For a limited time, book your 2020, 2021 & 2022 group tour packages with no deposit required!!!

AJT Logo

Traditional Culture Experiences

SHARE
View
Saved
Tours
View
Saved
Tours
Reserve
Tours
Search
Tours

Traditional Culture Experiences

In Japan there are cultural traditions that have survived the test of time and helped shape the traditional aspects of the country. There are many places where you can experience tea ceremony (sado), calligraphy (shodo), flower arrangement (ikebana), origami (art of folding), drums (taiko), kimono, and many more. Traditional tea ceremony in Japan is known as the art of Sado or Chado. The ritual preparation of matcha or powdered green tea, which has been around since the Heian Period (794-1185), was once practiced by the samurai class. Shodo is the art of calligraphy in Japan. This popular fine art has philosophical attributes with every stroke of the brush. When practicing calligraphy your work will reflect your state of mind. Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement where the goal is to bring humanity and nature together in one piece.

Origami literally translates to “folding paper.” The art of folding paper has a history going back more than 1000 years. One of the most recognized origami figures, the crane, is a symbol of peace in Japan. Taiko are drums in Japan that has close associations with religious ceremonies and festivals. The taiko has existed for more than 2000 years; however the modern taiko resembles the drums in China and Korea. Bonsai means planted in a container. It is an art that grows the plant in a pot or tray and maintains it over time. The art of bonsai was derived from Chinese horticulture, but developed under Japanese Zen Buddhism. Kimono is the traditional clothing in Japan. The word translates to “thing to wear.” The present style of kimono dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185). A kimono can have many layers or one depending on the season and weather.

The Japanese tea ceremony (chanoyu) is derived from the influence of the Zen Buddhist masters of the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 1500s, Sen No Rikkyu embraced the ideas of simplicity. He developed a tea ritual that comprised of no wasted movement and no unneeded objects.

Instead of using expensive imported utensils, Rikkyu made tea in a thatched hut simply using an iron kettle, a plain container for tea, a tea scoop, a whisk made from bamboo, and a common rice bowl for drinking the tea. In a Rikyu-style tearoom, the only decorations were a hanging scroll or a vase of flowers placed in the alcove. The lack of decoration makes participants more aware of details and awakens them to the simple beauty around them.

The host of the tea ceremony may prepare significantly for the event. This involves practicing all steps and hand movements, so that every aspect of the ceremony is perfect, yet simple. The ceremony can be performed at a home, a tea house, outdoors, or a special tea room. The décor for the ceremony is simplistic, including hanging scrolls that are appropriate for the season or feature calligraphy.

A full length formal tea ceremony (chaji) can last up to four hours long. Before the ceremony begins, guests gather in a waiting room (machiai) where they are served hot water that will later be used to make tea. The guests then proceed to an arbor in the garden and wait to be greeted by their host. Next, they will wash their hands and mouths from water in a stone wash basin to purify themselves before entering the tearoom.

The guests enter through a small door or gate to remind them that all are equal. After prescribed greetings, the guests take their seats by kneeling on a tatami (reed mat). The host adds charcoal to the fire and serves a simple meal.

Guests return to the arbor before being called back for the serving of tea. It begins with cleaning and preparation of the tea serving utensils. The host wipes the tea bowl, tea scoop, and tea container as a symbolic purification. This is performed with rhythmic and graceful movements.

The host prepares tea of a thick consistency in silence and one bowl of tea is passed between the guests as a symbolic bonding. The host will more charcoal to the fire, offer sweets, and prepares tea of a thinner consistency.

When the host rinses out the utensils, guests have an opportunity to inspect them respectfully. During this phase, the atmosphere is lightened and casual conversation is engaged. However, talk is still focused on the mood and appreciation of the utensils. After the host gathers the utensils, the guests bow before exiting.

In Japan, many people take classes at dedicated tea schools, colleges, or universities. Mastering the art of Japanese tea ceremonies can take years. Even after acquiring various certificates, students can spend their lifetime in pursuit of perfecting chanoyu.

The traditional Japanese tea ceremony is more than just drinking green tea; it is a spiritual experience that embodies harmony, tranquility, purity, and respect.

photo of The Japanese tea ceremony one photo of The Japanese tea ceremony second photo of The Japanese tea ceremony third

The Japanese art of flower arrangement, Ikebana, is more than simply putting flowers in a container. Its choice of materials are living branches, leaves, grasses, and blossoms. It is an art form exhibiting a conscious consideration of nature and humanity brought together.

Ikebana has a recorded history; it is backed up by articulate theories and it is concerned with creativity. Over the six centuries of its evolution, ikebana has developed many different styles of arrangement. Two of the most popular styles are heika (also called rikka. seika, or shoka) and moribana.

Traditionally, ikebana use to decorate only the alcoves in rooms where guests were normally greeted. Now, it can be admired in entrance halls, living rooms, lobbies, and shop windows.

Both men and women study ikebana. Although, the greatest creations in the field are apt to be made by highly skilled experts, there is plenty of room for amateurs. With a little time and inclination, almost anyone can acquire sufficient skill to make beautiful arrangements. Like other arts, it is necessary to master certain fundamental techniques before proceeding to free creation.

Many feel that the spiritual aspect of ikebana is important. Practicing ikebana helps to live "in the moment”, appreciate nature, have more patience and tolerance, and inspire you to identify with beauty in all art forms.

The varying forms of ikebana share common qualities, regardless of the period or school. Branches, leaves, grasses, moss, and fruit may be used in arrangement, as well as flowers. When in full bloom, withered leaves, seed pods, and buds are valued as highly as flowers.

Each element in the arrangement requires an artistic eye, whether a work is composed of only one kind of material or of many. Arrangers with a considerable amount of technical skill combines materials to create beauty that cannot be found in nature.

Its asymmetrical form and use of empty space as an essential feature is what distinguishes ikebana from other approaches of flower arrangement. It is crucial to create a sense of harmony among the materials, the container, and the setting. Ikebana shares these characteristics of aesthetics with traditional Japanese paintings, gardens, architecture, and design.

photo of Flower Arranging

Japanese painting is one of the oldest and most elegant of the Japanese visual arts, embracing many varieties of genres and styles. The long history of Japanese painting expresses synthesis and competition between native Japanese aesthetics and the adaptation of imported ideas.

From a decorative view, Japanese paintings are full of mesmerizing Asian charm.

Although, this can also be a confusing subject for novices that want to learn more about it. Different painting styles and schools, a variety of media, the deep roots in Zen Buddhism, and the use of specific terms from the Japanese language can make this art form difficult for Westerners to access.

One should know that Japanese painting has always been torn between three mainstream movements: Japanese, Chinese, and Western.

Like most forms of art, Chinese culture had an influence over early painting. Eventually, Japanese styles were developed and painting schools were established. Each school practised their own style, but the Chinese influence remained strong until the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1867). The general term to describe painting in Japanese style is called yamato-e.

After the opening of Japan to the West during the Meiji period (1868-1912), the early years of art were characterized by an exaggerated embrace of the West. Newly founded universities established departments for Western art, called Western academic artists into the country as teachers, and sent out students to study art in Europe.

Together with rising nationalism, the pendulum soon swung back into the other direction. The public opinion began to recognize the magnificence of the old tradition.

The twentieth century is when cooperation took place, with art colleges offering both departments in Japanese and Western painting styles.

Over the years, many different schools and painting styles were developed.

The term for painting in black ink is called suibokuga. This style was adopted from China and was significantly influenced by Zen Buddhism. Ink painting gained a more Japanese style of its own during the 15th century.

The Kano School of Painting was established by Kano Masanobu (1453-1490) and his son Kano Motonobu (1476-1559). It was commenced when there was a protest against the Chinese ink painting technique in black. The Kano school put bright colors to use and set forth daring compositions with large flat areas, which later dominated the ukiyo-e designs.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the nanga painting style became popular. This style consisted of idealized landscapes and natural subjects, like birds and flowers for a cultural elite.

