Japanese Isolation and Its Effect on Japanese Culture and Theater

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Japan followed a policy of isolation that has led to development of unique and distinct art and Drama. Japanese art is closely linked to nature and their theater draws inspiration from their past. Japanese theater in particular has 3 distinct forms that a

Japan has a colorful history that dates back to 5000 BC.  This is known as the Jomon period and lasted till 400BC. The Japanese civilization developed independently of any foreign influence till 1844 AD.  The Japanese rulers imposed an isolationist culture that effectively obviated any foreign influence creeping into Japan.They imposed tight restrictions that effectively kept the country  isolated till 1853.  This was the year Commodore Mathew Perry and his fleet arrived in Japan. Their purpose was to open up the ports to American shipping. In the end the Japanese capitulated and opened 2 ports to the US ships. The Meiji dynasty took over from 1868, but the general isolation of Japan from foreign culture remained. The result of this isolation had a direct effect on Japanese art and culture, which is distinct from any other culture in the world.

 Japanese culture is the only culture in the world that has developed without any outside influence. Japanese culture mirrors their ancient past. An example is the Japanese reverence for nature. This takes the form of large public gardens and the miniaturized bonsai tree. A product of this love for nature leads to sumi-e Art. These are miniature paintings made with a brush and are often referred to as ink and wash paintings. These are made on everything from tea sets to playing cards.  These are made with a brush and use only black ink

 The Japanese are closely linked to nature. They have a number of holidays like the greenery day which marks the spring and fall equinoxes.  There is the Blossom viewing season which heralds the period when the Japanese people go on excursions to public parks and scenic spots to enjoy the blossoming fruit trees like plum, peach, and cherry. This is from March to April. Another important festival linked to nature is the Moon Viewing Festival. This marks the harvesting period and dates back to many thousands of years.

The long period of isolation of Japan from outside influence has seen the development of a unique form of art and its allied subjects. Thus theater, dance, and other arts are distinct to Japan.

The Japanese developed 3 forms of theater. These are

a)     Noh or Nogaku. It means skill. It is the oldest form of Japanese dance theater. A Noh play lasts an entire day and consists of 5 Noh plays separated by short intervals. The intervals are filled  with short humorous skits called Kyogen. The Noh plays refer to Japanese mystic thought.

b)      Bunraku.  This is the ancient Japanese art of puppets and facial masks.  It is also known as Ningyo Joruri and its origin can be traced to 1684. This is Puppet Theater and involves the puppeteers, the chanters and the players also known as Shamisen.

c)     . Kabuk. This is the third form of Japanese theater. This a classical dance form and the players wear elaborate make up. This form of dance was popular with the Geishas and many women in red light areas of the  city learn’t the Kabuki to please their lovers. Closely connected with the dance dramas is the art of, Ukiyo-e.  These are motifs painted on wooden blocks  These are mass produced and are available cheap

 In Japan mundane acts like preparing tea, presenting food and arranging flowers is considered an art.  Every day  activity is presented in an artistic manner,  which cannot be understood by a visitor from a foreign land. 

1 comment

Rama lingam
Posted on Feb 6, 2012