Japan Arts and Literature


Initially, the Japanese coin system developed completely outside of Western influence but was strongly influenced by the Chinese. The lowest denominations (in copper) look almost like the Chinese counterparts. They are round with square holes in the middle (cash) and were issued in the years 708-958 with a total of 12 types, which became easier. There were also some issues in gold (from 760) and silver.

Japan Population Pyramid

  • Countryaah: Population and demographics of Japan, including population pyramid, density map, projection, data, and distribution.

Japan was then without its own coins until 1587; Payment was made in kind or with Chinese or Korean coins. Then there were also coins of gold (oban, koban) and silver (ichibuban) along with the usual copper and brass coins of various denominations. Locally valid banknotes were also issued.

Since Japan opened to the West, the coinage system was reformed. The decimal system was introduced and in 1897 also the gold coin base. The main currency was and is 1 yen, divided into 100 sen (1 sen was = 10 rin, 1 rin = 10 mo, a division that has long since disappeared due to inflation). The highest denomination was 20 yen in gold; 1 yen was available in both gold and silver, the latter equivalent to about a US dollar in size and value.

Coins for daily use are now struck in denominations of no more than 500 yen; commemorative coins in silver and gold of up to 100,000 yen have been issued.


Japan’s literature goes back to the time when Chinese culture and Buddhism reached the country about 400 and 552 AD respectively. At the same time, the Chinese signage came, and the first literature was therefore written in Chinese. Among the earliest preserved documents are a constitution (604) and some commentary on Buddhist sutras (607) written by Prince Shotoku. The actual Japanese literature was created during the Nara era (710-794), when the historical works “Kojiki” (“The Old Annals”, 712) and “Nihongi” (or “Nihonshoki”; “The Japanese Annals”, 720) were written and the first poetry anthology, “Man’yoshu” (759), was compiled. The literature during this period was written with Chinese characters but a phonetic-semantic mixed writing, man’yogana, was created to render Japanese words in both “Kojiki” and “Man’yoshu”. Among “Man’yoshus” about 4,500 poems are more than 4,000 31-stick waka (Japanese poems).

During the Heian period (794-1855), two syllable writings, katakana and hiragana, were developed, and from 900 literature is found in Japanese in addition to the one written in Chinese (history, philosophy and other intellectual subjects). The very first prose works in the 900’s include “The Story of the Bamboo Collector”, and “The Ice Stories”. From 905 we also have the poetry collection “Anthology of old and new waka” with 1,111 poems, the first of 21 imperial anthologies. Its editor-in-chief Ki Tsurayuki is also known for a travelogue, “Diary from Tosa” (835).

Around 1000, the first golden age of Japanese literature began. At this time, some women wrote a series of works belonging to world literature. Most notably among these stands “Genji monogatari” (c. 1000; “The Story of Genji”), designated as the world’s first realistic novel. It is the story of Prince Genji’s romantic life at the imperial court, written in 54 chapters by Murasaki Shikibu, who himself participated in court life. At the same time, Sei Shonagon, also associated with the court, wrote an episodic work, “Notes on the Pillow” (a small selection in Swedish translation), which credibly and spiritually depicts life in Heian. It is the first piece in a genre still popular today, zuihitsu(“Episodic Notes”). While Murasaki Shikibu wrote his “Genji monogatari”, other women related to the court wrote diaries, nikki, eg. Kagero, Izumi Shikibu and Sarashina, who also portray life in the court circle and which are considered to be the classics of the Heian period. The diaries give a convincing picture of the life of the upper class during the 11th century. Popular historical works from the same era, rekishi monogatari (“historical stories”), such as “The Confession of Glory and Glory” and “The Great (historical) Mirror”, provide a more romanticized description of court life in the “capital” of the capital.

During the Heian period came the first comprehensive Buddhist literature, written in Chinese by priests such as Saicho (Dengyo daishi) and Kukai. A Buddhist narrative literature, setsuwa, also emerged at the beginning of the Heian era. The first, including “Stories of Miracles in Japan” (822), were written in Chinese, while later setsuwa collections, e.g. “New and old stories”, from the Late Heian era, were written in Japanese and dealt mainly with secular subjects.

After its first major flowering around 1000, Japanese literature grew in size in recent periods. During the Kamakura era (1192-1333), after the Samurai class gained power in the country, a new prose, “warrior stories”, emerged. A masculine tone distinguishes these from earlier stories, which were mostly about romance and love-making. Instead, the male holdings came to the fore during war and peace, and it became a matter of blood, death and harakiri. Most famous is “The Story of the Heikan Clan”, about the conquest of power by the Heiklan (Tairan clan) during Taira Kiyomori and its fall in 1185. It sounds a Buddhist undertone of everything’s passing through the story. The 13th century was the period of greatness of Buddhism, when priests such as Honen, Shinran, Dogen and Nichiren created the new Buddhism and at the same time an extensive religious literature, in which the sorrow in all worldly conduct was emphasized. In a small work from the early Kamakura era, “The story of my hut” (1212), Kamo Chomei tells of how he has become a hermit in a small hut far away from the warring “world” awaiting salvation in Buddha Amida’s paradise in the west.

Poetry reached a new peak at the beginning of the Kamakura era with the eighth imperial anthology, “New Anthology of Old and New Waka” (1205). Among the compilers, Fujiwara Sadaie (the pseudonym Teika) was one of the protagonists of the long tradition of Japanese poetry. He not only created a new poetics but was also the poet from which the schools emanated that came to characterize wakapoesin in the future. The influence of Buddhism is also evident in the intellectual literature, e.g. in “A Fool’s Notes” from 1220, a historical work that also reflects the Buddhist pessimism of the time.

The most well-known monogatari from the Muromachite period (the Ashikaga period, 1336-1573) are “Taiheiki”, “Gikeiki” and “Soga monogatari”, all of which belong to the warrior tradition. The short story is represented by otogizoshi, short stories which are reminiscent of earlier setsuwa but have a wider subject area that reflects a new era. The most popular Zuihitsu collection is “Anecdotes of the Sadness” by the priest Yoshida Kenko.

In poetry, pure (“chain poem”) was popular. It was the ancient wakapoem that was divided into a first part (17 syllables) and a second part (14 syllables) and which was linked to the subsequent poem according to ingenious rules, whereby two or more poets alternated and wrote sentence after sentence. The initial sentence (hokku) was of the utmost importance and later came to lead to the free-standing haiku- poem in 17 syllables. Thus, the innovations during the Muromachite period took place in poetry, which saw a new development from waka to purge, but also in drama that appeared for the first time in Japanese literature (see Drama and theater).

During the Tokuga era (1603-1868), Japanese literature increased further in scope, not least due to the introduction of the printing press and the period becoming a time of peace. Within the prose there was an abundant production of short stories, which linked to the Otogizo literature under Muromachi. This literature stands out, as does otogizoshi, in that new life areas are treated and summarized in the 17th century under the name kanazoshi.

The genocide around 1700 was a second golden age in Japanese literature. The poet Basho, novelist Ihara Saikaku and playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon overshadowed all others at a time when prosperity laid the foundation for a rich cultural life. With Basho, the haikun reached the highest level. Influenced by Zen Buddhism, he wrote his immortal poems, and on his walks around the country he wrote the haibun prose with elements of haiku that are still being read. Ihara Saikaku started out as a poet, but in 1682 wrote the novel “A Man Who Lived a Life in Love”, which was the first of that genre. The hero Yonosuke has features of Prince Genji, and through 54 chapters, as in “The Story of Genji”, his various love affairs are reproduced. This success followed Saikaku with another 20 prose works.

The later Tokugawa era was, in many respects, a continuation of the Genrocut. Within the haiku poetry are two big names: Yosa Buson and Kobayashi Issa. In various ways, they approached Basho’s masterful haiku. Buson’s haiku exhibits a playfulness in nature pictures that reveal that he was also a painter, while Issa’s poem is characterized by a dry, ironic humor. The popularity of the old 31-story wakapoem increased as a new philosophical school began to take an interest in early literature. The national school (kokugakuha) with philosophers such as Kamo Mabuchi and Motoori Norinaga wrote waka while studying and annotating classic works such as “Man’yoshu” and “Kojiki”. The Wake tradition is still alive today. Two new poetry genres in the 18th century were senryu and kyoka. Senryu was the comic haikun. It became very popular in later Tokugawatid and is still so. Kyoka was the comic wake but more intellectual and exclusive. Both senryu and kyoka reflect the joking mood that exists in all the reverence of the Japanese tradition.