In the 18th century, the shijo school split from the official Kano school. Shijo is portrayed by subjects taken from people's everyday life. It is a kind of realism that can include satirical elements.

Traditional Japanese painters used a wide variety of media over the centuries.

Horizontal scrolls, emakimono, were created by pasting single sheets together to form a long roll. Viewed from right to left, emakimono are among the oldest forms of paintings.

Kakemono are vertical scrolls mounted on a roller on both ends. Vertical scrolls were very popular during the Edo period, like framed canvas paintings in the West. They were ideal for decorating a wall for small Japanese houses.

Folding screens called byobu were another form of media for artists. Screens became a major medium for rich and detailed paintings. The screens had similar themes to those on ukiyo-e.

Fusuma (sliding doors) and uchiwa (fans) were also popular mediums for Japanese painting.

Painting themes were very diverse, and of course, each of the media used had its own preferred main focus.

Various themes include landscapes during the four seasons (shiki-e), views of famous places (meisho-e), views from Kyoto (rakuchu-rakugai-zu), kabuki theater images (kabuki-e), images of beautiful women (bijinga), and many more.

photo of Japanese Painting one photo of Japanese Painting two

Japanese calligraphy, Shodo, is one of Japan’s most popular fine arts. Calligraphic works are appreciated as much as the products of painting. This kind of art possesses a philosophical sense as well.

Around the 6th or 7th century, shodo was introduced to Japan from its origin, China. Initially, it was an essential part of education among noble families, but soon spread to common families as well. Today, it is not only an art to admire. Shodo is used in everyday life, such as New Year’s cards, and is a popular hobby among adults.

Students learn the basics of shodo in the beginning of elementary school and practice their penmanship to improve their calligraphy. Some elementary and middle school students even attend special schools to be able to create beautiful characters.

The art of using an ink-dipped brush to artistically create Chinese kanji and Japanese kana characters remains a tradition in Japan’s culture. These works are admired for the accurate composition of characters, moreover, how the brush is handled during their creation, the shading of the ink, and the balanced placement.

To put it simply, shodo is an art to write beautifully. The master creates a work of art using a calligraphy set.

A soft, black mat called shitajiki provides a comfortable surface. The bunchin is a metal stick used to weigh down the paper during writing. The special, thin calligraphy paper is known as hanshi. A fude is the brush that creates mesmerizing art, including both large and small brushes. The heavy black container that contains the ink is known as a suzuri. Sumi is solid black material that must be rubbed in water in the suzuri to produce the black ink. There is, however,"instant ink" in bottles available.

There are different types of calligraphy including kaisho (block/regular script), gyosho (semi-cursive script), and sosho (cursive script). Kaisho uses precise strokes in a printed manner, while gyosho is written faster and loosely. Sosho is a much more fluid method where the characters can bend and curve.

Shodo transfers harmony and beauty. Simplicity and gracefulness is embodied in calligraphic works as one of the main principles in Japanese aesthetics, known as wabi sabi.

In spite of its clarity, there is nothing casual in Japanese calligraphy. Every element, the direction, the form and the ending of lines, the balance between elements, and even the empty space disclose many things. The scripts are harmonious, proportional, and balanced.

photo of Japanese Calligraphy

The name of the art form, ukiyo-e, translates to “paintings of the floating world”. They are Japanese woodblock prints that flourished during the Edo Period (1603 - 1867) and depicted subjects associated with impermanence and detachment from ordinary life. Among these subjects were the popular geisha, sumo, and kabuki actors set in this after-hours world. Later, painted scenes from nature became a subject matter for artists.

The themes in ukiyo-e focused on fleeting beauty and evanescent worlds; it was an escape from the boring and mundane world of responsibilities in everyday life. At first, Ukiyo-e artworks were all monochromatic and printed in black ink only. However, Suzuki Harunobu developed polychrome printing by the 18th century.

Ukiyo-e art was originally intended for the lower class as it was very affordable to purchase and could be easily mass produced. Although it was initially by and for the non-elite classes, its artistic and technical excellence is consistently remarkable.

