Japan is known for cutting edge modern technology, high-speed trains and futuristic fashion. The contemporary culture of Japan is adored throughout the world for its unique and often surreal character. Japanese film, pop music and comics, or manga, have garnered a huge foreign following, whilst Japanese cuisine has become ubiquitous in the West, with sushi restaurants in almost every city. This contemporary culture is heir to a rich and deeply traditional cultural heritage which is very much bound up with Japan’s feudal, Shinto and Buddhist roots. Traditions such as flower arranging, calligraphy, Noh and Kabuki theatre and the wearing of the Kimono are still very common in Japan and this reverence for the past is refracted in contemporary culture in a unique way.
Nowhere better is this dichotomy between the traditional and the modern expressed than in Japanese literature. This literature ranges from the 11th century classic The Tale of Genji, which evokes the violence and ceremony of the feudal world to Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburō Ōe and pulp fiction writer Banana Yoshimoto. Yukio Mishima and Haruki Murakami have also produced compelling works of literature such as the former’s Thrist for Love and the latter’s 1Q84.
The cinema of Japan is amongst the most celebrated in the world. The 1940s and 50s is now considered the classical period of Japanese cinema and the directors who worked in that era, such as Yasujiro Ozu, Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi, are revered not only in Japan but worldwide. Ozu’s Tokyo Story, Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu are all powerful examples of this classical period of Japanese cinema. More recently directors such as Takeshi Kitano and Takashi Miike have made darker, more violent films such as Brother and Ichi the Killer, which engage with the underbelly of Tokyo and the Yakuza crimeworld of Japan. The anime films of Japan have also become very popular throughout the globe and filmmakers such as Hayao Miyazaki have become internationally famous for films like Totoro and Spirited Away.