In the field of prose there was a development that can be seen as an extension of the Genrocut. As the population became literate, various kinds of popular short story and novel literature saw the light of day, today summarized as gesaku literature. Among the short stories are kibyoshi (“books in yellow”), whose distinguishing feature was that they were written in simple kana script and were illustrated. Image and writing formed a whole, and the content was taken from the present life, with a side to the sexual and the burlesque. In the novel one can point to yomihon(“Reading books”) in which the illustrations were subordinate to the text. Two authors are mentioned: Santo Kyoden, who mostly wrote kibyoshi, and Takizawa Bakin, who is best known for his yomihon. Around 1800 new genres came into the field of faculties. One was sharebon (“jokes”), which like kibyoshi gladly depicted the love life in the joy quarter. Even in this genre, the Santo Kyoden is the most well-known. Another genre was cookie bibon (“humor books”), which told of cheerful adventures along the roads and which often built on the dialogue. The big name in this area was Jippensha Ikku, whose “Adventure along Tokaido” (1802-22) made great happiness. Another well-known name in the genre is Shikitei Samba. One last genre worth mentioning is ninja boy(“Emotional books”), also the one with the joy quarter as a background, but with a new refinement. The best known in the genre is Tamenaga Shunsui.

It was some time after the Meiji reform in 1868 before Japanese literature was influenced by Western literary patterns. It was not until 1885-86 that Shoyo Tsubouchi, in the work “The Essence of the Roman,” expressed the need for a new poetry, which described in a more realistic way than the previous Gesaculatature human life and life. At the same time, he demanded a new language that could suit the new era. Not long after, Shimei Futabatei’s ※Floating Clouds§ (1887-89) came as a response to Tsubouchi’s call. It has been called the first modern novel in Japanese literature; the depiction of the hero shows a new psychological depth. Around the turn of the century, other writers contributed to the new realistic novel. Among these were Doppo Kunikida, Toson Shimazaki, Soseki Natsume and Ogai Mori. Modern literature began at the turn of the 20th century and has since evolved in parallel with the Western. The novel and the novel became respected literary forms, something they had not been in the social sciences. More than anyone else, Soseki Natsume was the author through which the modern novel reached its maturity. The new world of materialism and the associated egoism goes as a clue through his great novels, eg. “The Heart” (1914). At the same time, Ogai Mori appeared with extensive authorship; “The Wild Geese” (1911-13), about a love affair between a student and an older woman, is one of his more well-known works.

After these great writers at the turn of the century came new names in the following decades, e.g. Junichiro Tanizaki, who in works such as “The Key” (1956; in Swedish translation) exhibits an originality like no other Japanese author, and Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the great novelist and masterful stylist.

Yasunari Kawabata, who was a beauty advocate in the new literature and related to a tradition of classical ancestry, is most evident among contemporary writers. The most representative of his novels, “The Kingdom of the Snow” (1935-48), is timelessly associated with the long lyrical tradition from the Nara and Heian times. When he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968, it was not only himself but the entire Japanese literary tradition that was honored.

The last 50 years

The 1950’s in Japan became a time of change and re-evaluation following the defeat of World War II, seven years of American occupation and extensive reforms of society. The most important portrayals of the war’s experiences include the critic and novelist Shohei Ooka in his novel “Nobi” (1951; not in Swedish translation). The sense of emptiness and alienation that gave birth to his time came to the forefront of writers such as the surrealistically influenced Kobo Abe and the radical humanist Kenzaburo Oe. Both became internationally recognized early on, and in 1994 Oe received the Nobel Prize in literature for “poetically creating an imaginary world, where life and myth are densified into a shaky image of humanity in the present”.

Among the great names of the 1960’s and 1970’s are also those in the Nobel Prize context often mentioned Shusaku Endo, who from a Christian perspective dealt with themes from Japanese history in works such as “Silence” and “The Samurai” (1980; both in Swedish translation), and Yasushi Inoue, he too, a masterful, historical narrator. A peculiar position occupies the refined stylist Yukio Mishima, who ended his often cross-border and innovative authorship with a spectacular ritual suicide.

During the 1980’s, there was a clear change in the literary scene in Japan. Then came a generation of writers who grew up after the American occupation and who were influenced by American popular culture. Foremost among them is Haruki Murakami, who in his novels captures a sense of life, a reality experience that speaks to young Japan, to shinjin rui, “the new man”, in a country where economic development is increasingly tearing apart traditional forms of community. Also addressed to the new man is a writer such as Genichiro Takahashi, essayist, critic and novelist, who debuted in 1982 with the postmodernist novel “Sayonara, Gangsters” (not in Swedish translation).

A prominent feature of Japanese literature in recent decades is the increasingly leading place that female writers have come to occupy. An early forerunner was Ichiyo Higuchi with his poetic prose in “Comparison of Length” (1895-96). In the 1950’s, Fumiko Enchi gave his engaging picture of the situation of women in a modern Japan in the novel “Kvinnohöjden” (1949-57; “Women’s masks” and “Year of waiting” in Swedish translation). In the mid-1990’s, a renaissance for shakai-ha suiri occurred, the socially conscious detective novel, introduced by Seicho Matsumoto in the late 1950’s. The main representatives of the genre are three women: Kaoru Takamura, Miyuki Miyabe and Natsuo Kirino. Their novels describe in detail the work of the police and at the same time reflect on the degrading competition in contemporary Japanese society.

Some of today’s foremost female writers have reached a rare position as mega stars. Banana Yoshimoto wrote 24 years old her award-winning novel “Kitchen” (1988, in Swedish translation), which was sold in more than 6 million copies in Japan and has been translated into more than 20 languages. Yoshimoto’s novels capture the mood of a young women’s generation seeking their self-realization in urban metropolitan environments that have long since left a human scale. Her generationmate Amy (Eimi) Yamada was named “Japan’s most liberated writer” after her debut with the novel “Bedtime Eyes” (1985; not in Swedish translation), both award-winning and cinematographed. In her novels about young women’s erotic relationships and beginning professional life, Yamada does not dare to portray even the negative aspects of the modern woman’s sexual liberation.

An often marginalized but culturally active group in today’s Japanese society, children and grandchildren belong to the Koreans who were forcibly relocated to Japan during World War II. This includes the playwright and novelist Miri Yu. The 1996 debut with the short novel “Full House” (in Swedish translation) became a scandalous success for the 28-year-old author. With a sincerity bordering on ruthlessness, she portrays a divided family that bears great resemblance to her own. Since then, Yu has successfully published some 20 novels, dramas and essays.

The success of female writers has continued in Japan. In 2009, 31-year-old Kikuko Tsumura won Japan’s foremost literary award, the Akutagawapriset, with his novel “Gullrankeboat” (not in Swedish translation), named “a small masterpiece”. Acclaimed by Kenzaburo Oe, another of the 21st-century acclaimed female writer, Yoko Ogawa, has become famous for her novels with magical imagination. A successful male writer with a unique storytelling style is rock singer Ko Machida, who has won all the top literary awards in Japan since his 1996 debut.

Drama and theater

The theater situation in Japan is characterized by a wide range. Traditional theater also exists alongside domestic experiments and Western theater, opera and musical. Translated European classics and newly written dramas are performed in parallel with classical and modern Japanese drama. Theater and dance were early associated with religious rituals and are still an important part of festivals (matsuri) and temple feasts. In the traditional theater, no, kyogen, bunraku and kabuki are especially noticeable. Furthermore, Shinto dances and sketches (kagura), dignified stylized dance games at the Emperor’s head (bugaku) are performed) and mixed entertainment associated with rural rice management (dengaku and more rarely sarugaku).

Traditional theater

Japan’s traditional theater has the character of all artwork in which singing, dancing, dialogue, music and codified movements form a whole. Actor art is at the center of the audience’s interest and in most cases the message is subordinated to the role-making and stylized execution of predetermined patterns. Theater art goes back to the mythical figure of Amaterasu, the sun goddess, who, after a schism with her brother, hid in a cave with the result that the whole world went dark. To attract her and thus bring the light back to the world, a goddess performed a challenging and spectacular dance with powerful stomps that made the gathered myriads of gods rejoice. Amaterasu was tempted to look forward and the sunlight returned to the world. This myth is told in “Kojiki” (“The Old Annals”, 712), which reflects many features of the theater arts; the connection to religion, human connection with the earth marked by symbolic stamping and other sensory meanings, etc. Theater and dance were originally seen as a communication both within the world of the gods and between the deities and humans. Cultural influence from Central Asia via China and Korea proved, for example. in the Buddhist influenced mask games gigaku, whose more than millennial masks are preserved in temples and monasteries.

No, one of the world’s oldest preserved theater forms, was formed in the 1300’s. In no, elements were interwoven from Shinto dances, Buddhist mask games as well as comic and popular dances and songs. This motley background was united in a sublime art form, which, with an attachment to Zen Buddhist ideals, developed together with the samurai ethics at the court of the feudal lords.