From its earliest days, Ukiyo-e texts and images often referred to themes of classical, literary, and historical sources. At the same time, it expanded to reflect modern tastes and innovations over its development. The result was an art that was both populist and highly sophisticated. Ukiyo-e presented both the historical and all that was current, elegant, contemporary, and popular. The ordinary was transformed into the extraordinary in the hands of the artist.

Each image was created through a collaboration of four skilled individuals: the artist who designed the works and drew them in ink, the carver who carved the designs into a woodblock, the printer who applied pigments to the woodblock and printed each color on handmade paper, and the publisher who coordinated the efforts of the artists and marketed the artworks. In spite of this collaborative effort, only the artist and publisher were almost always accredited.

Midway through the 18th century, new techniques were created to allow the full color printing and ukiyo-e we see today on calendars and postcards. Some of the most famous artists during this period were Utamaro, Hokusai, Sharaku, and Hiroshige.

Kitagawa Utamaro (1753 - 1806) is well known for his depictions of beautiful women from tearooms, shops, and pleasure quarters in Edo. He is also renowned for designing many beautifully illustrated books in ukiyo-e history.

Katsushika Hokusai (1760 - 1849) is notably famous for his creation of The Great Wave of Kanagawa, one of the most recognizable pieces in Japanese art. His nature scenes and series “Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji” started an entire landscape style in ukiyo-e art and is very well known in Japanese culture.

Ukiyo-e prints are still a substantial part of Japan’s cultural identity. Many elements from prominent pieces are incorporated in modern works. You can find reproductions of ukiyo-e with ease at souvenir shops for reasonable prices. Ukiyo-e works are personal favorites among visitors to Japan.

photo of Japanese Ukiyo-e

Japanese ceramics is one of the country's oldest art forms, which dates back to the last stone age. Kilns have produced pottery, porcelain, stoneware, glazed pottery, earthenware, glazed stoneware, and blue-and-white ware.

Since the 5th century, Japanese anagama kilns have flourished through the ages along with their influence on potters. Another aspect of Japanese art is the continuing popularity of unglazed stoneware even after porcelain was developed.

At first, there was a great Chinese influence on Japanese pottery and porcelain. When Japan started to industrialize during the mid-19th century, Japanese features were incorporated into the Chinese style prototypes.

With Japan’s long and richful history, there have been many types of ceramics established.

photo of Japanese Ceramics

Arita Ware
Arita was the first place to produce ceramics in Japan in the early 17th century. It is also known as Imari-yaki because of a port, Imari, located near the Arita district during the Edo Era. Arita ceramics made a significant influence on Japan, and are essentially a root in Japanese ceramics. The polished white dishes, beautifully painted vessels, and designs accorded with the seasons enriched the arts and way of life in the traditional Japanese society.

Nabeshima Ware
Nabeshima ware were ceramics managed directly by Saga clan (Nabeshima clan) in the 17-19th century. Today, there are many potters who practice the technique of Nabeshima ware and make efforts to enrich it it day by day.

Mikawachi Ware
Mikawachi ware has 400 years of history and is also referred as Hirado ware. White porcelain whose components are the natural ceramic stones, painting of chinese dolls, the beauties of nature, and highly technical handiwork in details, are several features that make this particular ceramic exceptional.

Kyoto Ware
Kyoto ware incorporates a variety of beautiful patterns and unique character. It has a history of 1,200 years. Kyoto ware has prospered with prominent ceramic artists and still appears today.

Kutani Ware
Kutani Ware is traced back to the 1650s in the Kutani village. It is a representative of Japanese iroe (multicolored over the glaze) porcelain. The three periods in Kutani ware history (Ko-Kutani, Saiko Kutani, and Kutani) are all renowned and highly valued.

Hagi Ware
In ancient times, Hagi ware which was loved by a master of tea ceremony. This ceramic is slightly porous and absorbs tea easily which changes the surface color. It is said that users appreciate this profound beauty of changing color tones.

