immerse themselves in the art.

Participate in a Nihon Buyo lesson for beginners

Hub Japan offers a plan to experience tea ceremony at a Japanese mother’s house. See details from below:

Japanese Dance (Nihonbuyo) lesson at the house of master of Nihonbuyo

Japanese Dance (Nihonbuyo) lesson at the house of master of Nihonbuyo

Japanese Dance (Nihonbuyo) lesson at the house of master of Nihonbuyo

Ikebana

Ikebana is the art that is representative of Japan’s love affair with nature, flowers, and its seasons. The result may be a flower arrangement, but before arriving at this creation, there is a thoughtful process to be had where the maker carefully selects different elements to capture his intent. The goal is to achieve a sense of harmony in the materials, the container, and space in general. And finally, in the process of creating, one gets to achieve clarity and spiritual fulfillment.

As with many Japanese art forms, the origins of Ikebana can be attributed to religion. The Buddhist ritual of offering flowers paved the way for classical styles until such time the practice became an endeavor in itself. The rules surrounding composition, on the other hand, largely depends on the different schools devoted to this craft.

The oldest Ikebana school is Ikenobo formed during the Heian period (794 to 1185). Ikenobo or “the side of the lake” is in reference to a priest of the Rokkaudo Temple in Kyoto who lived by the side of the lake, and who was an expert at altar flower arrangement. He became a teacher to his fellow priests and eventually, the practice became strongly associated with them. The 15th century was when ikebana started to have a structure as an art form with fixed requirements. Sedensho is the oldest instructional text for flower arrangement covering the years 1443 to 1536, and as the art became widespread, so did the number of schools. Hence, the consequent evolution in styles. While in Japan, Ikebana schools are the best places to view Ikebana creations. Besides having viewing galleries, they also offer introductory workshops, short courses, observation tours. Below is a short list of Japan’s most notable schools:

Try Japanese Cultural Experience at Hub Japan

Hub Japan offers plans to experience Japanese culture, hosted by local Japanese people. Check out our BE A LOCAL page to find out best plans!

Thumbnail is from Flickr.