Kabuki originated in the early 17th century when the wandering Temple dance Okuni performed their dances on the dry beachbed of the Kamo River in Kyoto. Soon, several dancers joined the boldly startling performances, which were, however, banned in 1629 due to the immorality they were associated with. Young boys copied the female artists but were also banned from performing in 1652. The result was that only older men were allowed to play women’s roles (uninhabited). Kabuki gradually developed more dramatically with influences from both no and the contemporary puppet theater, where storytelling to the shamis music accompanied the meter-high dolls that were manipulated by three people. Kabuki competed with the very popular puppet theater (now called bunraku) by taking over its most appreciated spectacle. Chikamatsu Monzaemon has written a variety of pieces with historical or contemporary content, many of which are still listed in kabuki and bunraku.

Modern theater

The modern theater in Japan began to develop at the same time as the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Kabuki’s thematic world was then considered feudal, and stories were demanded that emphasized a contemporary lifestyle and increased moral consciousness. No was rejected for a time, mainly because of its close association with the shogunate. In Shimpa (“new school”), Kabuki’s beauty ideal was combined with a contemporary claim to social and political content.

During the 20th century, the influence of European and American theater has been instrumental in the development of new theater styles. Shingeki(“New theater”) arose through a modernization movement that opposed the conventional theater, mainly kabuki. One falang wanted to develop a Japanese modern theater, while others felt that one had to break completely with one’s own tradition and consistently apply Western methods. Until World War II, shingeki led a turbulent existence, with its representatives occasionally subjected to restrictions and arrests. By the middle of the century, three major theater organizations were formed; Mingei (People’s Artistic Theater), Haiyuza (Actors’ Theater) and Bungakuza (Literary Theater) were all built around their dynamic leaders and still belong to the core of the modern theater system. Among the playwrights, for example. Kobo Abe, Minoru Betsuyaku, Junji Kinoshita and Yukio Mishima, whose “Markisinnan de Sade” (1965) was also played in Sweden.

During the 1960’s, a new group theater movement emerged. Shogekijo (“small theater”) sought new artistic expression and rejected the established theater world. In Buto and Angura (after the English underground theater), in recent decades, traditional means of expression have been transformed into a modern Japanese theater. In this context, Tadashi Suzuki has distinguished itself both in Japan and internationally.

European theater modernism at the beginning of the 20th century was often strongly inspired by Japanese theater. During the latter part of the century, the theater from the West got a return in Japan. Perhaps it was primarily an import product that did not seriously affect the domestic tradition, but it nevertheless created a vibrant theater culture. This applies not least to the Japanese interest in Shakespeare, but also to the classical Greek tragedy and modernists such as Beckett. However, a less elaborate copy of The Globe, which opened in Tokyo in 1988, has increasingly become an international guest play scene.


Japan is the world’s largest producer of cartoons; they are sold in millions of editions, read by almost everyone and span all possible subject areas. The Japanese name for the cartoon is manga.


Production between 600 and 800 films per year made Japan one of the world’s three largest film nations during the silent film era before 1930, alongside the Indian and American industries. The vertically integrated companies (ie controlling the production-distribution-cinema sales chain) Nikkatsu and Shochiku dominated the market. Already during the 1910’s and 1920’s, the silent film was also one of the most content and technologically advanced, with an array of genres and storytelling styles. As in the traditional theater, the film was used by a benshi, a storyteller (alongside the movie screen), and by oyama, ie men who played women’s roles. It was not until the early 1920’s that the first female stars appeared. Motives were derived from mainly domestic visual and narrative art, but the technology – such as lighting and assembly – from extensive imports from both Hollywood and leading European film nations. They quickly switched to audio films around 1930 and maintained the dominance of the domestic market with 400-500 films per year. In 1934 Toho became the third vertically integrated film company on the market. There Mikio Naruse began her depictions of women, which would continue into the 1960’s. At Shochiku, Yasujiro Ozu became the leading director with his daily dramas and comedies. Kenji Mizoguchi profiled himself with melodrama on Nikkatsu before becoming a freelance. Following Japan’s 1937 attack on China, control of the film industry increased, and the supply became increasingly propagandistic. In the rapid economic recovery after the end of the war, the film industry expanded further, and new vertically integrated companies such as Shintoho, Daiei and Toei were added.

Despite the rich production, Japanese film before 1951 was largely unknown outside the East Asian countries. That year Akira Kurosawa attended the Venice Festival with her film “Rashomon”, which attracted a lot of international attention, including for their brilliant photo and their original storytelling. The film received the first prize, the Golden Lion, and the Japanese success was repeated in 1954 when the Gold Palm in Cannes went to Teinosuke Kinugasa’s color film “The Gate of Hell”. This meant a broad and sudden break in the Western film market for a new kind of storytelling. It pointed to new ways of using the film image, especially in wide films, and the film sound as a mixture of electronic and traditional sound.

A new narrative world was also opened here, with motifs from the colorful and violent Japanese medieval period. It was the so-called period films, jidaigeki, that offered an array of adventures and dramatic lives from the samurai clan and warrior communities. To their action structure, with the almost ritual elements of revenge, power tests and duels, they could resemble classic western films (compare samurai films). At the same time, the period film often contained elements of classical Japanese theater, such as no-play and kabuki, and thus conveyed a new aesthetic, symbolic, with some stylization of color and body language. Here, an already established cadre of great storytellers, such as Kenji Mizoguchi with the poetic “Tales of a Pale and Mysterious Moon After the Rain” (1953) and Kurosawa with his heroic epic “The Seven Samurai” (1954), emerged since the 1930’s.

Another area of film genres was the more realistic gendaigekior contemporary film, with motifs from modern Japan that quickly took shape after the 1868 border year, when the long-closed society was opened to the west. In “everyday genres”, often with their roles rooted in a particular professional group, the rapidly growing industrial state was depicted, with its contradictions between a traditionally bound hierarchical culture and a dynamic market society, based on profitable technology. In the contemporary film, with narrators such as Heinosuke Gosho (“When a Woman Loves”, 1959), Naruse (“Late Chrysanthemums”, 1954) and Ozu (“The Parents”, 1953), the change was often reflected in generational conflicts: the partially hidden life drama in the outwardly, the family welded, against the backdrop of the devastation of the war, American supremacy, adaptation to new patterns of life, and struggle to preserve a national and historical identity.

The success of the 1950’s for Japanese films led to an increase in production, which in some years amounted to more than 500 feature films. The 1960’s and 1970’s meant the same slowdown and TV-embarrassed film crisis as in other film countries, but there were innovative directors. Kon Ichikawa was one of several directors who portrayed World War II experiences, e.g. in “The Cruel War” (1959), and in his documentary “Tokyo Olympiad (1964) made a democratic counterpart to Leni Riefenstahl’s portrayal of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Masaki Kobayashi continued the jidaigeki tradition with” Harakiri “(1962) and the saga the ghost movie (kaidan own) “Kwaidan” (1964), while most of the younger generation worked in gendaigekiand related to the political motif and style experiment of the European art film and French new wave, sometimes called nuberu bagu.

For left-wing films such as “Night and Fog in Japan” (1960) and “The Kingdom of the Senses” (1976), Nagisa Oshima became uncomfortable in his home country, and he therefore applied abroad. Internationally noted was the collaboration between writer Kobo Abe and director Hiroshi Teshigahara (1927-2001) in films such as ※The Woman in the Sand§ (1964) and ※The Face of Another§ (1966). In the popular movie, Inoshiro Honda made a name for a series of monster movies (kaiju eiga) that also conquered the international market with “Godzilla” (1954) as a pioneer, followed by, among other things. “All Monsters Must Be Destroyed” (1968). The Yakuza film (Yakuza own) got with Seijun Suzuki (born 1923)) a distinct profile, and his “Tattooed Avenger” (1965) and “The Man from Tokyo” (1967) also had a Swedish premiere. Economically significant after 1960 also became internationally exported softcore films (pinku eiga, novel porn), where directors such as Koji Wakamatsu (born 1936) soon gained cult status both at home and in the west.

