It is considered that people coming from the Continent or the south brought a culture before Christ, but, with respect to spoken language and life, a culture endemic to Japan grew.
Japan started paying tribute to the court of dynasties in China around from the era of the Former Han, and came to accept products of culture in China which was an advanced cultured country. Representative products were metalware (mirrors, swords, etc.), Kanji characters (Chinese characters) and Buddhism. Thereafter, Japanese envoys to Sui and Tang Dynasties China were dispatched, and scholars sent to China learned an advanced culture, and brought it back to Japan. In this way, foreign cultures were added to and incorporated in the culture endemic to Japan.
After the sending of envoys to Tang China were abolished (894), influences of foreign countries were digested in a manner specific to Japan, and the period of 'native Japanese culture' came. Kana characters were created from Kanji characters by noblewomen, and literature including Waka (a traditional Japanese poem of thirty-one syllables), tale and diary literature as typified by The Tale of Genji and Makura no soshi (the Pillow Book) was popularized. In the field of art, the architecture of Horyu-ji Temple and Toshodai-ji Temple was largely influenced by China, but, the Uji-byodoin Temple was constructed as preferred by Japanese people. This kind of cultural style is called a Japanese style.
When the samurai gained power during a period from the end of the ancient times to the medieval period, a culture peculiar to samurai such as yabusame (horseback archery) and inuoumono (dog-hunting event, a skill of archery) was born, and war chronicles (The Tale of the Heike, etc.) under the theme of battle were also created. Graven images were also transformed to those having a strong body (most notable is considered to be the Todai-ji Temple, Buddhist temple). Noh (Japanese traditional masked dance-drama) and dengaku (Japanese traditional style of dancing and music performed at agricultural festivals) developed in the capital and farming villages.
After trading with the Sung by TAIRA no Kiyomori, the trade between Japan and the Sung Dynasty in China was performed actively. In this period, coming and going by Zen (Buddhism) monks were implemented actively, and cultures (a vegetarian dish, ink-wash painting, custom of tea drinking) brought along with the Zen sect had a big influence on subsequent developments of Japanese culture. Since the coming from and going to China were never discontinued due to Tenryuji-bune (Heavenly Dragon Ship) and the tally trade (between Japan and the Ming dynasty), a large amount of copper coins were imported, and karamono (things imported from China) were highly esteemed.
In the Muromachi period, when it was the age of wars, sarugaku (form of theater popular in Japan during the 11th to 14th centuries) (Noh), tea ceremony and Shoin (reception room) (Shoin-zukuri style (a traditional Japanese style of residential architecture that included a tokonoma) developed, and many cultures considered to be a 'Japanese-style' culture at present were created in this period.
A new and different culture was imported from Europe in the Azuchi-Momoyama period. Firearms drastically changed the form of battle, and opened the road to the unification of the whole country. In addition, words of foreign origin and food such as Tenpura (deep-fried dish) were imported.
Missionaries of the Society of Jesus enhanced the propagation of Christianity. However, since territorial ambitions of Spain and Portugal (the San Felipe go incident, etc.) were known, missionaries were exiled, and a measure to ban Christianity was taken. The Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) which firstly aimed at friendly diplomacy could not remove the crisis, and decided to choose a policy of crackdown on Christianity and a road to national isolation. Around this time, missionaries and engineers captured in the Bunroku-Keicho War introduced the technique of movable type, and publications from the continent.
In Japan where the administration was stabilized and which was isolated from foreign countries due to national isolation policy, a peaceful time lasted long, and its own culture developed again. Due to the spread of Terakoya (Temple elementary schools during the Edo period) and Hanko (a domain school), reading, writing and arithmetic penetrated widely, and in addition to Confucianism recommended by the bakufu, natural science including herbalism developed.
Among common people, performances (Kabuki (traditional Japanese performing art) and Bunraku (Japanese puppet theater)), and publications (Ukiyozoshi (literally, Books of the Floating World), Yomihon (copy for reading), Ukiyoe (Japanese woodblock of prints), etc.) were loved, and secular culture was prosperous (it was around this time when a grand sumo tournament which was the start of Sumo (Japanese-style wrestling) as a professional sport started). In addition, the study of Japanese classical literature to review Japanese original traditions arose, and an ideological environment of "Revere the Emperor and expel the barbarians" movement in the end of Edo period was formed.
Even under the circumstance of national isolation policy, exchanges with China and Korea continued in restricted form. Even though exchanges with western countries were strictly restricted, trades with the Netherlands were implemented through Dejima island in Nagasaki. Chinese culture and western culture coming from Nagasaki stimulated the intellectuals' curiosity, Western studies (medicine) and Chinese (herb) medicine developed. This flow became a power responding to approaches at the end of the Edo period by European countries in the imperialism period, and became one of motivations to mark the end of a long period of isolation.
Through the opening of the country to the world at the end of the Edo period, and the Meiji Restoration, Japan accepted products of culture and systems in European countries, and set its modernization as a national goal. Unprecedented modes of life were brought one after another, and trends of westernization and enlightenment spread. The government took the initiative in actively introducing western culture, and the rapid westernization was enhanced superficially in the period of Rokumeikan (Deer-cry-Hall). However, a subversive movement of respecting Japanese traditions again arose. The term 'wakonyosai' (Japanese spirit with Western learning) was often used.
In addition, the development of media such as newspapers and magazines, and transportation facilities such as railroad spread a new culture across the country, and this new culture had a great influence on the common people's lives. However, traditional events and lifestyles based on agriculture still continued in areas (rural areas) far from urban areas.
