▶ Both TV and movie anime are important entertainment for the Japanese. Those who were born in the 60s (sixties) or later have been watching a lot of anime. Most anime are for children, but there are artistic works too.
▶ Although it is Walt Disney that first spread animation around the world, many great animation works have been produced in Japan as well.
▶ The most famous anime creator today is probably Hayao Miyazaki. His works are internationally known and he has received an Academy Award for animation. Have you watched his famous international works, The Wind Rises, Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle ?
TV broadcasting began in 1953, but at that time NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) was the only station. Now there are over 130 private TV stations in Japan and the number of satellite and cable broadcasting stations is increasing rapidly. Today there are more than 40.95 million TV reception contracts and 17 million satellite-broadcast reception contracts with NHK (2013).
There is no doubt that Walt Disney was the first person to popularize animated cartoons throughout the world. But today, the quality of Japanese animation is also world-famous and many Japanese cartoons are exported. There are some animated cartoons such as “Pokemon” which were big successes on U.S. TV. The first Japanese animator to become famous overseas was Tezuka Osamu. He produced many popular cartoon series for TV like “Tetsuwan Atom” which was first broadcast in 1962. It is known by the name “Astro Boy” in the U.S. Hayao Miyazaki, who directed numerous animated movies, such as “Princess Mononoke”, enhanced the quality of animation in general, and it began attracting adult audiences.
Karaoke literally means “empty (kara) orchestra.” Karaoke equipment gives people backing music without the vocals so they can sing along and feel like professional singers. Singing along with the music helps people release their stress and improves communication among colleagues and family members. It became popular in Japan in the 70’s and now people sing karaoke all over the country. It is also popular overseas, particularly in China and Southeast Asia.
Shogi is one of the most popular traditional indoor games in Japan. Shogi originated in India and became chess in the West. They say it was introduced from China together with the game of go in the 8th century. The rules of shogi are quite similar to chess but the difference is that players can reuse captured pieces as their own. Two players move their 20 wooden pieces, in turn, on a board of 81 squares and the first one to immobilize the opposing king wins.
It is said that go originated in China and was introduced to Japan in the 8th century. Two players take turns placing their black or white stones on a square board which is divided into 361 intersections. The player who surrounds the most territory on the board is the winner. Skilled players use the white stones made of shell while weaker players using the black stones called nachi are often given handicaps which allow them to place some black stones to start the game. The rules of the game are rather simple, but there exist thousands of tactics which may cause dramatic reversals.
Ayatori is a traditional game that is still popular among girls. It began in the Heian period and spread in the Edo period. Various shapes like a bridge, a river, or a drum are created with a string tied in a loop that players hang on their fingers and wrists, and manipulate with their fingers. It can be played alone or by two people passing the loop back and forth to each other. A similar game played in England and the U.S. is called cat’s cradle, while games similar to ayatori are also enjoyed by Maoris in New Zealand and by Chinese.
Kendama is a wooden toy which is said to have originated in China and been introduced to Japan in the Edo period. It is a stick with a handle; one end is sharpened into a point and the other end is shaped like a dish. Players hold the handle and toss a wooden ball with a hole, attached to the stick by a string, in the dish, or on the other end so that the point is covered. A similar game called cup and ball exists in Europe.
Origami is a unique Japanese art in which various forms such as animals and flowers are created by folding square paper without the use of glue or scissors. Most children learn how to make origami, and most people can make folded cranes. People customarily make 1,000 folded cranes and link them together by thread in order to give them to a sick person, making a wish that the sickness will be cured soon. Some think that Japanese are relatively skillful with their fingers because they are taught it as children. Today origami is also taught in many other countries and is used to help teach geometry.
Ohajiki is a game played by little girls which was originally played with shells and pebbles. Now, girls use small, round, flat pebbles made of glass, ceramics or plastic. Pebbles are scattered on the floor, and the girl who goes first chooses two pebbles and draws a line between them with her finger. She flicks one of them and if she can hit the other, it’s hers. The girls take turns flicking and hitting, and the girl with the most pebbles wins. Ohajiki means flicking.
Otedama is a favorite game of many Japanese girls which uses several small beanbags made of cloth. The bags may be filled with pebbles or rice as well as beans. Sets of five, seven, or nine beanbags are skillfully tossed in the air and caught while singing a song. Skillful players can toss more than one beanbag into the air at a time while juggling the other beanbags.
Janken is a game used to decide victory or defeat by making one of three shapes with one’s hand. They say it was originally introduced from China to Japan via Nagasaki in the Edo period. It is mainly used by children to decide things like order of participation, or victory or defeat in the course of play. When a person puts out one hand in a fist, this is considered a stone. When they stick two fingers out, they represent scissors. When all fingers are outstretched, this is paper. A stone defeats scissors by blunting them, scissors defeat paper by cutting it, and paper defeats a stone by wrapping it. When all participants show the same shape, or all three kinds are put forward, they have to play again.
Video games are one of the most popular amusement activities for Japanese children, who often have difficulty finding outdoor spaces in which to play. It is said that over 97% of boys between the ages of 13 and 15 play regularly. Currently, mobile game machines are popular, and video console games are also played by the family at home. Japanese video game manufacturers, such as Nintendo or Sony together with Microsoft of the U.S., dominate the world’s game market.
One of the traditional games Japanese play during the New Year is karuta, Japanese playing cards. The name karuta is derived from the Portuguese word “carta” meaning cards. Using cards with pictures and words, people compete to find picture cards that match the card being read aloud. The person who gets the most cards wins the game. The most traditional karuta is iroha-garuta which uses 47 Japanese proverbs, each of which starts with one of the 47 Japanese syllables.
There are one hundred waka poem cards based on Ogura Hyakunin-isshu, a famous poetry anthology selected by Fujiwara no Teika in the Heian period. They’ve been used as playing cards during the New Year’s season since the Edo period, and most poems are about love or seasonal topics. To play, someone reads out a poem and participants compete in finding a matching card. This game is often played in schools after the New Year’s holidays because it’s a good way to encourage students to memorize masterpieces of waka poetry.
Hanetsuki is a traditional New Year’s game played mainly by young girls. A sport similar to hanetsuki is badminton but hanetsuki uses a beautifully painted wooden battledore called a hagoita instead of a racket, and a small ball of wood with feathers attached instead of a shuttlecock. People also display specially decorated hagoita for New Year’s.
Kite-flying is done in many countries, where kites were often used not only for play but for religious fortune telling or military purposes. The Japanese have developed various kinds of kites since they were introduced from China in the Heian period. Japanese kites are made of Japanese paper stuck on bamboo frames. Some kites have pictures of warriors or kabuki actors on them and others have Japanese letters. Kite-flying is traditionally done during the New Year in order to wish children good health and happiness. Along with hanetsuki, this was a typical New Year’s scene in Japan.
A koma is a traditional Japanese toy, similar to a Western top, introduced from China by way of Koma in the 8th century. The name koma came from the name of this ancient country. It used to be a game for nobility. Koma is a round piece of wood with an axis-rod pierced through the middle. Like a bicycle wheel, once spun they continue because of inertia. People play koma not only by spinning them but also by bumping them into others. Some professional entertainers can skillfully slide one on a string or balance it on an umbrella.