The 1980’s and 1990’s were marked by a generation shift. Directors such as Kurosawa (“Kagemusha”, 1980; “Ran”, 1985) and Oshima (“Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”, 1983) produced their films with foreign capital. Shohei Imamura emerged as a new poster name with the reality-based gangster film “The Revenge is Mine” (1979) and the festival winner “The Ballad of Narayama” (1983). Jozu Itami (born 1933) made himself known for a series of contemporary comedies, such as “The Hunt for the Treasures” (1987, sequel 1988). A more original and experimental narrator is Shinya Tsukamoto (born 1960), who became a festival favorite with science fiction films such as “Tetsuo” (1989, sequels 1992 and 2009) and “Bullet Ballet” (1998). anime, ie Japanese cartoon, introduced to the west with “Akira” (1988) and followed by a series of successful films by Hayao Miyazaki (“My Friend Totoro”, 1988; “Princess Mononoke”, 1997), Mamoru Oshii (“Ghost in the Shell”, 1995, sequel 2004) and the Pok谷mon films after 1996. Police and yakuza films got a new boost with directors who Takeshi Kitano (“Sonatine”, 1993; “Hana-Bi”, 1997) and the extremely productive Takashi Miike (born 1960; “Dead or Alive”, 1999; sequels 2000 and 2002; “Ichi the Killer”, 2001).

Around the turn of the millennium, Hideo Nakata’s (born 1961) international bestseller “Ring” (1998, sequels 1999 and 2000) triggered a wave of Japanese horror (J-horror) and science fiction films that entered the world market. Takashi Shimizus (born 1972) “The Grudge” (2004, sequel 2006) and Kinji Fukasakus (1930-2003) and his son Kenta Fukasakus (born 1972) “Battle Royale” (2000, sequel 2003). Several of the films were purchased for re-recording by the American film company Ghost House. In 1987, only Shochiku and Toei remained as large-scale producers, but the trend has since reversed with an increasing number of film companies and a doubling of production since 1990.

Japan’s 2013 annual production was 591 films, a large part of which were anime films. Japanese film then had about 60% of the domestic market.


Japan has long been a “closed” country, which is why the photo technology reached it relatively late. In 1839 the dawn type was launched in France, but it was not until 1857 that the first dawn type was taken by a Japanese photographer. Photography is called Japanese shashin, which can be translated by ‘copying the truth’ or ‘reproduced reality’. This meaning was also noticeable in the early portraits and topographic images.

The turn of the century art photography, which was characterized by painting effects, came to Japan only in the 1920’s. After that, however, the art of photography developed faster. Already in the 1930’s you will find surrealistic images, shape experiments and graphic impulses in Japanese photo art. Some Japanese photographers have reached world reputation. Yasuhiro Ishimoto was known already when he studied at the Institute of Design in Chicago 1948-52 and then became a source of inspiration for younger Japanese photographers when he returned to his home country. Hiro (Yasuhiro Wakabayashi) established himself as one of the leading fashion photographers in the United States in the 1960’s after being an assistant with Richard Avedon. Hiroshi Hamayawas recognized in Sweden when he received the Hasselblad Award in 1987, but has long been a big name in Japan with his documentary and landscape pictures. Nobuyoshi Araki has also become famous, mainly for his erotic images.

The Japanese camera industry is today a world leader with camera brands such as Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Pentax and Ricoh, and previously also with Mamiya, Minolta and Yashica. Initially, they were often copies of the German Leica, Contax and Role Cameras, but they soon distanced themselves from the European role models, among others. through highly developed electronics.


Japanese visual art is characterized from the very beginning by a distinctive aesthetic. Although China and Korea have been a recurring cultural impetus since the 300’s, Japanese artists have always developed their visual art into something unmistakably Japanese. The fundamental difference between Japanese and Chinese art can be explained by the fact that in Japan, aesthetic values were prioritized over religious and ethical (in this order), while in China, ethical values were prioritized over religious and aesthetic.

Prehistoric times

The early prehistoric period (c. 10,000-400 BC) has its name, jomon, after the typical rope patterns that return as decorations on both ceramic utility objects as anthropomorphic and zoomorphic sculptures, dogu. During yayoi, the middle prehistoric period (ca. 400 BC – 300 AD), rice, horses, bronze and iron were introduced through contacts with China and Korea. The center of culture was placed in the fertile Yamato plain. The area retained its cultural power until the end of the 19th century. Yayoic ceramics are characterized by increased technical skill and imaginative form. The period 300-600 AD is called a coupe(really ‘old tombs’) after the large keyhole-shaped burial mounds, surrounded by moat, built for emperors and great men. Around these graves were placed cylindrical sculptures, haniwa, often sculpted in the form of horses, warriors, roosters, houses, etc. These strange tomb figurines seem to have had the dual function of partly preventing erosion and partly providing the dead with the necessary in life after death. During this period, beautiful works were also performed in bronze, e.g. bronze bells, dotaku.

Early historical time

The historical era begins during the Asukah period(552-710) with the introduction of Buddhism. At the same time, they began to use the Chinese written language. This caused a radical change in society as a whole. Calligraphy and Buddhism in the future came to put their strong mark on visual art as well. When Buddhism was widely accepted, the temple areas became not only places of religious worship but also educational and art centers of great importance. In the temple temple Horyuji in Nara there are, among other things. two of the best preserved wooden sculptures, long-slender figures with line rhythmic clothing wrapping, depicting the deity of Mercy Kannon and the great Shaka Trinity. From the same period also originated Japan’s oldest preserved paintings. They are painted in colored lacquer on a shrine and depict an episode in Buddha’s life.

During the Nara period (710-784), Buddhism was elevated to state religion and Japanese culture was strongly influenced by the Chinese in all areas. Thanks to all well-preserved objects in the imperial treasury Shosoin in Nara, you get a good idea of the art and crafts of the time. Judging from the paintings in various techniques preserved in Shosoin, the traditional Chinese categories of painting had their foothold in Japan already at this time.

The Chinese centralized management system, based on Confucian rules, was introduced. Nara and Kyoto were designed according to the same cosmological principles as the Chinese capital Chang’an. The sculpture received a strong emotional content with increased plasticity and detail, alternating between on the one hand threateningly grimacing faces of temple guardians and on face masks and on the other naturalistic portraits of priests and holy men, expressing deep spiritual concentration – “the inner vision” peace and quiet.

A domestic line painting in ink, with roots in the Chinese fiction technology and aesthetics, began to take shape. Emakimono, scroll pictures, with anecdotal, religious or literary themes began to develop. From the Heian period (794-1855), increased emphasis was placed on the fact that “the good taste” would be the most prominent feature in both visual art and design. Japan’s highly developed sense of natural material and design can to some extent be explained against this background. When intimate relations with China ceased for some time, a domestic painting style, the yamato painting, was developed, which gained great popularity alongside the Chinese painting style. At the same time, based on the Chinese italic style, the Japanese writing style was invented,hiragana, which was especially suited to multi-spaced Japanese poetry and calligraphy. During this time, a formal, outward-looking masculine art, mainly influenced by Chinese influence, was distinguished, and an emotional, inward-looking feminine art, guided by a close relationship with Japanese literature. These two schools have influenced each other all the way into modern times.

Famous novels and folk tales were translated into series-like imagery in a varied color scale, often mounted on horizontal rolls (emakimono). An aristocratic figuration, with elements of calligraphic poems depicting historical events, famous poets or folk tales, often decorated the walls and sliding doors of the palace. Characteristic of the style are the profane content, the humor, the sensuality, the strong color and the stylized form. This lyrically decorative “women’s painting” (onnae) still dominates Japanese painting today. One of the most popular motifs on the picture reels was the novel about Prince Genji’s adventure (“Genji monogatari”) by the head lady Murasaki Shikibu. The Scroll of Hell, attributed to Tosa Mitsunaga, depicts Buddhist hell in elaborate, macabre scenes. In the form of the animal fable, monks and priests are hostage with humor and elegance in the so-called Animal Rolls.

The sculpture is characterized by increased realism, polychromy, physicality and an interest in expressive details – the faces received, for example. a penetrating look. In the art of portraiture, the generally spiritual and idealized content often gave way to strong personal interpretations. During the latter part of the period, the physical emphasis was replaced by a distinctive hoof style, characterized by pleasing, idealized figures with gentle facial expressions.

Later historical times

During the Kamakura period (1192-1333), a Chinese form of Buddhism, known as the Zen, was introduced in Japan, which, through its clear-sightedness and freedom from dogma, suited the ruling war and thus became of great importance to the arts.

The sculpture of the period is characterized by a realistic nudity that literally went under the skin in its quest to emphasize the extremely expressive with the help of the characters muscles, tendons and skeleton. The portrait likeness of the faces was further enhanced by crystal eyes, wrinkles and furrows. The wood sculpture was painted or covered with varnish and gold leaf. The sculptor Kokei became the ancestor of a very dominant sculptor family. His son Unkei, Japan’s most prominent sculptor of all time, performed the huge guard figures in Todaiji in Nara. The portrait painting transitioned from idealization to a more realistic image. In his famous portrait of the military dictator (shogun) Minamoto Yoritomo, Fujiwara Takanobu (1142-1205) did not hesitate to reveal his cruel nature with some selected realistic details.tosa school, which, with a light and airy color, placed special care in detailed personal portrayals.

