Unit 4 Chapter 8 Lesson 2- Growth of Japanese Culture

Lesson 2 examines the rise of Buddhism in Japan and the growth of Japan’s unique dramatic, literary, and artistic traditions.

Unit 4 Chapter 8 Lesson 2- Growth of Japanese Culture

Terms and Names

Growth of Japanese Culture

Growth of Japanese Culture
Build on What You Know As you learned, Japan was influenced by Chinese culture. But the genius of the Japanese was their ability to adapt foreign customs and ideas to meet their own needs. A very important Chinese influence was Buddhism. 

ESSENTIAL QUESTION How did the Japanese adapt Buddhism?

Watch Video on how Religion spread throughout the world.

Buddhism began in India in the 500s B.C. B.C. It was based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. Buddhism spread to China and then Korea. It arrived in Japan in the A.D. A.D. 500s. Buddhism Spreads in Japan Because Buddhism had the support of Prince Shotoku, it spread rapidly in Japan. It did not replace Japan’s ancient Shinto religion, but was practiced alongside it. Buddhism had a powerful influence on Japanese culture. It was popular first with the nobility and later with the common people. The Buddhist belief that peace and happiness could be gained by leading a life of virtue and wisdom appealed to many. Different forms, or sects, of Buddhism developed in Japan over the centuries. Tendai Buddhism focused on the intensive study of texts. Shingon attracted followers who appreciated its complex rituals. Amida, or Pure Land, included a belief that people might have salvation in a pure land after their death. Zen held that something precious and divine exists in each person.

did not replace Japan’s ancient Shinto religion, but was practiced alongside it.

Check for Understanding 1

Zen Buddhism Some Buddhist sects flourished while others died out. The Japanese adopted the forms whose beliefs and practices best met their preferences and needs. Beginning in the 1100s, Zen Zen became more and more common. It put emphasis on self-discipline, simplicity, and meditation. In fact, the word Zen means “meditation.” Followers believed that quiet reflection was more useful than performing ceremonies or studying scriptures. In some ways, Zen was very simple. It focused on the individual’s attempt to achieve inner peace rather than on the idea of salvation. As a major school of Buddhism, Zen had a great influence on Japanese culture. Samurai favored it because they thought it would give them inner peace and help them in battle. Some artists liked its combination of simplicity and boldness. They reflected these qualities in drawings by using just black ink and making strong, dark lines. Zen later spread to other countries and became popular in the West.

ESSENTIAL QUESTION How did the Japanese adapt Buddhism? The Japanese adopted forms of Buddhism whose beliefs and practices best met their .

ESSENTIAL QUESTION 2 What is unique about Japanese literature and drama?

A great period of literature in Japanese history began in the 800s. People today still read diaries, essays, and novels written at this time.

Japanese Writing Systems Another aspect of China’s culture that Japan adopted was its writing system. By about 400, the Japanese had begun using Chinese characters to write Japanese words. Like the Chinese, the Japanese used characters to stand for specific objects, actions, or ideas. Later, they also used characters to stand for certain sounds. These characters worked like letters or syllables in English. Today Japanese writing includes both letters and characters. While Japanese writing was influenced by China, its language is related to that of Korea.

Like the Chinese, the Japanese used to stand for specific objects, actions, or ideas.

Japanese Drama

Watch Kabuki     Watch Noh

Japanese Drama Japan’s long tradition of drama dates back to the 600s. It began with people performing Shinto dances at religious shrines. Then, in the 1300s, actors developed a special type of drama called noh. Noh plays were often re-telling of legends and folktales. Actors wore painted wooden masks to show various emotions and used gestures, costumes, and music to tell the story. Most noh actors were men. The plays were performed for both upper classes and common people. In the early 1600s, another style of drama called kabuki (kuh•BOO•kee) developed. It combined melodramatic singing and dancing with elaborate costumes and heavy makeup. This type of drama was more informal than noh. Its themes often dealt with common people. Kabuki was, and still is, performed by men. Both noh and kabuki remain popular today. 

Japanese Drama began with people performing dances at religious shrines.

The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji In the early 800s, Japan ended diplomatic relations with China. Some Japanese leaders felt they had learned enough from the Chinese. China’s influence remained, but Japan developed its own cultural traditions. This was especially true in literature. One of Japan’s finest writers was Lady Murasaki Shikibu  (MOO•rah•SAH•kee SHEE•kee•BOO BOO).

She lived at the emperor’s court in the early 1000s. Murasaki wrote The Tale of Genji, a book about the life of a prince in the imperial court. Her book is important in the development of literature. Earlier books in Japan and elsewhere either retold old myths or were collections of stories. Genji is a long, realistic story focused on one individual. These characteristics make it the world’s first important novel.

Murasaki wrote The Tale of Genji, a book about the life of a in the imperial court.

Check for Understanding 3

Japanese Poetry Japanese poets often wrote about the sadness of rejected love or the beauty of nature. Some of the most popular Japanese poems are very short compared with the poetry of other countries. One shorter form of poetry is called haiku. It has just 17 syllables—three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. Matsuo Basho, who lived in the 1600s, was a great haiku poet. He wrote poems that had the quiet, reflective spirit of Zen, such as this one about a pond. An old silent pond . . . Into the pond a frog jumps, splash! Silence again.

ESSENTIAL QUESTION What themes are reflected in Japanese arts?   and a love of natural beauty

REVIEW How did Japanese culture reflect an interest in natural beauty?  arranging and gardening both used natural beauty to encourage people to meditate.

Lesson Summary

Lesson Summary

• Several forms of Buddhism were adopted in Japan, and Zen became one of the most popular. • Noh, kabuki, and haiku are distinctive forms of drama and literature that developed in Japan. • Japanese art shows a love of natural beauty.

Why It Matters Now . . . The Japanese adopted ideas and developed distinctive cultural practices that are an important part of Japanese life today.

Terms and Names Quiz

  • a form of Buddhism focusing on selfdiscipline, simplicity, and meditation
  • a form of drama that retells folktales
  • form of drama with melodramatic singing and dancing by men in costumes
  • early novelist and one of Japan’s finest writers
    Lady Murasaki Shikibu
  • a poem with 3 lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables each