Japan: From Tea Ceremony to Transistor Radio

Japan is an ancient country with many traditions. At the same time it is one of the most technologically advanced countries on the planet. Today, I will look at these two aspects by focusing on firstly the Japanese tea ceremony and then Japanese technological innovation.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

The tea ceremony is over 1000 years old and was brought into being by a Japanese monk who travelled from China bringing the tea plant with him. The ceremony originated as an important religious ritual in Japanese monasteries. It would develop into a quintessential part of Japanese culture. The tea houses which were created to support this ritual included inside them special items that were specifically for the ceremony: the chawan (tea bowl), the chakin (cloth for the chawan), the natsume (tea caddy), the chashaku (tea scoop) and the chashaku (tea whisk). The traditional ritual involves a level of decorum, with guests going into a waiting room to drop off their bags and coats as well as putting on a pair of Tabi (special type of socks). The ritual then involves a respectful bow between both the host and guests, before and after serving the tea. The ceremony then becomes less formal as the host brings in tabako bon (a smoking set) for the guests at the end of the ceremony. The continuation of this ritual exemplifies the great respect that Japan has for its traditions as well as the great care that they take in upholding them. Another, interesting aspect of this nation is its desire for technological innovation.

Japanese Technology

The emergence of Japan being seen as a great technological nation may have started in the 1950s. One striking example of this is the Sony TR-55 transistor radio (from 1955), whilst it was not the first transistor radio, it was the first one to use all miniaturized components in it. Miniaturization, has for a long time been part of Japanese culture (such as bonsai trees). What is interesting is how Sony used existing Japanese cultural ideas to innovate this technology.  The success of this radio would lead to Japan being seen worldwide as a pioneer and place of technological progress. Technologies such as video cassette recorders, as well as advances in television and videogames would cement Japan as a nation at the forefront of technological innovation.

It is unsurprising then that in the early 1980s many thought that Japan would become the biggest influence on worldwide culture, as can be seen in the near future film Blade Runner (Remastered Directors Cut)

I hope you have enjoyed this article. If you have any interesting cultural insights into Japan please post in the comments below.

The Meaning of Nightmares

This Autumn we have been looking at the theme of nightmares. In contrast to dreams, nightmares are always considered to be negative things. They are often seen as showing up our worst fears. But what of their history?

Many thought that a nightmare was caused by evil spirits or demons, which were to be stopped.

Removing a bad dream

Nightmares or bad dreams were something that the Indigenous Americans wanted to purge from their people. The use of “dream catchers” was given the utmost importance. The dream catcher is a crafted web that was hung where someone slept in order to “catch” bad spirits from entering into the dreams of the person.

Other cultures also had a method of preventing or “curing” bad dreams. Sometimes they would sacrifice animals, or humans to stop them. Other less drastic measures included wearing certain jewellery and charms, with magical symbols that were said to stop nightmares.

Changing perceptions

By the 20th Century, the beliefs of the causes of bad dreams drastically changed. Psychologists at this time came to see the nightmare as a residual symptom of a psychological affliction such as Anxiety or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The idea of a nightmare was one of an internal medical problem rather than an external cause such as evil spirits entering the body.

Final thoughts

Much like dreams, nightmares have become seen as similar in their origins, in the way in which they both reflect the mind of a person. This is in contrast to the earlier belief that a separate “evil spirit” was corrupting someone. It is debatable whether we would have the distinction between nightmares and dreams if people didn’t have this earlier understanding of what nightmares were.

The Meaning of Dreams

This month we have been looking at the theme of dreams. Mysterious, sometimes vivid, dreams have been something that has fascinated many people throughout history.

Ancient History

The Ancient Egyptians thought that dreams were messages brought from the gods. They saw them as an important part of their religion and would even go to special “retreats” to sleep on special “dream beds” in the hope of finding insights from the gods. The idea of dreams being a way to access divine revelation was also described in Christianity and Judaism through some of their prophet’s visions and dreams that were said to be from God.

