Category: japan



THERE were 18 martial arts (bugei or bujutsu) in medieval Japan, and these included use of weapons, unarmed self-defence techniques, swimming, and equestrian skills. Initially designed to hone the skills of warriors for greater success on the battlefield, many of the arts were later practised by civilians as a method to foster discipline, agility, and mental alertness. Many of the arts remain popular today, notably judo, kendo, karate, and aikido.

Several of the martial arts which became popular in medieval Japan were introduced from China where, according to tradition, they had begun as a way for Buddhist monks to ensure they were fit enough to sit in meditation for hours on end and as a method to aid their concentration. Over time, these exercises began to incorporate skills with weapons and they spread across to Japan. Kendo, for example, which emphasised skill with a sword, was likely introduced there in the 7th century CE. Nevertheless, the Japanese added their own weapons, skills, and psychological emphasis to martial arts to both suit their own military needs and their philosophical approach. From the 10th century CE and throughout the medieval period (1185-1603 CE), warriors, especially the samurai, practised their skills at weaponry and horse riding in order to prepare themselves for the challenges of the all-too-frequent wars that plagued the country as rival warlords fought for dominance.

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The Accidental Widow

Oda Tokuhime, the daughter of Oda Nobunaga, married Tokugawa Ieyasu’s five-year-old son Nobuyasu in 1563, when she herself was just five years old. The marriage, though for political advantage, became a happy one. The was just one problem: Tokuhime’s mother-in-law.

Lady Tsukiyama was so jealous and quarrelsome that even her husband had difficulty dealing with her. Among other things, she took a made a retainer’s daughter Nobuyasu’s concubine because Tokuhime had produced no sons by age 20 – although their two daughters would suggest that Tokuhime was certainly fertile enough.

At some point, Tokuhime decided she could not like with Tsukiyama anymore. She wrote an anonymous letter to her father, the very powerful Oda Nobunaga, and accused Lady Tsukiyama of treason. Tokugawa Ieyasu imprisoned his wife as a result, then to protect his alliance with Nobunaga, had her executed. But what would Nobuyasu, Tokuhime’s husband, do? Everyone was very concerned that he would seek an honorable revenge against Oda Nobunaga for the death of his mother. So Ieyasu ordered Nobuyasu to commit suicide by seppuku: his own son killed himself, to protect his father’s most important alliance. Tokuhime accidentally got rid of her husband while she was trying to get rid of her mother-in-law. Tokuhime lived another 50 years and never remarried.

The Pizza Effect

Most people think the pizzas they know and love – four cheese, pepperoni – were invented in Italy. But they were actually developed by Italian immigrants in the United
States, and then exported back to Italy. Syracuse University
anthropologist Agehananda Bharati calls this the “pizza effect.” Here are some other examples of when
elements of a nation’s culture  developed elsewhere and were then reimported:

  • Mexico City’s Day of the Dead parade was invented for the James Bond film Spectre and then adopted by the city.
  • American blues music influenced English musicians in the 1960s, who then exported blues-rock to the United States.
  • Adapted from India’s chicken tikka, chicken tikka masala became one
    of the most popular dishes in Britain before being re-exported to India.
  • Yoga became popular in India after its adoption in the West.
  • Salsa music originated largely among Cuban and Puerto Rican
    immigrants to New York in the 1920s and then spread throughout the
  • Teppanyaki, the Japanese style of cooking on an iron griddle, grew to prominence in America in “Japanese steakhouses.”

Young couple strolling in the Ginza area, 1959. Photographed by…

Young couple strolling in the Ginza area, 1959. Photographed by John Dominis.

Unusual Chinese Artifact Found in Japanese Riv…

A bronze ring artifact from Japan has been identified as a weight for measuring commodities. The ring was found a while ago, in 1999, at the bottom of a dry riverbed which flowed during the late Yayoi Pottery Culture period (300 BCE – 300 CE). The artifact is estimated to date to the second half of the 100s CE. The ring measures 12.7 centimeters (5 inches) across, is 0.7 cm (0.27 in) thick and weighs 89.30 grams (3.14 oz).

