10 Ancient Japanese Traditions Which Are Still Relevant

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Photo by David Edelstein https://unsplash.com/@jlhopes

Japan is a nation consisting of more than six thousand islands. The temperate climate and distinct four seasons of these portentous islands combine to make a country with many diverse and fascinating local cultures.

Skyscrapers and small shrines stand side by side. Eye-popping modernity and long-standing traditions harmoniously coexist. It is an experience that you cannot find anywhere else. Here is a list of some ancient Japanese traditions still followed in the 21st century.

Hatsu Miyamairi (初宮参り)

Hatsu Miyamairi (a Shinto rite of passage for a newborn) is a cultural rite known as Omiya Mairi, which means “shrine visit.” After the newborns have completed their 31st day of life, they are ready for this family ritual. The purpose of this ritual is to give the new baby some blessings and protection from bad luck. It’s 31 days for boys and 33 days for girls. The grandmother takes the newborn to the temple for blessings, making them wear a white kimono or any white dress.

Hatsu Miyamairi Japanese Tradition
I (Sakura-saku-kuni) took this photograph., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sado (茶道, “The Way of Tea”)

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Sado, or tea ceremony, is one of the most famous etiquettes of the Japanese tradition. It’s a ceremonial ritual that involves preparing and drinking tea. The practice has roots in China, but it gained widespread popularity in Japan during the 18th century.

The ceremony is mostly performed by a woman wearing a kimono who makes a cup of matcha tea. Every move of the hostess’s hands is considered a part of the “art of tea.” She whisks it with a wooden whisk which enriches the taste of tea. The Japanese tea ceremony is an elegant and complex ritual that has been practiced for centuries. Although the tea is bitter and difficult to drink, the ceremony is among the most beautiful things you will ever experience.

Ikebana (生け花)

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Ikebana, or Japanese flower arranging, has come a long way from its humble beginnings as temple offerings centuries ago. It is now a popular and innovative living art unique to Japan and cherished by experts and newbies.

Flowers, plants, leaves, and branches are chosen according to the season to represent a theme or to establish the decor of a room – as a result; it is closely related to the Japanese tea ceremony.

Chinese Buddhist missionaries who formalized the ritual of offering flowers to the Buddha introduced Ikebana to Japan in the sixth century. Ono no Imoko founded the first flower-arranging school in Japan, Ikenobo, in the early 7th century.

Teru Teru Bozu (照る照る 坊主)

A “Teru Teru Bōzu” (照る照る 坊主, meaning “shine shine monk”) is a little traditional handcrafted doll made of white paper or fabric that Japanese farmers began hanging by a thread outside their windows. They are nearly similar in shape and design to ghost dolls made for Halloween.

This talisman is said to have magical abilities that can bring good weather and stop or prevent rain.

“Teru” is a Japanese verb that means “sunny,” and a “Bōzu” is a Buddhist monk or, in modern slang, “bald.” Teru teru bōzu became popular among urban dwellers during the Edo era, with youngsters making them the day before the desired good weather and chanting, “Fine-weather priest, please let the weather be good tomorrow.”

Yamayakai (山焼き)

Yamayakai is the only word in Japanese that explains the burning of a mountain. Although there have been theories about the practice’s beginnings, it is unclear when the conflict between the Todai-Ji and Kofuku-Ji temples began. Others claim that the mountain burning was done to ward off wild animals and pests like harmful insects and fertilize the soil. Some believe it is also done for deities and spirits. This practice is performed for burning the vegetation before the spring. The mountain is down to the fire, combined with fireworks, for an eye-catching view.

Mochi Making

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Japanese mochi making is an art form that dates back centuries. Mochi is a sweet rice cake usually filled with red bean paste or azuki beans and steamed. There are many styles of mochi making, but the most common is the tsukimi style. It is made by pounding a variety of rice known as mochigome with the help of a large wooden mallet. As a result, they get a gloomy paste formed into shapes.

Japanese mochi making is an extremely intricate and time-consuming process that requires a lot of skill and patience. But making mochi can be quite therapeutic, as it’s the perfect food to soothe stress and tension. It’s also one of the most popular desserts in Japan, enjoyed by all ages. This tradition brings the entire family into one frame.

Seiza (正座)

Seiza is a traditional way of sitting on the Japanese tatami floor. This way of sitting is considered the appropriate way of sitting on formal occasions such as rituals in Shinto Shrine. In addition, it is widely used in Japanese arts to correct an individual’s posture. Therefore, a person must practice this to avoid problems further in Japanese tradition.

The Japanese hold Seiza in high regard because it is a way to show courtesy and apologize.

Historically, proper posture is defined as neatly folded legs and an erect spine. In addition, the feet must be neatly tucked underneath the body. People were allowed to participate in formal gatherings while practicing Seiza in the past. Seiza sittings are included in events like tea ceremonies and traditional Japanese performances.

Toro Nagashi (灯籠流し)

Toro Nagashi, known as floating lanterns, have been a fixture of Japanese culture for centuries and are still popular today. The Japanese tradition of floating lanterns demonstrates the journey of souls to the afterlife. It is celebrated at the time when it is believed that once the soul of a loved one returns to the world, being celebrated on the Japanese Obon Holiday in the river Toro Nagashi.

Toro Nagashi is also known as the Festival of Recovery, which relates to the sad origins of the custom. It was first held in 1946 to commemorate the lives lost during World War II in the US bombings of Tokyo and other Japanese cities. This is why you’ll find larger public Toro Nagashi festivals in places like Hiroshima, where 10,000 lanterns are set afloat. 

Hina Nagashi (雛流し)

According to Japanese theory, the bad luck of the children can be transferred to the dolls and cast out the sea. Therefore, Hina Nagashi, or Doll floating, has rapidly increased among the Japanese. It is performed on Girl’s Day in Japan at several shrines, including Awashima Shrine. People believe in this ritual and practice it to protect their kids from bad luck. 

Dolls floating rituals have been practiced since the eighth century. Similar festivals, often held in rivers, were once common in Japan. However, modern families are more likely to display traditional dolls on Girl’s Day and then put them away before the day ends.

Wabi-Sabi (侘寂)

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Wabi Sabi is a Japanese art philosophy that uses imperfection in objects and materials. The theory states that perfect things are boring because they lack the element of surprise or interest. In other words, when something is perfectly executed, it becomes mundane and no longer captures our attention.

Wabi (侘び) is the Japanese word for loneliness. It refers to a pleasant sense of solitude in nature, away from society. Wabi is a feeling of being at peace with nature, which is different from being cut off from others. If wabi were a person, he’d live a simple life in a mountain shack deep in the mountains, free from the shackles of everyday life. Sabi (寂び) means “weathered,” but in an elegant, rustic way. 

While many people may not know what Wabi Sabi is, its influence can be seen in everyday life. For example, most furniture pieces don’t have sharp edges or corners, creating a sense of flow and harmony within the room. Similarly, we often choose designs with subtle color variations or elements that could be better- this helps to promote dynamism and keep things interesting.

These traditional customs have been passed down for centuries and are now being revived to make sure that the rich heritage of Japan is protected. This article has listed some of the most fascinating ones. The truth is, there are many more such rituals and traditions yet to be discussed!