During the Muromachi period (1338-1573), Zen Buddhism spread throughout the country and its monasteries became centers for the spread of Chinese learning. When the painter monk Shubun, active in the early 1400’s, was appointed leader of the painting community, a painting strongly inspired by Chinese ink painting was recognized as the official style. Intensive exchange with China began; many Japanese monks became acquainted with Chinese culture in China and Chinese monks who were calligraphers and painters moved to Japan. The great renewal therefore took place within the ink painting (suiboku).

For the Zen monks, the canvas painting was an important instrument in the quest to reach spiritual liberation and enlightenment (satori). They sought to capture the essence of the moment with a few brush strokes, often with humorous elements. Common motifs were Bodhidharma (the founder of Zen Buddhism), Zen monks who made themselves known for their insights, and Chinese-inspired landscapes, which were often combined with calligraphic poems and thinking languages. Master Sesshu (1420-1506) painted stylized landscapes in a personal, calligraphic style, where the powerful contour lines of the mountains, temples and trees form a distinct structure. He also mastered the spontaneous Chinese technique of spontaneity.

In the middle of the 1400’s, Kano Masanobu (1434-1530) founded the canoe school – a synthetic painting that was heavily influenced by Chinese painting but which reached its peak only when his son Kano Motonobu (1477-1559) incorporated colorful details from the yamato painting. The contents were usually symbolically saturated and therefore well suited as decorations on the walls, screens and sliding doors of the palace and the temple. The most common motifs are landscapes, flowers and birds, historical personalities, tigers, lions, eagles and pines.

The short Momoyama period (1573-1603) was the golden age of castle decorations, when the fortified castles were adorned with magnificent murals. The Europeans, the Southern Barbarians (Namban) and their ships are found as motifs. The castle decorator Kano Eitoku (1543-90) was a stylist when it came to lavish decorations with elements of a lot of gold leaf and varnish, partly inspired by European icon painting. At the Kyoto court, the tea ceremony developed into a precious, flashy party. In response to this, and under the strong influence of Zen Buddhist ideals, Sen. Sen. Rikyu (1522-91) advocated the tastefully simple and rustic unassuming. The tea ceremony now became a spiritual training in which all arts and crafts work together and where beauty is most evident through hints and restraint.

There was no qualitative difference between arts and crafts, which above all favored the status and development of the arts in Japan. The taste of the leading theme artists has dominated art and craftsmanship ever into modern times. A synthesis between Chinese ink technique and Japanese motifs can be found in Hasegawa Tohakus (1539-1610) large screen painting “Pine Forest”, where some trees appear from the fog, apparently from empty nothing, with the help of a few ink carvings, lines and points. Under the artist’s name Niten, the mythical sword-fighter Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) made himself known as an extraordinary depicter of birds and figures in a style inspired by the Chinese masters Mu Qi and Liang Kai. The painting was increasingly liberated from the dependence on the architectural space by the calligraphy and paintings, according to the Chinese pattern,kakemono), which were temporarily suspended in an intended alcove (tokonoma).

Towards modern times

During the Edo period (1603-1867), when Japan isolated itself from foreign contacts, peace in the country was maintained with harsh laws. Culture in the form of theater, poetry, visual arts and architecture flourished in part thanks to an emerging rich bourgeoisie. Tawaraya Sotatsu (dead 1643) founded the Rimpask School with inspiration from the yama atomic painting and the decorative screen painting of the time, in which poetry and fiction were often associated with a decorative painting with strong elements of gold and silver. The great Japanese artists during this time worked in many materials and techniques. Hon’ami Koetsu (1558-1637) was an architect, clothing designer, painter, painter, ceramicist, potter, painter, calligrapher and poet. Nonomura Ninsei (16th century) transferred the popular flower painting of ceramics of the time. He was a teacher of the Great Painter School of Rimpas and decorator Ogata Korin (1663-1743), who performed paintings on paper, textiles, silk, wood, lacquer, etc. Brother Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743) was a calligrapher, painter and eminent potter.

Around the turn of the 1700’s, many Chinese intellectuals and monks arrived in Japan and brought with them the Ming Dynasty’s Chinese Literature Painting (bunjinga) and calligraphy to Japan. Their school is called nanga (“The Southern Painting”) according to the Chinese literature painter Dong Qichang’s (1555-1636) theory of a northern and a southern school in Chinese landscape painting. The motifs consisted mainly of hikers and poets in wild mountain landscapes as well as bamboo and flowers and birds. The main painters include Yosa Buson (1716-83), Ike Taiga (1723-76), Tani Buncho (1763-1840) and Uragami Gyokudo (1745-1820). Within the Zen painting can be mentioned Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768), Gibon Sengai (1750-1837) and Nantembo (1839-1925). Maruyama Okyo (1733-95) foundedMaruyama School, a synthesis of Western, Chinese and Japanese painting, which renewed traditional, large-scale decorative painting. Matsumura Keibun founded the Shijo School, whose painting is reminiscent of Western watercolor painting.

One of Japan’s most unique contributions to world art was the color wood carvings (ukiyoe), “The Transient / Floating World Images,” which depicted entertainment, historical heroes, famous sites, courtesans, popular actors, sumo wrestlers, etc. The early masters include Suzuki Harunobu (1725-71) who contributed to the development of Chinese multicolor print. Other features include: Kitagawa Utamaros (1750-1806) depictions of women; Katsushika Hokusais (1760-1849) landscapes, folk life, demons, flowers and figures; Utagawa Toyokuni’s (1769-1825) Kabuki actors and heroes; Toshusai Sharakus (second half of the 18th century) Kabuki actors; Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864) Kabuki actor and sumo wrestler; Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi’s (1798-1861) ghosts, Kabuki actors, hero portrayals and landscapes; Ando Hiroshige’s (1797-1858) landscapes, people’s lives and flowers, and Taiso Yoshitoshi’s (1839-92) women, kabuki actor and flowers. A prerequisite for the perfect Japanese multicolor print, with elements of color drift, blind print, silver print, lacquer, etc., was an advanced pass marking technique. The particular color perception, image composition and stylization expressed in Japanese woodcut art has been of great importance in European art life, especially for Impressionism, Expressionism and Symbolism as well as for the cartoon. See expressionism and symbolism as well as for the cartoon. See expressionism and symbolism as well as for the cartoon. Seejapanism.

During the Meiji – and Showaperioderna (1868-1990), the art of Japan both turned inwards towards their own tradition and outwards towards the international art and modernism. In 1888, Tenshin Okakura founded Tokyo’s art school, which concentrated teaching on Japanese painting (Nihonga). Recent artists include: Zeshin Shibata (1807-91) who developed the paint painting; Tessai Tomioka (1836-1924) and Taikan Yokyama (1868-1958) who renewed the painting and calligraphy; Seiki Kuroda (1866-1924) who introduced Western oil painting; Seison Maeda (1885-1977) who created a powerful style within Nihonga; Shiko Munakata (1905-77) who, with strong impressions from the folk art, renewed the woodcut art; Shiry Morita (1912-99) who developed a modern form of calligraphy (sho); as well as the internationally acclaimed modernist sculptors Isamu Noguchi (1904-89) and Nobuo Sekine (born 1942). Since 1945, countless Japanese painters and sculptors have sought international modernism in and outside Japan. Among these are Sofu Teshigahara, sculptor and master of flower arrangements, and Jiro Yoshihara, who in the 1950’s formed the Dadaist group Gutai in Osaka, which included names such as Domoto, Imai, Shoji, Tabuchi, Inokuma, Kanemitsu and Kusama. Other great modernists are Arai, Hinata and Motonaga.

Compare Buddhist art, calligraphy, China (Art), Korea (Art) and woodcuts.


Artistically designed pottery appeared already during the Jomon period (c. 10500 – c. 250 BC). During the yayoi (c. 250 BC – c. 250 AD) and the kofun periods (c. 250-552), but especially during the Nara period (710-794), distinct impulses from China and Korea, well illuminated in the imperial treasury of Shosoin for ceramic, lacquer, metal, glass and textile products. Bronze and iron objects were also introduced from China.

During the Heian period (794-1855), a purely Japanese style emerged, especially in paintwork, where various techniques were devised, such as makie and row. The bronze mirrors also got their special Japanese shape and decor. The textiles showed colorful patterns, which had their role models in painting.

During the Kamakura period (1192-1333), gold varnish was used extensively for utensils, as well as furniture and other interior details. The art of forging reached a high level in sword and armor production. The stoneware was developed at the six ovens in Seto, Tokoname, Bizen, Shigaraki, Echizen and Tamba. Seto started copying the Chinese ceramic types jian yao, celadon and qingbai about 1230.