Kasama Ware
This pottery originated in Kasama-shi, designed freely and not restricted to tradition. Its distinct characteristic is that it produces various types of clay.

Karatsu Ware
This type of ceramic was produced in and around Karatsu during the Saga prefecture. It is still a popular style of pottery often used in tea ceremonies, and is appreciated simply and deeply.

Takeo Ware
Takeo Ware is generally classified into either brownish earthen-ware or white porcelain. With a variety of styles based on techniques, this ceramic values the originality in the tones of simplicity, warmness, and tranquility.

Tanba Ware
This particular ceramic is one of the six oldest kilns in Japan. Tanba ware has rich colors of dark brown and black, and produces useful utensils and containers.

Bizen Ware
Bizen ware is the oldest pottery in Japan inheriting a tradition of over 1,000 years. With time, this ceramic increases its beauty by changing colors and textures when used daily.

Mino Ware
Mino ware is a renowned ceramic which originated during the gifu prefecture. Today it produces not only reproductions, but new ceramics with personal aesthetics as well.

Koishiwara Ware
Koishiwara ware was established over 350 years ago and still succeeds its tradition. Craftsmen continue to produce ceramics used in daily lives with the clay from Koishiwara.

Bonsai are potted trees and plants which are carefully cultivated to achieve an aesthetic effect. This concept was first imported from China into Japan more than a thousand years ago. Since then, Japan has developed a distinctive style of this art form.

In early times, bonsai was admired by aristocrats, priests, and others from the higher class. Commons then began to take delight in bonsai around the 17th century.

When Japan opened itself to Western countries after nearly three centuries of isolation from the world (1868), bonsai came to be appreciated as an art. People began growing bonsai not only as a hobby, but as an artistic pursuit. Large exhibitions were staged and books on growing techniques were published.

Today, bonsai is still a hobby the general public enjoys. It is also regarded as an important element in Japan’s cultural and artistic traditions. Bonsai illustrates the respect Japanese people have for living things and is an expression of nature’s beauty. Taking years of nurturing and commitment, bonsai is much more than just a potted tree.

While they are small, bonsai are no different than the trees we see around us nor are they a miniature species. They are rather tree branches carefully chosen and cultivated. There are various techniques used, such as trimming roots and wiring, to make the tree look like a smaller yet proportional version of their own species grown in nature. Bonsai are displayed in a way to show off their best features in a simplistic, shallow pot.

There are all sorts of trees and plants that can be used as a bonsai. Essentially, any plant that can be grown in a small container can be cultivated into a bonsai. The most popular varieties used are pine trees (matsu), maple trees (momiji), flowering cherry trees (sakura), and fruit-bearing quince trees (karin). The trees can be small enough to fit in the size of one’s palm, or grow as tall as a meter (three feet).

While bonsai can fall into various categories according to its shape, the most important factor is to allow the tree to express its individuality without forcing it into a particular category, and to help achieve its most beautiful, balanced form. Containers should also be chosen according the the tree’s size, shape, and color so it can be seen in its most exquisite light.

Different from other forms of art, there is no “finished” product when it comes to bonsai. They are living and grow in accordance to nature, so they must continue to be tended and cared for on a daily basis. It is key to appreciate the dignity of each plant and treat them with love and respect.

Japan is home to the world’s most beautiful bonsai trees. You can visit the most famous Japanese bonsai nurseries in Kanto (greater Tokyo region), while Kyoto houses the most impressive and uncountable Japanese gardens.

Bonsai are potted trees and plants which are carefully cultivated to achieve an aesthetic effect. This concept was first imported from China into Japan more than a thousand years ago. Since then, Japan has developed a distinctive style of this art form.

In early times, bonsai was admired by aristocrats, priests, and others from the higher class. Commons then began to take delight in bonsai around the 17th century.

When Japan opened itself to Western countries after nearly three centuries of isolation from the world (1868), bonsai came to be appreciated as an art. People began growing bonsai not only as a hobby, but as an artistic pursuit. Large exhibitions were staged and books on growing techniques were published.

