TOP 10 JAPANESE SYMBOLS
What is the symbol of Japan? There are several answers to this question. Japanese culture and history are so extensive that one can actually find many well-known Japanese symbols, characteristic only for the Land of the Cherry Blossoms. But will the cherry blossoms themselves also be included? Here are 10 things that most closely associated with Japan.
Geisha - a woman of art
Geisha (芸者), in Japanese this word denotes a woman with artistic skills. She wears a sumptuous kimono, strong makeup, and a lush hairstyle every day and the most common additions to her costume are a fan or an umbrella. To become a geisha, a woman must first complete education in a special school. At such a school, they learn various dance techniques and crafts and they are also taught about culture and important ceremonies. All the decorative layers worn by a geisha are meant to separate her from the surrounding reality itself. Through this, the woman of art becomes not only a living symbol of artistry but also a symbol of mystery, wisdom and hidden beauty.
Japan - The Land of the Sakura Blossoms
In Japanese, Sakura (桜) means cherry blossom. As such, it is not without reason that Japan is called the Land of the Cherry Blossoms. Each year, in late March and early April, the trees sprout out thousands of spectacular pink buds. Therefore, the Japanese celebrate this occasion with a special custom called hanami (花見), which literally means “watching flowers”. At that time, hotel and airline ticket prices usually rise and many tours travel along the trail of blossoming cherry trees. This particular Japanese symbol reminds people of youth, the fleeting nature of life and it also indicates that the spring is coming soon.
Samurai - a Japanese knight
The Samurai were ancient Japanese warriors who were completely devoted to their ruler. They were guided by honour and the unwritten bushidō (武士道 – the warrior’s path) code. They gained recognition through valour and enlightenment. They never parted with their main weapon - the katana, which symbolised their constant readiness to fight and in itself was the very soul of the samurai. These Japanese warriors are a symbol of courage, loyalty and persistence.
Bonsai - a miniature tree of happiness
In actuality, the art of growing dwarf bonsai (盆栽) plants originated in China, however, today it is considered one of the symbols of Japan. It is due to the fact that it was in the country of the samurai that bonsai farming became a truly widespread tradition. Their image can be found on many tourist souvenirs, clothes, paintings, and of course in Japanese gardens, as well as other public spaces. The bonsai tree is associated with happiness and fortune.
Japanese manga comics
Manga (漫画) is quite simply a Japanese comic book. This form of storytelling is extremely popular in Japan and often brings large profits to the creators of such comics. The most famous stories are frequently made into movies or TV shows and are shown all over the world. There are many different types of manga. Some comics portray rather amusing issues, whereas others explore more serious topics. One of the more popular types of manga is josei-manga (女性漫画). The content of these comics is primarily addressed towards mature girls, as they mainly explore common problems of Japanese girls.
Holy Mount Fuji
Fuji (富士山) is one of the most iconic symbols of Japan. It is not only a mountain but an active volcano as well. It is also the highest peak in the country (3766 m ASL). The fact that is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List serves as a confirmation of its beauty. Unsurprisingly, despite the vastness of the terrain surrounding the mountain, as well as numerous tourist trails in its vicinity, it is rather difficult not to encounter other tourists in the area. During the peak of the tourist season, reaching the summit requires visitors to stand in extremely long queues, but the marvellous view after climbing up there is well worth the hassle. To the Japanese themselves, Fuji is a sacred mountain and every citizen of the Land of the Rising Sun should visit it at least once in their life. Whoever manages to climb to the very top may call himself a great man.
Maneki-neko cat figurines
The Japanese are strongly attached to their traditions, culture, customs, but also superstitions. This is why in Japan one can encounter images of cats almost everywhere. Why cats? Because, according to the Japanese, they bring good luck and prosperity. Citizens of the Land of the Rising Sun are especially fond of maneki-neko(招き猫). It is a figurine of a bobtail cat with a raised paw. This type of figurine is often placed at entrances to restaurants or sanctuaries, where it “welcomes” the visitors, and is also sold in the form of various tourist souvenirs. When visiting Japan, it is a good idea to acquire one of these figurines to see first-hand if the feline luck actually exists.
Origami - the art of folding paper
Similarly to the previously mentioned bonsai tree, Origami (折り紙) originated in China. However, once again, this art form became very popular in Japan and it is there that it started to truly flourish. Therefore, origami is strongly associated with the Land of the Cherry Blossoms. These amazing paper figurines, often arranged in an extraordinary manner, are one of Japan’s signature symbols. When assembling such paper shapes, one should never use scissors, glue or additional decorations. This is the actual phenomenon behind origami art - it is all about creating works of art using only one’s hands, paper and creativity. Special origami museums can also be found throughout Japan.
Crane - a Japanese bearer of good news
The Japanese crane (tsuru - 鶴) is a symbol of happiness, fidelity and longevity. Superstitious Japanese use this symbol on different occasions as a sign of good luck. It is most often encountered in the form of origami and crane figurines often constitute elements of wedding decorations. This symbol is meant to indicate the indissolubility and eternal happiness of the newlyweds. In addition, there is a belief among the Japanese that a person who assembles 1000 origami cranes will have their wish come true.
Daruma - a blind good luck doll
The Japanese also have their very own matryoshka. It is called daruma (ダルマ達磨) and is a type of roly-poly doll, it wobbles when touched, but never falls over and it quickly regains its balance and returns to its original position. This particular trait of the doll serves as a reference to real life and suggests that one can always get up, just like a daruma. However, darumas are blind, i.e. they have eyes but no pupils.
When a Japanese person sets some kind of a goal in their life, for example, a professional or educational one, they paint a pupil on the left eye of the daruma doll, so that it always looks towards this goal. After the goal is attained, the doll’s owner can paint the second pupil on the right eye. Afterwards, the daruma-kuyō ceremony is held, during which the doll is burnt, and the owner can buy a new, bigger one, so that more of their wishes and dreams may be fulfilled.
There are many interesting customs and superstitions in Japanese culture. Most of them are very positive and concern good luck in people’s lives. Thanks to this, it is undoubtedly easier for the Japanese to overcome various challenges and problems, as they believe that they deserve happiness. Because they have been continually cultivating a bonsai tree for years, assembled more than 1000 origami cranes, or have a maneki-neko cat in their pocket, naturally. Perhaps it would not be such a bad idea to get a little closer to good fortune by using one of the Japanese symbols?