During the Muromachi (1338-1573) and Momoyama periods (1573-1603), the arts and crafts developed in many forms. Within the forging and armor forging, a number of prominent masters appeared, who formed a school, including. Myochin. The tea ceremony became an important ritual, which involved the manufacture of various vessels of stoneware. Known varieties are Shino, Oribe and Raku ceramics. Prominent artists worked with varnish and metal. sword ornaments.

The Edo period (1603-1867) meant a long period of peace, which had a favorable effect on the practice of art. Edo (now Tokyo) and Kyoto became artistic centers. The work with gold lacquer was extensive, and famous artists in the field were among others. Hon’ami Koetsu and Ogata Korin. Mirrors, weapons and sword ornaments were now provided with rich inlays of precious metals. The pottery was enriched by starting to manufacture porcelain since a Korean found kaolin at Arita on Kyushu island in 1616 (see Arita porcelain). Initially, the Korean blue-white porcelain was imitated, but soon the Chinese blue-white and enamel-colored (overglaze) decorated Qing porcelain were considered role models. Imari, Kakiemon, Nabeshima and Kutani porcelains became the main varieties, of which the two former were also valued export goods to Europe during the 18th century. At the end of the 19th century, an often over-decorated estate, Satsumakeramik, was manufactured in gold and variegated colors.

From its earliest appearance in Japan to the present day, the Japanese stoneware has been characterized by rustic shapes and decor. From the latter half of the 19th century, it came to have a great influence on European stoneware production.

Between 1914 and 1931 Japan was heavily industrialized to a great detriment to the craft. In 1926, Soetsu Yanagi, Kanjiro Kawai and Shoji Hamada started the Japanese People’s Movement (Nihon Mingei Kyokai), whose goal is to preserve and develop the collective knowledge that generations of craftsmen have left behind and to support traditional crafts of our time. Thanks to the economic upswing of the post-war era, the tea ceremony, and thus also the craft, has received a renaissance. Painter, calligrapher and master chef Rosanjin Kitaoji revived the traditional ceramic types in a personal and powerful way.


Japan’s oldest preserved edifice consists of huge, keyhole-shaped burial kofun, which gave its name to the Kofun period (ca. 250-552). One of the oldest preserved houses is the knot-carved Shosoin, the treasury of the Buddhist temple of Horyuji in the early capital of Nara. Shosoin was built in the 7th century, but the rest of the temple was erected in the 6th century and contains some of the world’s oldest wooden buildings.

A probably even older type of wooden architecture is represented by the main Shinto shrine in Ise, where the thatched roof is carried by standing posts of cypress. The temple in Ise dates back to the 20th century, but an exact replica of the older temple building is being built at 21-year intervals at an adjoining site whereupon the older building is demolished. In the case of both Shosoin and the temple in Ise, the building itself is erected on a rectangular wooden platform, which rests on a number of wooden posts.

Japanese building art is very strongly influenced by Chinese architecture and, like this, is a pure wooden architecture with wooden pillars as the supporting element for the heavy roof construction. As in China, most of the more significant buildings have been erected on a stone-clad platform of stomped earth or on a wooden deck resting on posts, which in turn rest on stones that insulate against soil moisture.

Larger palace and temple buildings are built on the principle that a lower and shorter bracket passing through the pillar supports a higher and longer bracket in an upside down staircase arrangement. By using the bracket system in both the depth and the sideways of the building, the length of the beams can be shortened, while the distance between the supporting pillars can be made relatively large, as the beams do not need to bridge the entire distance between the columns, but only the upper console ends of the respective columns. The roof chairs, which in western houses are usually triangular, have a different construction in the larger buildings in Japan. The horizontal, transverse ceiling beams resting on the pillar’s bracket system carry higher, shorter connecting beams via spacer blocks, the outer ends of which in staircase form constitute fastening points for the roof rafters. A ridge is placed in the middle of the upper tie beam, which in turn carries the outer roof shaft. In this way, both the slope of the roof and the turn can be controlled. Although cassette ceilings and other types of ceilings have been found, it is equally common for ceilings to be omitted, which means that the roof-bearing structure can be studied from inside the building.

Examples of this building style include The Horyuji Temple, the Yakushi Temple from the 7th century and the Todaiji Temple with Daibutsuden, “The Great Buddha Hall”, originating from the mid-700’s and considered the world’s largest wooden building. One of the most beautiful examples is the open, almost wallless Fenix Hall in the Byodo Temple near Kyoto from the 11th century. Among the Buddhist temples were also pagodas, viz. multi-storey tower buildings in stone, brick or wood on a square, round or multi-sided bottom surface. One of the most famous pagodas is the one in Yakushiji in Nara, erected in the 7th century.

As in China, the original roofing material was straw, reeds or split bamboo. Straw and reeds have been maintained in the Japanese countryside as far back as the 19th century. Also, some contemporary buildings are erected with thatched roofs in order to achieve a particularly rustic or age-old touch. In larger buildings and in urban areas, the shape of the split bamboo has been translated into roof tiles of often glazed bricks, given the fire danger. By adding parallel rows of alternating “monk” and “nun tiles” from the eaves to the eaves, gutters were formed that led the rainwater away from the fragile screen walls.

For dwelling houses and other smaller buildings, the Chinese structure with pillars and bracket systems was not usually used, but instead they were built with supporting posts in a kind of cross-timber technology with light, lime-slammed walls. The roofs of these houses were rarely pivoted, but were carried by a triangular roof chair. Smaller houses were often built as a single room, which was divided into smaller room units through thin, sometimes removable screen walls without load bearing function. These were fitted with sliding doors of paper pasted on a wooden frame, shoji. Many traditional residential buildings also had a shoji as the front door, which led out to the roof-covered open porch that surrounded the entire house or parts of it. The floor covering consisted of woven mats of grass, tatami, about 191 cm ℅ 95 cm, the size varies slightly in different parts of the country. In Japan, the size of a room is still usually indicated in the number of tatami.

Unlike the Chinese wooden architecture, where the visible wood parts were painted in strong, brilliant colors, the color scheme of Japanese architecture is usually refined with brown, black or age-gray wooden parts, whitewashed walls and sometimes some gold ornaments. A beautiful example of this is the Kyoto neo-palace from the 16th to 16th centuries.

A specific Japanese and Shinto style of architecture can be found in Torii, a type of gate that originally marked the entrance to a Shinto shrine. The gate consisted of two pillars with two horizontal, highly placed, interconnecting overlays. The upper of these was usually given an upwardly curved shape and was placed on top of the pillars and extended on both sides beyond them. Originally, torii were made of wood, at first unbarked, but from the 1300’s they were increasingly built in stone.

A special type of Japanese architecture is the castles that various daimyo (county lords) had erected as defense facilities and residences. The castles were built on an often several tens of meters high, steeply sloping pedestal of carved and brick. On top of the plinth was the enclosed, whitewashed wall, equipped only with shotguns and drop-out gates, which surrounded the buildings in the open courtyard. If possible, the castle was surrounded by a moat. Either in a corner of the castle or freestanding in the courtyard there was a high walled fortress tower in several floors that dominated the entire facility. Normally, each floor of the tower contained a single large room, which, however, was often divided into smaller units of large – in the 1600’s and 1600’s magnificently painted – folding screens, byobu.

While the bourgeoisie were defenses that would impress an approaching enemy and symbolize the power of the bailiff, many of the Japanese feudal lords erected low-rise villas in some scenic area where they could retire in meditation after their career ended. These villas were generally adjacent to some local Buddhist monastery. The villas would not impress due to their size and exterior splendor, but great care was taken in choosing the finest materials for the details. In Kyoto there are two of the most famous of these villas: the Golden Pavilion erected in the late 1300’s, Kinkakuji (burnt down in 1950 and rebuilt in 1955), and the Silver Pavilion, Ginkakuji, from the late 1400’s. Both were originally part of Buddhist temple facilities. Outside Kyoto, Katsura, “The Secluded Palace”, was erected in the 17th century

Modern times

Japan’s later architecture is fully associated with the country’s western orientation after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Western architects and contractors were called in to design public buildings and to initiate education in modern Western architecture at Tokyo University. British architect Josiah Conder was among the first and most influential. Initially, greater emphasis was placed on technology and economics than on aesthetic qualities, but during the Taisho era (1912-26) some younger architects, including Mamuro Yamada and Kikuji Ishimoto, opposed the academic style and thus initiated a modernization of architecture in Japan. Several Western architects worked in Japan for many years, including Frank Lloyd Wright and Bruno Taut. The latter wrote several essays on Japanese traditional architecture, which inspired young Japanese architects in their quest to formulate a modern domestic architecture form. Studies abroad under Le Corbusier in Paris (Kunio Maekawa and Junzo Sakakura) and Walter Gropius in Berlin (Bunzo Yamaguchi) accelerated the development. Yamaguchi’s constructivist annex to Tokyo’s College of Dentistry (1934) and Sakakura’s Pavilion to the World Exhibition in Paris (1937) show the Japanese’s ability. However, development was hindered during the nationalist, militaristic era just before and during the Second World War. Yamaguchi’s constructivist annex to Tokyo’s College of Dentistry (1934) and Sakakura’s Pavilion to the World Exhibition in Paris (1937) show the Japanese’s ability. However, development was hindered during the nationalist, militaristic era just before and during the Second World War. Yamaguchi’s constructivist annex to Tokyo’s College of Dentistry (1934) and Sakakura’s Pavilion to the World Exhibition in Paris (1937) show the Japanese’s ability. However, development was hindered during the nationalist, militaristic era just before and during the Second World War.