Today, bonsai is still a hobby the general public enjoys. It is also regarded as an important element in Japan’s cultural and artistic traditions. Bonsai illustrates the respect Japanese people have for living things and is an expression of nature’s beauty. Taking years of nurturing and commitment, bonsai is much more than just a potted tree.

While they are small, bonsai are no different than the trees we see around us nor are they a miniature species. They are rather tree branches carefully chosen and cultivated. There are various techniques used, such as trimming roots and wiring, to make the tree look like a smaller yet proportional version of their own species grown in nature. Bonsai are displayed in a way to show off their best features in a simplistic, shallow pot.

There are all sorts of trees and plants that can be used as a bonsai. Essentially, any plant that can be grown in a small container can be cultivated into a bonsai. The most popular varieties used are pine trees (matsu), maple trees (momiji), flowering cherry trees (sakura), and fruit-bearing quince trees (karin). The trees can be small enough to fit in the size of one’s palm, or grow as tall as a meter (three feet).

While bonsai can fall into various categories according to its shape, the most important factor is to allow the tree to express its individuality without forcing it into a particular category, and to help achieve its most beautiful, balanced form. Containers should also be chosen according the the tree’s size, shape, and color so it can be seen in its most exquisite light.

Different from other forms of art, there is no “finished” product when it comes to bonsai. They are living and grow in accordance to nature, so they must continue to be tended and cared for on a daily basis. It is key to appreciate the dignity of each plant and treat them with love and respect.

Japan is home to the world’s most beautiful bonsai trees. You can visit the most famous Japanese bonsai nurseries in Kanto (greater Tokyo region), while Kyoto houses the most impressive and uncountable Japanese gardens.

photo of Japanese Bonsai

Origami is the art of paper folding, often associated with Japanese culture. In modern times, the word "origami" is used as an inclusive term for all folding practices, regardless of culture of origin. The objective is to transform a flat sheet square of paper into a finished figure (various animals are common) through folding and sculpting techniques.

Basic origami folds can be combined in a variety of ways to make intricate designs. Generally, these designs begin with a square sheet of paper with sides that may be of different colors, patterns, or prints. The most distinguished origami model is the Japanese paper crane.

Generally, most modern origami practitioners discourage the use of cuts, glue, or markings on the paper. The Japanese word kirigami is a term used by origami folders to refer designs which use cuts, although cutting is more of a characteristic in Chinese papercrafts.

Traditional Japanese origami, which has been practiced since the Edo period (1603–1867), has often been less strict about the conventions of cutting paper or using nonsquare shapes to start with.

Prominent paperfolding traditions arose in Japan, China, and Japan which have been well-documented by historians. Until the 20th century, these practices were mostly separate traditions.

The principles of origami are also used in packaging, stents, and other engineering applications. The earliest specified reference to a paper mode in Japan is in a short poem by Ihara Saikaku (1680) which mentions a traditional butterfly design used during Shinto weddings. The practice of folding paper have been included in some ceremonial functions in Japanese culture, such as noshi attached to gifts. This developed into a form of entertainment. The first two instructional books on origami were published in Japan for recreational use.

Almost any flat material can be used for folding, only requiring that it should hold a crease. Origami paper can be purchased in prepackaged squares of various sizes ranging from 2.5 cm (1 in) to 25 cm (10 in) or more. They are commonly colored on one side and white on the other. However, there are dual coloured and patterned versions that exist, which can be used effectively for color-changed models.

Origami paper weighs slightly less than copy paper, making it suitable for a wider collection of figures. In Japan, Washi is the traditional origami paper used to sculpt models. Made from wood pulp, washi is generally tougher than ordinary paper and is used in many traditional arts. Washi is commonly made using fibres gampi tree bark, mitsumata shrub, or paper mulberry. It can also be made using hemp, bamboo, wheat, and rice as well.

