Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

Maneki neko (Lucky cats)

Maneki neko ("Beckoning" or "Welcoming" cats) are ceramic sculptures often found in the windows of restaurants and shops. To many Westerners, the cats appear to be waving, but they are actually beckoning customers into the shop (Japanese body langauge for "come here" has the palm facing out, rather than in). Different ...

Ukiyo-e (Pictures of the floating world)

Ukiyo-e is a style of painting and printmaking, which became popular in Japan in the 18th and 19th centuries. Blocks of wood were carved from an original drawing, and used to make near exact copies. Different blocks were used for each colour, and could be printed repeatedly to create bold, bright ...

Kabuki

Kabuki (meaning "sing dance performer") is a popular form of Japanese traditional theatre. From its raunchy origins, it is an art form developed for and by the common people. This contrasts ...

Geisha

The geisha ("person of the arts") is the most famous symbol of traditional Japan. Originally, all geisha were male, but women geisha ("onna geisha") eventually took over completely. Traditionally, girls were bought from poor families and trained from early childhood. They learned a wide range of arts (music, singing, dance, ikebana, ...

Takarazuka

Takarazuka is an all-female theatre group which performs lavishly-staged, Western-style musical shows. Because all of the performers are women, it provides an interesting counterpart to kabuki, Japan's all-male theatre tradition. Just ...

Ryu Murakami

Ryu Murakami is a popular contemporary writer, whose work challenges conventional ideas and criticises modern materialism. His writing is more realistic than many of his contemporaries, and his anger is more direct. His characters often live empty, nihilistic lives with no future. He won the Akutagawa Prize in 1976 for 'Kagirinaku ...

Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is Japan's most famous living author, whose most successful writing playfully combines mundane people and surreal situations The humour and pathos of his 1987 breakthrough, 'Norwegian Wood', gained him international praise and recognition. As an inevitable side-effect of his popularity, his work is rejected as "pop literature" by the literary ...

Yukio Mishima

Yukio Mishima is as famous for his death as for his life, in which he created some of Japan's most famous literature. Many of his books dealt with themes of disfigurement, shame and unattainable, perfect beauty. Staunchly conservative, he believed that the protection of the Emperor was crucial for Japan's future, and ...

Banana Yoshimoto

Banana Yoshimoto's 1987 breakthrough, 'Kitchen', featured a transexual father and a boy who wears his dead girlfriend's school uniform. Since then, the writer (real name Mahoko Yoshimoto) has sold over 6 million books. Her father, Takaaki Yoshimoto, was a philosopher and leading light of the New Left in the 1960s, so Mahoko's ...

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