After 1945, they returned to a modernist, “humanistic architecture” in the spirit of Le Corbusier under the leadership of Maekawa, Sakakura and, not least, Kenzo Tange; the latter a role model for the young architect generation and one of the leading architects in the world with works such as Hiroshima Peace Center (1949-56), a synthesis of modern technology and Japanese style and the Tokyo Olympics (1964). Under Tange’s influence, younger architects started the so-called metabolic movement, which culminated in the Osaka World Fair 1970.

Over the past 20 years, Japan’s architecture has been shaped by a majority of “professionalists” and a minority of “conceptualists”. Among the latter are Kazuo Shinohara, Arata Isozaki (a.k.a. Gunma Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts in Takasaki, 1971-74), Tadao Ando (Hokkaido Water Church, Tomamu Yufutsu-gun, 1988, and the Japanese Pavilion for the World Exhibition in Seville, 1992) and Yoshio Taniguchi (Ken Domon Museum in Sakata City, Yamagata 1983). In these works, Japanese aesthetics and room formation are combined with modern technology and ecology.

A special wooden architecture was developed for the tea ceremony, which although originated in China, but which in Japan was given its own design under the strong influence of Zen Buddhism. The houses which were insignificant in size for the tea ceremony were invariably in a garden plant (see below, Garden Art) and the outer walls were fitted with sliding doors that were often open so that the enjoyment of the surrounding nature became part of the tea ceremony itself. The tea house was built in simple but exquisitely refined materials to invite peace of mind and meditation. The tea water was heated on a fireplace immersed in the floor either in the ceremony room itself or in an adjoining room. The floors were always covered with tatami mats and between the visible supporting wooden structures stood simple slammed walls. The entrance door was low to force the visitor to bow in humility.tokonoma, which, during the tea ceremony, was adorned with a floral arrangement and / or a painting or calligraphy.


Japan’s oldest garden art is the cult sites of the Shinto religion, where since ancient times, distinctive natural areas have been effectively combined with religious installations such as portals, torii, and braided ropes.

The later Japanese garden, niwa, was developed through contacts with Chinese culture in the 500’s. During the Nara and Heian periods (646-184), the palace of the aristocracy was oriented at right angles to the four lines of weather. The planning followed the Chinese cosmological rules applied in feng shui, the doctrine of winds and water (see cosmology). South of the main building of the palace was a landscaped garden with a naturally shaped watercourse, a pond and an island as the main theme. Stones and islands sometimes represented cranes and turtles, which symbolized happiness and long life according to Chinese tradition. In the middle of the 11th century, many temples were founded, whose gardens had the paradise stories of the Buddhist sutras as role models, for example. Byodoin near Kyoto.

A major change began when Zen priest Muso Soseki reconstructed several of the Heian period’s gardens during the 1300’s. Saihoji and Tenryuji, to meditation gardens. The garden became a medium for the zazen, sitting meditation, and was constructed so that the garden could be studied from within a building. An old plant technique was often used, kare sansui, ie. “Dry landscape”. The word sansui derives from the Chinese shanshui(“Mountain-water”), a term that has deep philosophical significance in Chinese landscape painting. In the garden, stones and shrubs formed an imaginary mountain and water landscape, often with cosmological content. During the Muromachi period (Ashikaga period, 1338-1573), two of the most stylized kare sansui gardens were built: Ryoanji and Daisenin in Kyoto. Sometimes views from the landscape outside the walls were “borrowed” into the composition, shakkei.

During the Muromachi period, magnificent landscaped gardens were also built. In response to the luxurious tea ceremony master Sen Rikyu emphasized restraint in the selection of material for the tea garden during the 16th century. The main theme was a path that ran between the garden entrance and the tea house. It instilled a sense of a solitary path that led the guest from the artificial life of the city through pure nature up into the mountains to the simple teething hut. The atmosphere was enhanced with the help of pedestal stones placed in moss, stone lanterns, stones with water for ritual purification, evergreen plants (eg pine, bamboo and camellia) and the simple tea house. Kobori Enshu, tea ceremony master and architect, got inspiration for his walking gardens from the idea of hiking on the trail. His construction principles are based on surprise moments where views are alternately hidden and revealed during the hike. The motifs were taken from famous scenic places or landscapes described in classical literature and canvas painting. Katsura Rikyu (1620-58) and Sento Gosho (1634) are two style-forming walking gardens under the auspices of Enshu.

During the Edo period (Tokugawa period, 1615-1867), small private garden gardens, tsubo niwa, inspired by the tea garden, became popular. At the same time, walking gardens were created in the cities, open to the public, as well as landscape gardens, e.g. Suizenji.

Mirei Shigemori developed the classic kare sansui garden in the early 1900’s in a powerful way with, among other things, Tofukuji. After the Second World War, new interesting applications of the garden tradition have been expressed when planning golf courses, swimming facilities and hotels as well as urban areas. Among the most prominent landscape architects who contributed to this include Sentaro Iwaki, Yoshikuni Araki, Ken Nakajima, Kinsaku Nakane, Kunie Ito and Masamichi Suzuki. Architects such as Kenzo Tange and Junzo Sakakura as well as sculptor Isamu Noguchi have helped to make the Japanese garden international.


The earliest testimonies of music on the Japanese islands are tomb statues from the 20th century AD. which depicts musicianship and dancing figures as well as song texts and references to music in the oldest chronicles. Ancient Japanese features are found in kagura, the music that belongs to the Shinto religion, especially as it is still practiced at local Shinto shrines and at some of the many local festivals. These often contain an ensemble, hayashi, consisting of taiko (drum / drums) and flute. However, this folk music has undergone several changes, not least in modern times.

The orchestral tradition of gagaku reached Japan from China around the 5th century. The orchestra is composed of percussion, stringed instruments and wind instruments. The genre includes bugaku, dances, and togaku, tunes from the Tang Dynasty of China. Gagaku came early to be combined with songs in kagura.

Shomyo, the song in the Buddhist ritual, reached Japan at about the same time and has played a very big role in traditional music. The aesthetics that emerged in Zen Buddhism permeate the music of the no- drama, which developed in the late 1300’s. In addition to two actors and a choir, there is an ensemble with three different kinds of drums and a flute. The music is characterized by several kinds of recitative song, which is included in the concept of utai, of simplicity and of the structural role of silence. A similar aesthetic dominates the music on the edge-blown bamboo flute shakuhachi, which is used for meditative purposes, among other things.

The narrative song, joruri (with several names), appears in a variety of styles. Heikebiwa, which deals with family feuds of the 12th century, is accompanied by the short- lived biwa. With the long-necked Shamis as accompaniment instruments after about 1600, Gidayubushi is the musical backbone of the puppet theater, bunraku, while Naniwabushi has enjoyed a wide popular popularity well into the 20th century.

During the Edo period from about 1600, the Kabukite theater emerged, which can be seen as a more popular variant of the no-drama in which the songs, nagauta, are more melodic and the ensemble was extended with the long-necked shamisen, which incidentally became a very widespread folk instrument. By this time, solo repertoires were also emerging for the bamboo flute shakuhachi and tubititran koto, a 13-string citter instrument that originally came from China as part of the gagaku orchestra. The long-necked shamisen appeared as a singing accompaniment in kouta, popular geisha songs. In the early 19th century, sankyoku, instrumental music in ensemble consisting of shakuhachi, shamis and koto, emerged.

Styles in traditional art music have often been based on a few prominent musicians / teachers. In strictly hierarchical groups, the students have faithfully passed on the teacher’s way of playing, often for several generations. New directions have been formed when someone has deviated from their teacher’s way of playing and started a new school. Therefore, in each style of music, there were simultaneously several parallel style formations or schools. In the merchant class that developed during the Edo period, it was customary for the daughters to learn some traditional arts, especially in the music, especially koto. Folk music, minyo, has been deeply rooted in concrete situations. Lullabies as well as dance songs and work songs with alternating songs between singers and choirs have been prominent genres. In the folk tradition there are a variety of local variations.

