Japan is a country that is both grounding, yet spiritually elevating. I’ve found this special place on earth to be incredibly humbling and inspiring. The deep-rooted traditions in their contemporary culture are proof of just how much the Japanese value their heritage and country’s cultural history at large. They are great artists and creators. Their creative spirit is omnipresent, while keeping their traditions at the core, even if they are being given a new, unconventional twist in some realms of Japanese arts. 

They have their very own, unique aesthetics and techniques. This is because Japanese artists were isolated from the rest of the world for a long time. Around the 1860s, though, their art was recognized on an international scale. It even served as inspiration for the following impressionist movement in North America and Europe. Japanese art speaks its own language, staying true to itself, emerging in a country that is seeking harmony in all there is. 

Traditional Arts as Creative Communication

Japanese folks are creative and spiritual beings. This is expressed in their various forms of art. Ink-painting, pottery, sculpture, ukiyo-e paintings (woodblock prints), origami and ceramics, sculptures mostly associated with religion as well as dance are traditional approaches to creating art. Oftentimes, the approach is minimalistic. Through various artistic media, Japanese express themselves and share messages frequently.

A very beautiful, nature-based form of art is ikebana, the art of arranging flowers. Here, it is not so much about getting the most elaborate bouquet; it is rather a simplistic approach of highlighting different parts of the plant in harmony with colors, shapes, and textures.

[…] Japanese culture is one of the very few cultures left that is its own entity. They are just so traditional and so specific in their ways – Toni Collette

Dance is widely present in two main forms: kabuki and noh. The latter features elaborate costumes and big emotions. The former, however, draws the spectator’s attention to the unique masks the performers are wearing, with very minimalist effects around. Two types of original dance that celebrates Japanese cultural expression. 

Another form of art is shodo, the art of calligraphy. Mostly seen around temples, Japanese Buddhism influenced it. Artists use a brush to create their works. 

A very special traditional kind of art, among others, is origami. Creatively folding thin paper to make decorative pieces requires skill. It is, however, a technique that is so deeply rooted into culture that it is being taught to students. The origami cranes are a symbol of Japan. Senbazuru – a thousand cranes strung together – are common decorations at festivals or other celebrations. Brides commonly receive a senbazuru from their fathers on their wedding day.

Japanese celebrate the beauty of uniqueness by oftentimes repairing broken items with gold. This pays respect to piece’s history and highlights the beauty lying in brokenness and healing. 

The Ethics of Harmony and Respect

A pure soul and purified mind lead to a life lived precisely and to the point, with a clear vision and path ahead – Tokyo, Japan

Harmony and respect go hand in hand in Japan. People strive for balance and a harmonious whole in their daily lives. This is creating a positive zen. Rooted in the beliefs of Buddhism, people can find zen everywhere. But it starts from within. Breaking free of the constraints of words and destructive thoughts in our minds, it is believed that one needs to turn inward and do the mind work – of letting go. Find harmony within your own existence and live it out. Others will feel this energy. 

Those who hurt others will also hurt themselves – Natsuki Takaya

There is a deep sense of caring for fellow humans present in Japanese culture; almost a sense of strong self-reflection in all that people do as they consider the potential impact their actions and words have on others. The collective comes first. Japanese are, hence, incredibly considerate, thoughtful and harmony-seeking. Serving others, paying respect to specifically the older (and wiser) generation, being welcoming, and giving out smiles is a belief that many Japanese share. 

A Japanese proverb goes like this: “Mizu ni nagasu.” It means to forgive and forget, which shows, once again, how harmony-loving this country’s people are. No harsh feelings. Accepting the fact that we are all humans and tend to make mistakes. But it’s in forgiveness that you show strength and love to your neighbor. 

Finding One’s Place within Nature

Shinto is the practice and belief that humans live in harmony with nature. Further, every living being has a spirit and it needs to be respected. The more humankind values nature, the higher the quality of life. Everything has a soul and its place.

To be fully alive is to have an aesthetic perception of life because a major part of the world’s goodness lies in its often unspeakable beauty – Yukitaka Yamamoto

Being aware of this adds to a thriving life. The balance between humans and nature is a beautiful dance, a co-existence that can be incredibly powerful, rejuvenating, and guiding. 

Precision Rooted in Soulful Purity

Going back to zen: Japanese are firm believers that one should do less but more thoroughly. Doing one thing deliberately, slowly but persistently, putting all of one’s focus on it, is the way to success. Trying to do two things at the same time increases the chances of failing in both. Hence, a Japanese cultural value is to devote time and space to one single thing at a time.

Surrounding themselves with the ideas of mindfulness, mental peace and calm results in a clear mind and more precise view for what really matters. A pure, cleansed mind and soul lead to greater productivity. 

Beginning is easy, continuing is hard – Japanese Proverb

When you begin one thing, you complete it. Declutter your life; living simply, Japanese style is a wonderful example. Less is more and brings more happiness. Surround yourself with what truly enlightens, inspires, encourages mental growth and general mindfulness. It brightens the way towards a fulfilled life, harmoniously co-existing with other living beings on this planet – and life is everywhere. 

What traits about Japanese culture inspire you the most? What have you already implemented into your life?