Japanese Culture has evolved greatly over the years, from the country’s original Jomon culture to its contemporary hybrid culture, which combines a number of influences from Asia, Europe, and America.
Historically, China and Korea have been the most influential starting with the development of the Yayoi culture from around 300 BC and culminating with the introduction of rice farming, ceremonial burial, pottery, painting, writing, poetry, etiquette, the Chinese writing system, and Mahayana Buddhism by the 7th century AD. In the pre-modern era, Japan developed a distinct culture, in its arts: (ikebana, origami, ukiyo-e), crafts (dolls, lacquerware, pottery), performances (bunraku, dance, kabuki, noh, rakugo), traditions (games, onsen, sento, tea ceremony, architecture, gardens, swords), and cuisine.
From the mid-19th century onward, Western influence prevailed, with American influence becoming especially predominant following the end of World War II. This influence is apparent in Japan’s contemporary popular culture, which combines Asian, European, and, 1950-onward, American influences. Both within the country and abroad, its people have achieved international acclaim in fashion, films, literature, television, video games, and music. Also, the Japanese are the largest spenders of money on luxury goods in the world. Today, Japan is a major exporter of such culture, which has gained popularity around the world, particularly in the other countries of East Asia. Especially notable contributions of modern Japan to the rest of the world come from the technology sector, such as that of cell phones, camcorders, and mp3 players. This category also includes some of the highest caliber video games and game consoles. The unique art and thematic styles present in animation (anime) and graphic novels (manga) have also presented a unique addition to the world’s entertainment field. Japanese culture has attracted many devotees in Europe and North America as well.
In the eighth century, the custom of drinking green tea was brought from China to Japan by a monk. As a result, the custom of drinking tea in Japan was popular among mainly monks at that time. In the twelfth century, Eizai, a Japanese monk, presented tea to MINAMOTO Sanetomo, a general, the custom spread to the samurai class. Then, the custom became popular among citizens in the fourteenth century. At that time, MURATA Shuko was spiritually awakened by Zen, and he found the Buddha’s thought in the way of making and drinking tea. That is, any book didn’t have the Buddha’s thought but life including making and drinking tea had. TAKENO Jouo developed Shuko’s idea, and SEN Rikyu finally established the foundation of Chado, or tea ceremony in the sixteenth century.
The basic idea of Chado, or tea ceremony, which Rikyu mentioned about, is expressed by four Chinese characters, WA, KEI, SEI, and JAKU. WA means harmony, KEI means respect, SEI means purity, and JAKU means tranquillity. Harmony can be formed among all matters in the world such as people, flowers, tea bowls, and so on. In fact, in a tea gathering, people talk to each other and to every piece of equipment a host uses in silence to form harmony in a tea room. People must respect all matters without their status; that is, people must not discriminate. For example, people use a crawl-through doorway to enter a tea room, so even a person who has a high social status has to lower his or her head to enter in although he usually lower his head. Purifying spirits is very important since the ideal spirit of the ceremony is a sort of religious mind. Then, after people can get the three ideas, harmony, respect, and purity, people can finally embody tranquillity. Rikyu thought that we could reach tranquillity in the mind after we achieved harmony, respect, and purity.
Some people say that tea ceremony is a performance after they see a presentation of the ceremony; however, so called tea ceremony is not a performance, nor a ceremony. In fact, SEN Soshitsu XV, the fifteenth-generation blood descendant of SEN Rikyu, now calls it the Way of Tea in English, not tea ceremony anymore. Walking the way of tea is not easy because the way of tea is life which people seek to tranquillity through harmony, respect, and purity.
In chado, the spiritual aspect is most important.
The basic principles of chado are expressed in the words harmony, respect, purity, and tranquillity. Harmony can be created between persons, between objects, between a person and an object… among all matters of the world. In chado, we should respect everyone and everything without distinction of status or rank. In chado, spiritual purity is essential. We can embody tranquillity only when we make harmony, respect and purity our own. By learning chado, we seek to obtain an ultimate peace of mind. The Grand Tea Master (Sen Soushitsu XV) teaches the thought of “Peacefulness through a Bowl of Tea.”
Chado is also deeply influenced by Zen thought. In a sense, the ideal spirit of chado is a kind of religious mind. The essence of chado can be understood as the guiding principle for life for each person. The spirit of chado is universal.