There is no rigid distinction between arts and crafts. Many techniques came to Japan from the Asian continent, especially China and Korea, and have since evolved and been refined. Martial arts which originally developed as arts of war by the samurai have evolved into forms of austere discipline aimed at spiritual improvement.
The tea ceremony (sado: "the way of the tea") is a ceremonial way of preparing and drinking tea. The custom has been strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism. Nowadays, the tea ceremony is a relatively popular hobby. Many Japanese, who are interested in their own culture, take tea ceremony lessons. Tea ceremonies are held in traditional Japanese rooms in cultural community centers or private houses. The ceremony itself consists of many rituals that have to be learned by heart. Almost each hand movement is prescribed. Basically, the tea is first prepared by the host, and then drunk by the guests. The tea is bitter matcha green tea made of powdered tea leaves.
Ikebana is the art of arranging flowers aesthetically. One tries to represent the three elements sky, earth, and mankind in a well balanced relation. Traditional ikebana, called kado ("the way of the flower"), developed in the 16th century. There are many different schools of traditional ikebana. In addition, modern styles of ikebana (avant-garde ikebana) have evolved. Some of these styles use glass, iron, and other materials instead of flowers.
Calligraphy (shodo: "the way of writing") is the art of writing beautifully. Most children learn calligraphy in elementary. It is a popular hobby among adults, too. Unlike the strokes of Roman letters, the strokes of Japanese characters have to be drawn in the correct order, not arbitrarily. When you learn Chinese characters, you draw one stroke after the other. This is called the square (Kaisho) style of writing kanji. This style of writing kanji, however, is rarely used in everyday life. Instead, there are two faster styles of writing, in which the kanji become a little bit less legible, just like when writing Roman letters in a fast way. These two styles are called semi cursive (gyosho) and cursive (sosho).
There are countless local festivals (matsuri) in Japan because almost every shrine celebrates one of its own. Most festivals are held annually and celebrate the shrine's deity or a seasonal or historical event. Some festivals are held over several days. Important elements of Japanese festivals are processions, in which the local shrine's kami (Shinto deity) is carried through the town in mikoshi (palanquins). It is the only time of the year when the kami leaves the shrine to be carried around town. Many festivals also feature decorated floats (dashi), which are pulled through the town, accompanied by drum and flute music by the people sitting on the floats. Every festival has its own characteristics. While some festivals are calm and meditative, many are energetic and noisy.
Geisha are professional female entertainers who perform traditional Japanese at banquets. Girls who wish to become a geisha, have to go through a rigid apprenticeship which they learn various traditional arts such as playing instruments, singing, dancing, but also conversation and other social skills. In Kyoto, geisha apprentices are called "maiko". Geisha are dressed in a kimono, and their faces are made up very pale. As a regular tourist, you may be able to spot a maiko in some districts of Kyoto, such as Gion and Pontocho or in Kanazawa's Higashi Geisha District.
Kabuki is a traditional Japanese form of theater with its origins in the Edo period. In contrast to the older Japanese art forms such as Noh, Kabuki was the popular culture of the common townspeople and not of the higher social classes. Kabuki plays are about historical events, moral conflicts, love relationships and the like. The actors use an old fashioned language which is difficult to understand even for some Japanese people. Actors speak in monotonous voices accompanied by traditional Japanese instruments.
The samurai (or bushi) were the members of the military class, the Japanese warriors. Samurai employed a range of weapons such as bows and arrows, spears and guns; but their most famous weapon and their symbol was the sword. Samurai were supposed to lead their lives according to the ethic code of bushido ("the way of the warrior"). Strongly Confucian in nature, Bushido stressed concepts such as loyalty to one's master, self discipline and respectful, ethical behavior. After a defeat, some samurai chose to commit ritual suicide (seppuku) by cutting their abdomen rather than being captured or dying a dishonorable death.
Ninja or shinobi was a covert agent or mercenary of feudal Japan specializing in unorthodox arts of war. The functions of the ninja included espionage, sabotage, infiltration, and assassination, as well as open combat in certain situations. The ninja, using covert methods of waging war, were contrasted with the samurai, who had strict rules about honor and combat.
Sumo is a Japanese style of wrestling and Japan's national sport. It originated in ancient times as a performance to entertain the Shinto gods. Many rituals with religious background are still followed today. The basic rules of sumo are simple: the wrestler who first touches the ground with anything besides the soles of his feet, or who leaves the ring before his opponent, loses. Fights take place on an elevated ring, called a "dohyo", which is made of clay and covered in a layer of sand. The fights themselves usually last only a few seconds, or in rare cases, about a minute. At the top of the sumo wrestlers' hierarchy stand the yokozuna (grand champion). At the moment, there is one yokozuna, Hakuho from Mongolia. Once a wrestler reaches the rank of yokozuna, he cannot lose this status but he will be expected to retire when his results begin to worsen. Many former wrestlers remain active in the sumo world as members of the Japan Sumo Association.
The modern form of Judo was developed by Professor Jigoro Kano at the end of the 19th century from the ancient martial art, jujutsu. In Judo, the aim is not only winning fights but also the training of one's body and spirit. The literal translation of Judo is "the gentle way": softness exceeds hardness in Judo, and techniques are more important than stamina.
Kendo is Japanese fencing. It means "the way of the sword". Swords used to be a main weapon in Japanese warfare for many centuries. They continued to be the symbol of the samurai into the 19th century. The participants in modern kendo are well protected and use bamboo swords. As in all the Japanese martial, the training of one's mind is essential.
In karate, one strikes with their fists, elbows and feet in defensive action. Karate is related to Chinese Kung-fu and the Korean Taekwondo. Karate-do means "the way of the empty hand" since karate does not usually employ weapons.
Kyudo is the martial art of Japanese archery, literally meaning "the way of the bow". Bows have been used for many centuries in Japan, both as weapons of warfare and as hunting tools. Kyudo is a relatively popular recreational activity, practiced in kyudojo, special kyudo facilities found in schools, culture centers and the like. The bow used for kyudo is about two meters long, and stationary targets are located in a distance of either 28 or 60 meters. An important part of kyudo is the ritual preparation of each shot. As in all the Japanese martial arts, the training of one's mind is essential in kyudo.
Aikido, translating roughly as "the way of the harmonious spirit", is a Japanese martial art. Aikido techniques allow one to overpower their opponent without much strength, and without injury to either party. Aikido was created in Japan by Ueshiba Morihei in the first half of the 20th century. As in all the Japanese martial arts, mental training is essential in aikido. Students of aikido try to achieve harmony of their spirits.