What makes the find special is that weight rings have previously been found only in China and Korea, as burial accessories. It has been known that Japan during this period had connections with China, as other Chinese-made artifacts from the the Early Han Dynasty (202 BCE – 8 CE) have been found in Japanese tombs. This ring weight suggests that Chinese trading practices, such as a semi-standardized weight system, were also making their way to Japan.

SAMURAI:  THE samurai (also bushi) were a cla…


THE samurai (also bushi) were a class of warriors which arose in the 10th century CE in Japan and which performed military service until the 19th century CE. Elite and highly-trained soldiers adept at using both the bow and sword, the samurai were an essential component of Japan’s medieval armies.

Samurai may have been excessively romanticised since the 18th century CE as the epitome of chivalry and honour but there are many examples of them displaying great courage and loyalty to their masters, in particular, even committing ritual suicide in the event of the defeat or death of their lord. Warfare in medieval  Japan was, though, as bloody and as uncompromising as it was in any other region and money was often the prime motive for many samurai to participate in battle. From the 17th century CE, and no longer needed in a military capacity, samurai often became important moral teachers and advisors within the community.

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THE medieval Ryukyu castles on the island of Okinawa, Japan are impressive testimony to the kingdom’s power and wealth from the 12th to 16th century CE. Notable castles include Shuri Castle, the royal residence, and four excellent examples of medieval fortresses built in the Okinawa style: Nakijin, Zakimi, Katsuren, and Nakagusuku. Another star attraction is the religious shrine at Seifa Utaki considered the place of creation in Ryukyu mythology. All of these monuments are collectively listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The Ryukyu Islands (Ryukyu Shoto) are an archipelago of around 70 islands located at the very southern end of Japan. The largest island by far is Okinawa and its name is sometimes used to refer to this whole group of subtropical islands. The islanders of Ryukyu were independent for most of their history which goes back some 30,000 years. With genetic and cultural connections to the ancient Jomon and Ainu, the islanders have also regarded themselves as distinct from the Japanese occupying the more northern islands. Even their language, although similar, is different from the Yamato spoken in the rest of Japan. Japan only formally claimed the Ryukyu islands as part of its territory during the Meiji period (1868-1912 CE) when they became the Okinawa Prefecture in 1879 CE. Prior to that, the archipelago enjoyed some seven centuries of independence or semi-autonomy.

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10 striking Japanese pop music cover arts by Hiroshi Nagai.

10 striking Japanese pop music cover arts by Hiroshi Nagai.

30 extraordinary Hiroshi Nagai paintings that define the visual…

30 extraordinary Hiroshi Nagai paintings that define the visual language of ’80s City Pop.

YAKUSHIJI THE Yakushiji temple, located in Nar…


THE Yakushiji temple, located in Nara, Japan, is the headquarters of the Buddhist Hosso sect and one of the most important temples in the country. Originally founded in 680 CE at Fujiwara-kyo but then relocated to Nara in 718 CE, its famous three-storey East Pagoda is original. Most of the other structures at the complex, although they follow traditional designs, were reconstructed in the 20th century CE following a destructive fire in the 16th century CE. The complex boasts many fine examples of early Buddhist art, notably the bronze Yakushi Triad which dates to 690-718 CE. Yakushiji is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Yakushiji temple was founded in 680 CE in Fujiwara-kyo, then the capital of Japan. The idea came from Emperor Tenmu (r. 672-686 CE) who, after his wife fell seriously ill with an eye affliction, wanted a temple built in honour of Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of healing (of both the body and soul). In a strange twist of fate, Tenmu died before his wife, but the latter, now reigning as Empress Jito (r. 686-697 CE), continued to support the temple project and construction was completed in 698 CE.

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