Artisans use papers such as unryu, lokta, hanji, gampi, kozo, saa, and abaca because of their long fibers and exceptional strength. These papers are floppy to begin with, so they are often back coated or resized with methylcellulose or wheat paste before folding. Additionally, these papers are extremely thin and compressible. This makes it suitable for thin, narrowed limbs as in the case of insect models.

photo of Japanese Origami one photo of Japanese Origami two

The kimono is a traditional attire worn in Japan. It is notably Japan's cultural costume. Seeing people in kimono walking on the streets was an everyday sight until the 1920s - 1930s. Nowadays, it is worn during formal occasions. It has the advantage of giving the wearer an elegant and graceful deportment.

Kimono could be passed down for several generations, particularly, a mother would pass it down to her daughter when she got married. Furthermore, the kimono would be altered or dyed over to enhance it.

With kimono, body temperature can be adjusted by adding or removing layers. The sleeves can also be modified to improve breathability. This ingenious clothing is suitable for Japan's climate of high temperature, high humidity, and four distinct different seasons.

Kimonos are no longer worn daily by most Japanese. Although, during special occasions such as weddings or coming of age ceremonies, they are still proudly put on. In the epicentre of Japanese culture, Kyoto, light cotton yukata robes are worn regularly by locals for summer festivals.

Second hand kimono can be purchased in sales shops and flea markets around Kyoto for a few thousand yen, whereas official wedding kimono sold in specialist shops can cost several million yen.

There are a variety of different types of kimono for use at specified times and occasions. Types of women’s kimono include the hômongi, the tsukesagé, the komon, and the furisodé and tomesodé for formal wear. Men's kimono include the haori for going out to visit, and the montsuki hakama for ceremonial occasions. There is also the yukata, worn by both men and women as informal dress for local festivals, in ryokans (traditional inn), or at home.

A yukata is a casual summer kimono usually made of light cotton or synthetic fabric, and is unlined. Like other forms of traditional Japanese clothing, they are made with straight seams and wide sleeves. Men's yukata differentiate from women’s yukata by sleeve extensions.

A standard yukata set consists of a juban (cotton undergarment), yukata, obi (sash), bare feet, sandals, a foldable hand fan, and a kinchaku (carry bag). People wearing yukata are a common sight in Japan during the hot summer months.

Traditionally, yukata were usually made with indigo-dyed cotton. Today, a wide variety of colors and designs are available. Like kimono, the general rule with yukata is that the younger people wear bright colors and bold patterns, while older people wear dark, matured colors and patterns.

Comparatively, a child may wear a multicolored design and a young woman may wear a floral design, while an older woman would confine to a traditional dark blue with geometric patterns. Men in general may wear solid dark colors.

photo of Japanese Kimono

The stunning Japanese sword is renowned for its sharpness and its symbolism representing the "spirit of Samurai warriors". Today it is still highly praised as a work of art in iron.

There are many classifications of Japanese swords depending on size, shape, field of application, and method of manufacture. Some well known Japanese swords include katana, wakizashi, and tanto.

Blades longer than two feet (60cm) are called Katana. The katana is worn with the blade edge upward in the sash. It was the sword of the samurai class during the Edo period (1603 - 1867). Japanese katana are said to be among the finest cutting weapons in world military history, according to western historians.

Swords with blades between one and two feet in length are called wakizashi. There are more wakizashi swords that exist than any other Japanese sword type. They were worn not only by samurai, but by rich, high-ranking farmers and people of the merchant class as well.

Japanese swords are still commonly seen today, both modern and antique forged swords can be easily found and purchased. There are a few hundred swordsmiths that make modern, authentic nihontō. Many of these can be seen at an annual conventions and events.

The Japanese Sword Museum in Shibuya, Tokyo, exhibits swords and armor gathered from throughout Japan. Here, you have the chance to view Japanese swords of National Treasure class. On the contrary, they are not sold at the Japanese Sword Museum.

If you plan to purchase a Japanese sword, select one with a registration certificate. You must submit an application to the Agency for Cultural Affairs before taking it out of the country, so please confirm this when you make your purchase. A couple of specialty shops include Ginza Choshuya and Token Shibata in Ginza, Tokyo.

photo of Japanese Sword