Culture and Entertainment

The Edo period (1600-1868), was a peaceful one and samurai warriors needed to find other ways to fill their time, so they turned to culture.  They practiced aristocratic pursuits including calligraphy, ink painting, incense guessing games, writing poetry, ikebana (the art of flower arranging) and cultivating rock gardens. There was a high level of literacy and cultural sophistication in Edo Japan and many pastimes were not exclusively for the upper classes.  Reading was very popular and there were even itinerant lending libraries.  Considered a masculine pursuit until the Meiji era (1868-1912), ikebana was in favour with the merchant class. Sumō wrestling was another popular form of entertainment.


Although tea was originally consumed in Buddhist monasteries, by the 16th century green tea was popular with all levels of society in Japan.  Influenced by Zen Buddhism, the chanoyu (The Way of the Tea) or tea ceremony is based on principles of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquillity.


The theatre was very popular.  The upper classes attended (or noh) theatre, a form of musical drama performed with masks, often featuring demons, deities, ghosts, women and warriors.  Kabuki was attended by the lower classes.  Its romantic plays, family dramas and historical performances were accompanied by bold make-up, striking poses called mie, and dance pieces.

There was also jōruri, a form of storytelling accompanied by shamisen (a three-stringed instrument), which is associated with bunraku, a type of traditional puppet theatre.  Women had been banned from the stage in 1629 for being too provocative, so in the Edo period (1600-1868) men played both male and female roles in all types of theatre. 

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