Known for having one of the most diverse forms of art in the world, Japan is famous not only for its breathtaking views, but also for its vast culture. Traditional Japanese art is known to be both elegant and uncomplicated, often drawing heavy influences from Shintoism and Buddhism. Adopting ideas and going through several periods of opening and closing its borders, the Japanese would eventually form several art styles that would fascinate the world, even to this day.
From everyday ceremonies to artistic expressions, we’ll be sharing and highlighting 6 traditional Japanese art styles that you have to check out.
When thinking about traditional Japanese artwork, most people imagine ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Ukiyo-e, often translated as "pictures of the floating world," refers to Japanese paintings and woodblock prints. Ukiyo-e painters focused on enjoyable activities in landscape settings, shown close-up, with special attention to contemporary affairs and fashions that originally depicted the cities' pleasure districts during the Edo Period. Our Ukiyo-e soaps are inspired by this art form
People and environments in which the higher classes emerged themselves became popular subjects for ukiyo-e works as well, and this included sumo wrestlers, courtesans, the actors of kabuki theatre, geishas and other characters from the literature and folklore of the time.
Today, only a few artisans are capable of producing these exquisite ukiyo-e, which raises the question of whether the superb techniques of multi-colored woodcut printmaking will be passed onto future generations. If you ever visit Japan, make sure to view and visit places that exhibit ukiyo-e works of art, such as the The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum.
Not merely a form of art, Shodō or Japanese calligraphy is also a way of life complete with its own set of philosophies. In the 5th century, Japan adopted Chinese characters (kanji) as a writing system and calligraphy as a craft. Although this distinctive form of art might look like sloppy ink paintings to the untrained eye at first, this ancient Japanese art form follows strict techniques.
Aside from kanji, it sometimes also uses hiragana and katakana. The main styles of shodo writing are kaisho (block lettering), gyosho (semi-cursive), and sosho (cursive). Elementary school students learn kaisho penmanship, and some adults continue practicing calligraphy as a hobby. Today, you may still see displays of amateur gyosho or sosho in public areas like train stations or town halls.
Ikebana, traditionally the classical art of Japanese flower arranging, is now used as a term that extends to all the various styles of Japanese floral art. Ikebana was introduced in Japan in the 6th century by Chinese Buddhist missionaries who had formalized the ritual of offering flowers to the Buddha. There are thousands of schools of Ikebana today, each with individual varieties of style. Some practice techniques similar to sculpture and pay close attention to the colors, lines, forms, and functions of each blossom. Others mimic the flowers’ natural conditions and try to show them as they grew in the wild. Many displays use seasonal flowers in either elaborate or uncomplicated compositions.
Ikebana is more than a physical piece of art. The focus is on the process of creation. It is a meditative act usually done in silence for deep contemplation and appreciation for beauty. The practice combines aesthetic sensitivity, knowledge of the environment and the search for connection with the mystical world of nature.
During the Ashikaga Period from 1338-1573, along with ikebana came chadõ, the art of the ancient Japanese tradition of tea ceremony. A beverage enjoyed by millions around the world, green tea is perhaps the one of the most widely known features of Japanese culture today. Introduced to Japan in the 8th century as a medicinal cure, it became fashionable for noble classes to drink tea in Zen-inspired ritualistic parties.
Beyond just serving and receiving tea, one of the main purposes of the tea ceremony is actually to enjoy the hospitality of the host. Today, the tea ceremony is practiced as a hobby. With varying degrees of formality and authenticity, tea ceremonies are offered by many organizations (including at some traditional gardens, culture centers and hotels).
Taking inspiration from neighbours in the region, Japan created taiko drums during the 6th century. Taiko or drum performances often accompany religious rituals, theatrical performances, and celebratory festivals.
Blending athleticism and fierce energy with the colourful and contemporary showmanship of concerts, taiko can be described today as a modern twist on ancient tradition. Traditionally-made Japanese drums are carved from a single log or tree trunk, and the entire drying, carving, polishing and fitting process could take years. Played with beaters made with white oak or Japanese magnolia, it is not only the beat that is important in taiko. Along with choreographed movements and posture, taiko places importance on the complete performance. It’s definitely something you have to experience when you visit Japan!
Comprising the kanji "bon" (meaning basin or tray) and "sai" (meaning planting), the art of bonsai blends horticultural skills with Japanese aesthetics. Taking years to cultivate and carefully create, these "mini-trees: are masterpieces that can take up to hundreds of years to perfect. A bonsai tree is also not a genetic miniature of a tree but rather the exact same tree as its normal-sized counterpart.
Bonsai pruning has become the epitome of classic Japanese art, and practitioners use different methods to keep the trees small but in proportion to how they would look in nature. Typically featuring pine, maple, and cherry blossoms, it takes careful attention to detail to keep them from overgrowing. They say to appreciate bonsai you must take in an overall impression, then bend down to lower your line of sight. This way, you can imagine what it would look like in your personal miniature forest.