Although much of traditional music has roots in China (and Korea), it has been remelted in Japan. This applies to the design of the instruments and the zen aesthetics as well as the tonality. The halftone ranges in Japanese scales are a prominent feature.

Music conservatories (Tokyo School of Fine Arts and Music, Musashino Music School and others), music education (Suzuki method), instrument production (Yamaha, Kawai), symphony orchestras and prominent musicians and conductors (for example the conductor Seiji Ozawa) have also received the Western classical tone. a prominent role.

An electronic music studio was opened in Tokyo in 1955. Within contemporary music, the Japanese sound world has influenced Western composers, and Japanese composers belong to the international avant-garde (among others, Toru Takemitsu). Characteristic of today’s Japanese music culture is that these purely Western forms of music and various mixed forms are practiced in parallel with the traditional forms of music, which go by the summary term hogaku, albeit in different social environments.

The almost extinct musical tradition of the ethnic minority ainu in the north, with epic songs, string instrument tonkori, mungi and frame drums, has become the subject of attempts at revival.


Today Japan is about to embark on the United States as the world’s largest music market. Japanese popular music grew throughout the 20th century in parallel with the Western and has been dependent mainly on American popular music. At the same time, in many genres and styles, one strives for a national mark.

During the May period (1868-1912), after Japan’s isolation was broken, Japan was introduced to Western culture, which had a pervasive impact on music. Around the turn of the century, in collaboration with a burgeoning record industry, several forms of Western-influenced popular song, such as widows (news songs), shoka (school songs) and gunka (military songs), were developed.

At the same time as liberalization during the Taishi period (1912-26), Japanese popular music, with a broad term called ryukoka (‘popular songs’), got its real breakthrough. These songs, like later modern widows, were often made up of traditional yonanuki, a pentatonic scale in major or minor, with western harmonization. One of the pioneers of ryukoka was Shinpei Nakayama (1887-1952), composer for thousands of popular songs, often written for film or theater, such as the famous song “Kachusha no uta” (1914). The band The Hatano Jazz Band traveled to the United States in 1912 and brought back American foxtrot and Tin Pan Alley. Styles like tango and hawaiian music were also introduced early.

During the 1930’s, the important composer Masao Koga (1904-78) appeared, whose songs were performed by the classically trained crooner singer Ichiro Fujiyama (1911-93) for Koga’s guitar playing. Other popular artists of the same time were geisha singers Katsutaro Kouta (1904-74) and Ichimaru (1906-97), singer Bin Uehara (1908-44), with an influential melismatic vocal style called kobushi, and Japan*s ※blues queen§ Noriko Awaya (1907- 99). Awaya sang songs by composer Ryoichi Hattori (1907-93), among others, who, by utilizing the Yonanuki scale’s similarity to American blues, created a Japanese form of jazz.

During World War II, jazz was officially banned as being enemy music, instead older gunka was popularized and new patriotic songs were composed; these have later become taboo.

Through the US occupation during the postwar period, boogie-woogie, country and Latin American styles spread. At this time, Japanese drummer music (now commonly referred to as kayokyoku) developed in two directions, towards the western-influenced and jazz- like pop pusu, and the modern form of widow, a sentimental style with traditional Japanese features. Some early widowed singers were Hachiro Kasuga (1924-91), Michiya Mihashi (1930-96) and one of Japan’s most beloved artists, the teen idol Hibari Misora (1937-89), who also sang in the pop style. Enka is today regarded as the music of the older generations but still has a certain status as a nostalgic national style.

Towards the end of the 1950’s, rock ‘n’ roll broke through with artists such as Mickey Curtis (born 1938) and Kyu Sakamoto (1941-85), who became the first Asian artist to top the US Billboard list with “Sukiyaki” (1963). After visiting The Ventures and The Beatles during the 1960’s, Japanese pop groups became popular. At the same time, the Japanese variant of American folk revival and singer / songwriters emerged, called foku. Typical of the time were the urban song cafes, the Utagoe pee, where protest and anti-war songs were sung as a sing-song.

Towards the end of the 1960’s, the folk rock group Happy End laid the foundation for modern J-pop (Japanese pop) through its elements of traditional Japanese music and song in Japanese. One of the members, Haruomi Hosono (born 1947), later formed the influential Yellow Magic Orchestra (formed circa 1977) together with Ryuichi Sakamoto (born 1952) and Yukihiro Takahashi (born 1952). Another important pioneer of electronic music was the internationally renowned composer Isao Tomita (1932-2016). Towards the end of the 1970’s, the still very popular rock band Southern All Stars appeared today.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Japanese rock became a major industry and developed in a variety of directions such as punk, alternative rock, heavy metal and the glam rock-related style visual kei, with the pioneer group X Japan (formed in 1982). The song cafes were replaced with the more commercial karaoke bars. At this time, world music was also popularized, which caused rock groups such as The Boom (formed in 1986) to be influenced by the traditional music of Okinawa.

In the pop world, long sweet teenage idols have been dominant, but only a few, such as Seiko Matsuda (born 1962), have gained long-term popularity. The phenomenon is called Japanese idol and is often made up of boy or girl groups, such as Arashi (formed in 1999) and AKB48 (formed in 2005).

From the Japanese indie pop scene, the internationally widespread genre of shibuya-kei can be mentioned, an often electronic, collage-like music derived from easy listening from the 1960’s. An important forerunner was the Pizzicato Five (formed in 1979).

Japan’s success in electronics and mass media technology has come to be reflected in the nature of popular music, where synthetic and digital technology is outstanding. Since the 1950’s, popular music has also been closely associated with visual media. Singing programs on TV exert great influence, such as the annual competition NHK Kohaku Uta Gassen. Music created for animated films and games are widely used genres. Hard commercialized music, typically associated with karaoke, has received much criticism as kitschig. At the same time, some Japanese rock has an international reputation as being selfish and ambitious.

Today’s gigantic selection of bestselling artists include rock duo B’z (formed in 1988), pop rock group Mr Children (formed in 1989) and J-pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki (born 1978).

Jazz has long hinted at a strong position in Japan, although today it has mostly its audience among intellectuals and sometimes criticized as non-genuine in relation to African American jazz. Postwar musicians include the female jazz pianist and composer Toshiko Akiyoshi (born 1929) who created jazz with Japanese features, the free jazz pianist Yosuke Yamashita (born 1942) with the trio and the transcendent jazz pianist and composer Hiromi Uehara (born 1979).


Japanese dance is characterized by great variation in design language and geographical distribution. Religious ceremonies often include dance, which has also been of crucial importance for the design of traditional theater (see above, Drama and Theater). These dances that are performed according to traditional patterns exist today in parallel with new form experiments. All over the country there is also a rich tradition of folk dances with different motifs, movement patterns and costumes.

The mythical origins of dance are linked to the story of the sun goddess Amaterasu, which illuminates the characteristics of dance in Japan; a small, delimited dance site and the dancer’s intensive contact with the earth through stomping. Movements and expressions are concentrated and mastered in frugal meanings that emphasize beauty, balance and harmony. Often the content of the dance is only hinted at, which places great demands on the spectator’s own performance. Three terms can be used for a comprehensive grouping based on the nature of the dance movements: mai, odori and furi, all with the meaning dance. Mai is often a solo dance and is characterized by slow, stylized movements that can emphasize circular moments, e.g. in the ceremonial temple and court dance bugakualso in no. Odori distinguishes dances that accentuate vividness with hope and leap and are performed by many dancers simultaneously, eg. folk dances. Kabuki dances, from which many styles within the geisha tradition can be derived, are named with another word for dance, buyo, which, in its written form and in its practical performance, includes both mai and odori and which also has pantomimic elements (furi). In popular and religious festivals (matsuri) the dance is important and can be performed by amateurs as well as professionals. In nests -högtidens ring dances involved the public in tribute to dead ancestors.

Western classical ballet and leisure dance gained a foothold in Japan in the 1920’s. After the Second World War, experiments and social attitudes influenced the development of dance art. For example, in buto, whose main representative is now mostly active abroad, is to distance himself from all established Japanese dance art and represent an aesthetic, visual design language with grotesque and provocative elements. Takarazuka Girl Revy is based on Western operetta and show dance tradition and was created in 1914 as a counterweight to the male-dominated theater world.

The Western ballet tradition is represented, for example. by Tokyo Ballet Company, founded in 1964 and has toured in many parts of the world but also in Japan collaborated with foreign choreographers such as Maurice B谷jart. A younger generation of modern dancers represents both an international community and vital attempts to find their roots in a Japanese tradition, e.g. Teshigawara Saburo and the dance theater Poisson de la Galaxy.

Japan Arts and Literature