It is often claimed that Shinto and Buddhism provided the Japanese with a unique opportunity to experience rituals, nature, and art. Various aspects of Japanese culture have evolved from religious practices and are based on spiritual values; among them are Noh theater performances using sacred Shinto dances. In addition, sumo wrestling, traditional gardens, tea ceremony, and the art of flower arrangement ( ikebana ) are rooted in the ritual practices of Japanese religions.
Japanese mythology claims that the gods loved to fight each other. Wrestling in the old days served as a special kind of religious ritual and was an important part of the New Year holidays in terms of predicting good luck in the coming year. Sumo became a spectacular sight in the sixth century, and today it is perhaps the most popular sport in Japan.
Sumo’s connections to its religious past are easily discernible. For example, the chief justice’s clothing is strikingly similar to that worn by Shinto priests. The tasseled mawashi belts that encircle wrestlers are derived from the fundoshi loincloths worn during Shinto festivals. The fight itself is a carefully designed ritual in which the actual fight takes only seconds. After entering the arena (dohe), the wrestlers are cleansed by rinsing their mouths with water in the Shinto style, and sprinkle salt around the arena to ward off evil spirits. So it is repeated 3-4 times, in the interval, the wrestlers try to have a psychological impact on each other.
Sumo wrestlers are highly respected in Japan and are expected to behave in a manner befitting a religious act. Therefore, despite the diabolical glances that the wrestlers exchange before attacking each other, they have no right to show emotion, expressing anger or disappointment at defeat — because the gods can still watch them.
Japanese gardens.
Japanese gardens were first established on the sacred grounds of Shinto temples and imperial palaces. The first gardens, dated to the Nara and Heian eras (XH-Vni centuries), had the appearance of a pond and an island and reproduced the mythological land of the gods, Tokoe. The tortoise and heron, animals symbolizing longevity and reminiscent of the mythical Chinese island of the immortals, are associated with Tokoe and are often found in garden design, usually in island outlines or stone compositions.
Later, the stones, ponds, and islands mostly lost their religious symbolism and were constructed for purely aesthetic purposes to evoke the famous Japanese sense of beauty or to be used in landscape sketches of literary works. These idealized landscapes first appeared in the scenes of boat trips in Genji-monogatari (“The Tale of Genji”), but over time, the gardens and ponds became smaller, turning into classic pleasure gardens. Designed for a leisurely stroll, these Edo period gardens are full of picturesque revelations that appear as you move through the park and often create the effect of increasing space. Many of the beautiful gardens of that time are still preserved today; the most famous are the Ritsurin-koen in Takamatsu, the Suizenji-koen in Kumamoto, and the Koraku-en near Okayama.
As early as the ninth century, the Shingon Buddhist sect preached the idea that heaven could be reached on earth by the grace of Buddha Amida. Thus were born the gardens of paradise, in which the temples tried to reproduce their own version of the Pure Land of Amida, or Jodo, by arranging ponds, islands, and rocks in an artificially created “natural” environment, like the wonderful Bedo-in in Uji. In contrast to this trend, in the fifteenth century, the strict precepts of Zen Buddhism contributed to the emergence of strict “dry gardens” (kare-sansui), in which the whole world was reduced to a few stones on white gravel laid by waves and to one or two randomly arranged bushes. Daisen-in and Ryoanji in Kyoto are excellent examples of such gardens, creating exceptional opportunities for meditation and leading the visitor to enlightenment.
Tea ceremony in Japan.
Tea came to Japan from China in the IX century. Nevertheless, tea drinking did not become widespread until the end of the 12th century, when Zen Buddhists began to use the tonic properties of tea to maintain strength during prolonged meditation sessions.
Followers of Zen Buddhism believed that all actions are imbued with a religious meaning, and making tea is an integral part of the meditation process. The meticulously detailed tea ceremony, Chano yu, did not become widespread until the end of the 16th century, the time of the brilliant tea master, samurai, and garden architect Sen no Rikyu (1521-1591).
The most important element of the tea ceremony, prompted by the Samurai culture and art of Noh — is the etiquette in accordance with which it is conducted. The central place belongs to the refined movements of the host, preparing a drink, and the modest behavior of the guests, respectfully following his actions. The internal atmosphere and state of mind of the participants of the ceremony is given more importance than the external attributes of the ceremony. Guests should admire the hanging art scroll and the flowers decorating the tea room.; the cup from which they drink (the skill of the craftsman, the conformity to the season, the rough simplicity of the finish are appreciated). Nowadays, the tea ceremony is most popular among young women; as for ikebana, the best flower arrangement is obtained by women of marriageable age.
Ikebana.
Ikebana, or the art of arranging flowers, is also rooted in Shinto rituals, Buddhist culture, and Japanese aesthetics; the balance of the three components allowed for dynamic compositions. At first, the emphasis was on showing the material and shape so that they mimicked the natural state.
The original material remained natural, but the very ideology of the composition evolved along the way of using three main branches, symbolizing heaven, earth and humanity; the branches are arranged in such a way as to express the harmony of these elements in nature.
There are four main directions, or styles of ikebana: classic sekai (live flowers), solemn rikka (standing flowers), moribana (many flowers) and the most natural nage-ire (carelessly placed flowers). Each style is followed by many schools, such as Ikenobo in Kyoto and Sogetsu in Tokyo; there are also several avant-garde groups that use iron, glass, and other materials in their compositions.