If you are interested in Japanese traditional culture "道 : DOU", recommend this content! At “IS JAPAN COOL? DOU”, nine forms of DOU — intangible Japanese cultural assets — are introduced through the experiences of nine masters who have attained preeminence in each field of DOU.
What is a Samurai? Have they disappeared from Japan?
When most people hear the word “Samurai”, they might imagine strong men in kimonos, thrashing swords. Samurai had not just protected their masters with their swords, but also had a way of life which they cherished, the Bushido spirit. Bushido consists of seven virtues, still adopted today in various situations. While Samurai who wield swords have disappeared from Japan, the ways of thinking and spirits have been passed down to the present, evolving to match our present-day lives.
What are “the seven virtues” which the Samurai conformed to? According to the worldwide best-seller “Bushido” by Inazo Nitobe, the everyday behavior and traditional values of the Samurai are based on seven virtues of bushido spirit:
1. 義 gi (righteousness): The right way to live. Honesty, justice, and fair play. 2. 勇 yū (heroic courage): Imperturbable spirit in any situation. 3. 仁 jin (compassion): Gentleness essential to humanity and mercy in caring for others. 4. 礼 rei (respect): Expression of sympathy towards others, in a way that can be recognized. 5. 誠 makoto (integrity): Once said, the words must be obeyed. An unfulfilled vow is redeemed by sacrificing one’s life. 6. 名誉 meiyo (honor): Spiritual backbone bound to makoto. 7. 忠義 chūgi (loyalty): Loyalty which comes from the heart, and can not be forced.
Each of these seven virtues of bushido are profoundly rooted in each way of DOU introduced in this website. “IS JAPAN COOL? DOU” introduces nine masters of DOU who maintain the spirit of bushido in their own individual ways. By deeply understanding each DOU, one can become exposed to the virtues valued by the Samurai hundreds of years ago, even if you aren’t in Japan.
武道 : Japanese Traditional Martial Arts
柔道 : JUDO
Judo can be called the world’s best-known Japanese martial art. Because of the appearance as one of the Olympic events, people may regard this as an athletic event. However, judo, like any other Japanese martial arts, is an essential character-building process. A judoka (practitioner) seeking exercise or matches depends on opponents and must treat them with respect. According to its founding philosophy, “Judo begins and ends with courtesy.” The guiding philosophy of judo is to “make body and spirit work most effectively.” Based on judo teaching principles, a challenger seeks to break the opponent’s body balance (kuzushi), assume a dominant position over the opponent (tsukuri), and demonstrate “finishing” waza (techniques) to defeat the opponent (kake).
剣道 : KENDO
Kendo is a competitive one-on-one match fought with swords made of bamboo while wearing four types of protective gear — men (face guard), kote (gauntlets), doh (breastplate), and tare (flap/throat protector). Originating in swordsmanship using tohken (real swords), kendo evolved over time into Japanese fencing games featuring shinai (bamboo swords). By the end of the Edo period, followers of different schools met to test their prowess, and unified rules gradually developed. While kendo is enjoyed as a sport, its physical and mental discipline as a martial art aims at building character. An expert practitioner says, “In the world of kendo, respect for an opponent is even more important than victory or defeat.” This philosophy is reflected in fighting conduct — such as sonkyo (crouching) before and after competitive and practice matches, and showing zanshin (awareness) by saluting a defeated opponent. Without zanshin, a strike (datotsu) is not counted as a valid point (yuko).
弓道 : KYUDO
Kyudo is one of Japan’s traditional martial arts, pairing the bow and arrow (yumiya) in shooting at a target. Bows (yumi) and arrows (ya) used as hunting gear from the Paleolithic period in Japan were developed as weaponry with sophisticated techniques by the Samurai society after the 10th century, and also utilized in Shinto rituals and court events from ancient times. Touching a bow from a sacred background offers insights into Japanese history and tradition — indeed, the martial art of kyudo embodies the Japanese heart. Thus, kyudo contests not only focus on striking the target (mato) but also on the beauty and the importance of bow-drawing posture. People may imagine that the main appeal of kyudo is the pleasure attained when, after such preparation, the arrow is released and flies right into the target. However, many kyudo practitioners (kyudoka) are also attracted by the spiritual training indispensable to the intense concentration which is required to hit the target.
空手 : KARATEDO
Now approved as an official game of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, karatedo is a martial art that originated in Okinawa. According to some sources, it is rooted in an ancient Okinawan martial art called te (meaning “hand” and pronounced “tee” in Okinawan), influenced by kenpo martial art from China, and further developed as karate (written as “Tang hand” in kanji). From the late 1910s, a group of Okinawan karateka (karate practitioners) gathered around Gichin Funakoshi started a serious effort to introduce karate to mainland Japan, and sometime around 1930, karate began to be called karatedo (the way of karate). The key quality of karatedo is reflected in the saying, “No taking action ahead of time in karate.” Its goal is self-protection with empty hands in an untimely attack by an adversary, requiring the karateka to train all parts of the body and make full use of them as weapons. In karatedo, it is most important to properly abide by rules and show courtesy. Karatedo is a martial art that nurtures strong will, patience, and self-control while enhancing skills with physical training through full utilization of the body and repeated practice. This is the great appeal of karatedo.