In around the Taisho period, Western culture gradually penetrated mainly in cities against the backdrop of the increasing advancement rate, and a consumer-driven culture typified by department stores, and popular culture were established. Due to the influence of American popular culture, apolaustic culture such as cafes and movie theaters spread in cities, and erotica, grotesque and nonsense became popular. On the other hand, a gap between the rich and the poor was widened, and disputes and socialism came to arise.
The Great Depression in the first year of Showa weakened the economy, and ruined farming villages. Public expectations focused on the military, and politicians who were accused of vacillating weakness lost their trust. When the Sino-Japan war started before long, crackdowns on communism and socialism were strengthened, and liberalism also oppressed. In order to lift the spirit for the war, the excellences of Japan and Japanese people were taught.
In response to international criticism from Britain and the U.S., Japan concluded the alliance of Japan, Germany and Italy. Japan which was isolated from the world started the Pacific War with the Attack on Pearl Harbor, participated in World War II, and controlled food and resources for national warfare. At the end of the Pacific War, Japan suffered serious shortages of food and supplies due to sea blockades and air raids by allied nations, and a labor shortage because of the military draft of men in their most productive years. In order to carry out the war, the government also controlled the common and traditional cultures.
When Japan surrendered by accepting the Potsdam Declaration, and was occupied by the Allied Forces consisting predominantly of the United States of America, the exclusion, disorganization and banishment of peerage, arming and militarism, and the democratization of industries and the economy were promoted. Withdrawals from former colonies and demobilization from the front proceeded, and Japanese people were forced to lead a rough life for a while after the war.
The American modern culture was longed for by Japanese people after the war, and Japan has accomplished drastic industrialization and urbanization through a high economic growth. In association with this, a conventional lifestyle has changed drastically, and many of the traditional customs were lost. However, postwar Japan was not a copy of the United States of America. While accepting American modern culture, Japan digested and transformed it into an original and Japanese style, and created various and rich food cultures, and a new Japanese culture typified by animation and Japanese comics. Japan which became a major economic power following the United States of America regained self-confidence, and in the Osaka Expo in 1970, a slogan, 'Progress and Harmony of Mankind,' was set out.
In various countries excluding countries in East Asia, only a part of the traditional cultures such as 'samurai,' 'geisha,' etc. were known as Japanese culture until recently. However, in and after the 1990s, the number of people having an interest in Japanese modern and popular culture and subculture has also increased in various countries. In particular, fields such as computer games, animations, and comics, and a food culture have penetrated urban areas of Western and Asian countries, and as a result, related shops and facilities (Sushi Bars and comic shops) came to be established.
Since recorded history, the Japanese culture which has belonged to Chinese culture has had aspects of imported culture and translated culture, and has actively ingested foreign cultures, and Japan has formed its original culture by fusing such foreign cultures with conventional culture, and Japanizing fused cultures. However, differently from other Asian regions such as Korea and Vietnam which also received a profound influence from Chinese culture, Japan has never been politically controlled by Chinese dynasties and the Yuan which had conquered China. Although Japan discontinued exchanges with foreign countries in the Heian period and in the Edo period, one characteristic is that a culture specific to Japan was prominently matured in these periods.
In the era when the strong Tang-Dynasty of the Chinese Empire was prosperous, nobles established the Tenpyo culture modeled on Chinese culture, and an advanced culture learned by scholars sent to China became the standard for policies. After envoys to Tang China were suspended, the 'native Japanese culture' arose, but the center of culture until this time were nobility and temples. The trade between Japan and the Sung Dynasty in China was implemented during a period from the Taira clan government in the late Heian period to the Kamakura period, and Chinese culture such as vegetarian dishes and literati painting were imported along with Kamakura Bukkyo (new Buddhist movements of the Kamakura period). Many of the subsequent Japanese traditional cultures were also descended from products of culture imported from the Sung in this period.
In the Kamakura period, a samurai culture rose suddenly into power mainly in Kanto as a culture comparable to the dynastic culture in Kyoto. In the Muromachi period, Chinese culture continued to be brought in by the trade between Japan and the Ming Dynasty in China, and textiles, earthenware, and calligraphic works and paintings which were imported during this time fed into techniques of traditional crafts remaining in the modern age. During the period from the Muromachi period to the Azuchi-Momoyama period, a localized culture was born in various regions by daimyo (Japanese territorial lord) in the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States). In the Edo period, exchanges with China continued through Nagasaki even in the state of national isolation, and strong trends to admire China remained among Confucian scholars. However, due to a movement from awareness of the originality of Japan to return to traditions, studies including the study of Japanese classical literature also arose. The Edo period was the time when a townsmen culture was prosperous mainly in the three big cities of Edo, Kyoto and Osaka.
Thereafter, modern Japanese culture had a time of great transformation twice in the Meiji Restoration and the period of allied nations' occupation. In the period 'from the Meiji Restoration to the surrender in World War II,' how to take a Japanese identity before the overwhelming civilization and advanced culture of Western countries was an issue under the international environment where imperialistic countries unfolded captures of colonies. A movement to actively accept products of western culture for strengthening Japan (thought of leaving Asia) and a movement to strengthen traditions for independence (nationalism) coexisted, and Japan sometimes leaned toward an extreme worship of the West or toward exclusion of foreign countries. Although an imminent crisis had gone (has lessened) after World War II, both movements are considered to continue.