Freud and Rationalism

Later on in time science was beginning to explain natural phenomenon. An example being Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. In a more secular age, dreams were also re-understood. In particular at the end of the nineteenth century came the ideas of Sigmund Freud. Freud set about explaining how the mind worked. Freud’s explanation for dreams was that they were reflections of the dreamer’s unconscious desires – no doubt far removed from the ideas of divine revelation of yesteryear! There are now many different theories as to why dreams occur; one theory being that they are a way of processing long term memory another suggesting that they regulate our mood.

Final Thoughts

The reason for dreams is one that is still hotly debated today.The way in which dreams have been understood seems to reflect the societies of the time, with more religious based ones seeing them as a connection to the divine with more secular viewing them as a reflection of our psychological makeup. The question may never have a definitive answer, yet will still remain a fascinating topic of debate. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on dreams and what you think they mean. Feel free to comment in the section below.

Two great places to discover!

This month I will be discussing another couple of interesting, cultural places in Portugal: the town of Miranda do Corvo and Juromenha Castle.

Miranda do Corvo

Miranda do Corvo, or Miranda for short is a historic town located in central Portugal. The town has some modern developments, yet it still keeps much of its history. The town hall and square have a distinctly old Portuguese colonial style, which really reminded me of old buildings in south america which have taken their style from Portugal and Spain. One of the highlights of the town was seeing a statue of Jesus that had a likeness to the Cristo Redento (Christ the Redeemer) statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil which is famous the world over. The statue seems to be scaled down from the Brazilian one, yet it still can be seen overlooking the town and shows the influences which art deco style has had on both sides of the Atlantic. Walking up to the statue is interesting as there are many tiles in the wall that tell the story of Jesus, showing the biblical story as you walk up. The statue itself is located near a church and cemetery which still is in use to this day, highlighting the importance of these traditions to the people of Miranda. Another highlight is the yearly carnival that takes place in which the people celebrate the history of the town. I was lucky enough to be there when it was on and is quite a spectacle to see!

Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Jesus Statue, Miranda do Corvo
Jesus Statue, Miranda do Corvo, Portugal

Jourmenha Castle

Jourmenha Castle is situated next to the Guadiana River, which borders Spain. The site has a very rich history that spans almost two thousand years. The original walls are Roman in origin, showing how the Romans influenced this area. The castle was of key strategic importance as it overlooks Spain and the town of Jourmenha itself. The town was for a long time inhabited by the moors, these being the muslim settlers who came originally from north Africa. This was then taken over by the Portuguese in 1167 then in 1191 the moors took the town back until Portugal re took the town in 1242 with who it has remained with ever since. The castle was rebuilt with the latest defensive design in the 17th Century. By the 20th Century the castle was considered of historical significance and had great restoration work between 1950 and 1996. The site is a great place to visit and is especially interesting to see where different cultures influenced the site so is well worth a look if you are nearby!

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Approach to Jourmenha Castle

‘Gardens’ as a Voyage into Nature

Sometimes the natural world can give gardening a run for it’s money. From lakes to woods and even fields of wild flowers all can be man made and yet all can be found in nature.

An unusual but very special place that springs to mind are the fields over the Guadiana River across from Juromenha Castle.

Juromenha Castle

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The Entrance to Juromenha

Juromenha Castle in Juromenha (South Eastern Portugal) is an old abandoned castle that overlooks the Guadiana River and the border with Spain. The castle itself is impressive with large imposing walls and an iconic bell tower. However it’s the views across the river that steals the show.

Over the river the farm fields of Spain make for a breath taking sight with golden fields and rolling hills. It is perhaps a fine example of the imitation of nature albeit accidental that for centuries gardeners and garden designers have fervently pursued.

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View across the Guadiana River

The location is rather quiet and considered part of the rural tourism of Portugal. As the site is rich in history and has stunning views it is well worth a visit if you are travelling in and around the area.