居合道 : IAIDO
Iai is one of Japan’s traditional martial arts. It’s the reverse of tachiai, which is a face-off between two swordsmen, standing opposite each other with weapons in hand, ready for crucial combat. Unlike tachiai, iai is sudden or accidental confrontation between swordsmen — seating near each other, colliding with each other, or just staying nearby — that turns into an immediate fight. Kata (forms) of iai have been created for such potential conflicts — such as “when a man standing on the left attempts to slash your body” or “when your sword is grabbed from behind” — and incorporated into kenjutsu swordsmanship and taijutsu full-body combat skills. The origin of iai can be traced back to Japan’s Civil War Era, when Jinsuke Hayashizaki, a Mogami Family retainer in the mid-16th century, reportedly played a crucial role in restoring the traditions of this nearly lost martial art.
芸道 : Japanese Traditional Performance/Fine Arts
茶道 : SADO
Sado (Chado) is a ceremony not only to make tea (tateru) but also to create a ceremony space by selecting chawan (teabowls) and kakejiku (hanging scroll) for a tokonoma (alcove), and arranging flowers in preparation for guests. Sado is a composite art. Thus, the tea master strives to be something more than an artist — art itself. During the early Heian period (early 9th century), tea (cha) was brought to Japan from China as medicine. Tea cultivation expanded across Japan, and tea-drinking customs spread among the ruling classes of Samurai (warriors) and aristocrats in the Muromachi period (13th century). As cultured communication between host and guest(s) became more important, saho (manners) were formalized, philosophical thinking about time and space deepened, and aesthetic taste grew in refinement. Eventually, the chajin (tea ceremony master) known as Sen no Rikyu brought sado culture to its culmination in the Azuchi-Momoyama period (late 16th century). Because sado etiquette was studied and refined mainly by the Samurai class, many of the ways of tea and basic forms of courtesy originated in practice of budo (swordsmanship) and appreciation for noh drama. During haiken (appreciation of arts) in the tea ceremony — for instance, when a utensil such as a chashaku (tea scoop) is shown to guests — the host’s manner of handling this item resembles a Samurai unsheathing a sword. The seemingly ordinary act of welcoming guests by serving tea is conducted with sophistication, sublimating the commonplace in ritual contemplation of beautiful things. This is the philosophy of sado.
書道 : SHODO
Shodo is the art of expressing characters and words, using a fude (writing brush) dipped in sumi (black ink) produced by grinding an ink-cake on suzuri (inkstone), and writing on sheets of gasenshi (thin handmade paper). However, sho (calligraphy) is an art form practiced only by experts who have learned classical calligraphy techniques, and is different from writing characters in a stylish manner. Sho has accompanied the development of kanji characters, which are said to have originated in China 3,500 years ago. Over this long history, sho has been practiced by master calligraphers called nohitsuka in every era and dynasty of China and Japan. Sho left behind by past nohitsuka became “textbooks” for shoka of later eras, and nohitsuka of new eras emerged from shoka groups who learned classical texts. Repeated over hundreds of decades, this legacy of sho is today’s inheritance. Even now, penmanship practice with classical models called rinsho is indispensable to becoming a master of shodo, the way of writing.
日本舞踊 : NIHON BUYO
Nihon buyo generally refers to all Japanese traditional dances, but here it specifically means Japanese traditional dance as performance art on stage. Its roots lie in noh plays passed along from ancient times, and in kabuki, based on “kabuki dance” originally performed by a woman called Izumo no Okuni at the start of the 17th century, which took current form in male performance during the Edo period. Nihon buyo is a collection of selected elements and refinements from such sources. Thus, some Nihon buyo programs provide synopses similar to kabuki and roles are performed in dance. Presently, there are more than 200 Nihon buyo schools that bring different choreographies and forms of expression to the same repertoire. In addition, programs not only feature classics but also produce new and contemporary tales.
能 : NOH
Noh (also known as nohgaku) is one of Japan’s unique performing art. Said to be the world’s oldest of presently performed dramatic arts, nohgaku theater is registered as an intangible cultural asset by UNESCO. The majority of the themes in the noh performance comes from classical literature and historical battles, with each play featuring a primary role — warrior (general commander), onna (woman), divinity, spirit, oni (demon/ogre), etc. In most cases, noh is performed only by a shite who plays the main character, a waki who tells the story, and sometimes a tsure who accompanies the shite. Moreover, noh is characterized by various masks depending on the role, and is worn by the shite actors. These masks (also called nohmen) can convey sensitive facial expressions through changing reflections of light captured in subtle motions and facial angles.
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