01 Japanese History

#24 The Momoyama Culture

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A wealthy and powerful culture emerged in the war-torn country, reflecting the spirit of warring feudal lords and wealthy urban merchants. It is called the Momoyama Culture after the name of the area around Fushimi Castle, which Hideyoshi built in Kyoto.


There are only 12 castles with a castle tower still in existence in Japan. Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture, also called White Heron Castle because of its beautiful white exterior, is a good example. It was registered as a World Heritage site in 1993.


The halls of these castles were decorated with gorgeously colored folding screens and “fusuma-e”, or sliding door paintings. The “Chinese Lion” by Kano Eitoku is a typical example.


On the other hand, Noh plays and tea ceremonies, which sought a deeper philosophy away from the noise, also flourished. Sen no Rikyu developed the tea ceremony, in which people could communicate intimately in a small tea room.


European culture brought by missionaries and merchants also had a significant impact on Japan. The Japanese people of that time called the Portuguese and Spaniards who came to Japan via Southeast Asia “Nanban,” and thus this European culture is called Nanban culture.


In this painting of the arrival of the Nanban people by Kano Naizen he depicts the Nanban ships and their crews, the unloading of cargo, and Portuguese missionaries.


It is interesting that everyone’s pants are puffy like balloons. Nobunaga liked the Westerners’ style of dress.


The missionaries brought Western theology, philosophy, music, and painting, as well as practical studies such as mathematics, astronomy, and medicine, to Japan.


In addition, words derived from Portuguese, such as “karuta”, or cards, “tabako”, or tobacco, “pan”, or bread, “kasutera”, or sponge cake, “botan”, or button, “manto”, or cloak, and “koppu”, or cup, permeated widely and became common vocabulary and are still used as Japanese words today.


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