In Japanese culture there is a balancing act taking place. There is a definite ebb and flow, wax and wane to life. Here several aspects of the culture will be considered and addressed in an effort to show how the art of balance is created and how significant it is in the Japanese culture and lifestyle. It is not just art, not just food, not "just" anything when it comes to where the balance is seen and how much it has to offer to the Japanese people. It seems as though balance has always been part of their culture, from the earliest times right up until the present day. People who are not part of that culture, or who do not focus on the many ways in which balance can be achieved in life, may not realize the significance of some of the things Japanese people create. For those who are part of it, and for those who are interested in the art of balance and what it brings to the quality of their lives, studying what is being done in Japan and what has been done throughout hundreds and thousands of years of history in that country can provide not only understanding but peace of mind and a new way in which people can feel more in tune with themselves and their surroundings.
Overall, there will be several specific issues addressed here. These will include ikebana, haiku, origami, sushi, swords, and architecture. While there are many others ways in which a person can study Japanese culture and Japanese balance, these are some of the most common ways in which these kinds of studies can be undertaken. They also provide all types of options when it comes to thinking about ways in which balance can be added to one's own life, which is an important consideration in a time where there is so much strife and difficulty taking place throughout the world. By studying what is being done in Japan and the way in which it has been traditionally done for many years in the past, those who are part of the culture and those who are not can both benefit from all that the art of balance in Japan has to offer. Life in general is a delicate balancing act of happy and sad, joy and pain, and many other emotions people go through each day, as their lives take them through where they have been to where they are now to where they want some day to be. The more balance a person can put into his or her life, the better that person will feel and the more likely that person will be to live long and find much joy in the simple things.
Ikebana is about beauty, symmetry and art (which is sometimes asymmetric). It is the art of arranging flowers (Cwiertka, 2007; Dale, 1990). However, ikebana is often much more than just that. It is not the same thing as would be seen in the U.S. Or other countries, where people put cut flowers in a vase to make something to put on the table as a centerpiece. There are many beautiful flower arrangements created in many countries around the world, but ikebana is about the beauty of the plants and flowers as they currently exist, and not as much about cutting them and making them into something else (Cwiertka, 2007; Sugimoto, 2003). There is also a spiritual, peaceful aspect to ikebana, because those who create it focus their time, talents, and gentle efforts on creating something natural and beautiful. When they take the time to do this, they provide more than just plants and more than just beauty. They provide art in its highest and most pure form (Kato, 1997; Kuitert, 1988). They also provide a way to express what they are feeling that may not be able to be conveyed with words or pictures. Ikebana can be placed in dishes or vases, or it can also be designed in a way that can be hung on the wall. There are many acceptable ways of creating ikebana.
Like much of Japanese culture, there is a certain way a thing should be done but there is also room for interpretation so that each person has a chance to be an individual while still creating something that goes along with the traditions that are seen throughout history (Jansen, 2000; Kato, 1997). Often, ikebana is used for a single flower or plant that is growing in a dish of carefully scattered and placed rocks and gravel (Sugimoto, 2003). Producing something so simplistic and beautiful takes a great deal of time, and when something of that nature is produced all those who see it realize the work and the thought that went into what was created. That is part of the art of balance. Ikebana involves making something beautiful, but it also involves making something that allows a person to think about what he or she is doing and feel the oneness with nature during that time. It is just as much about the creator as it is about the creation, and that is much of what provides it with a strong sense of balance for the person creating it and all who see it (Diamond, 1998). Any time a person can create something that speaks to him or her but that also speaks to others, that creation will have a lasting impact on hearts and minds, and bring balance and beauty to the world.
Haiku is an exquisite example of art and linguistic balance. Each haiku has to be written to specifics when it comes to lines and syllables. There is no "cheating" to make a poem that is free-form (Jansen, 2000; Kato, 1997). While there is certainly nothing wrong with free-form poetry for those who enjoy it, haiku is a very structured way of conveying something. Because there is little space with which to convey a message, it is very important that the writer of the haiku thinks carefully about the message that will be offered to others. Some write love poems this way, but many haikus are about nature and its beauty (Kuitert, 1988; Martin, 1995). It is easy to see why people write about nature in their haikus, because Japan is very rich both from a culture and from a natural perspective. There is so much beauty to take in that some of it has to come out and poetry is a great way to express feelings. Many haikus are very deep and meaningful, and they offer the writer and the reader something about which to carefully think (Dale, 1990). Haikus can also be lighthearted and funny, but that is not their traditional or most common usage or intention. The feelings and meanings conveyed by haikus are generally quieter, and designed to be something that would stay with a person for a length of time after the haiku has been read.
Not everyone sees the written word as a form of art or a thing of beauty. Many people are hung up on the idea that art must be a painting or a sculpture, but art can take a variety of forms. The decision to deem something as "art" is generally in the mind and heart of the person who sees it, but also in the mind and heart of the person who has created it. Writing and expressing oneself is just one of the forms that can be taken by art, and haikus are but one of the options for artists when they want to express themselves and provide deep insight for themselves and for others (Diamond, 1998). Reading haikus often inspires the reader to write his or her own haikus in an effort to express the feelings created by the reading of the original haiku. As long as they follow the length and syllable requirements, there are no "right" or "wrong" haikus, technically. They can be about anything, but they have to follow the form and structure that has been used since the beginning of their creation. That is the only requirement for creating them. Those who are deeply committed to haikus will often work to keep their own haikus along lines that indicate they understand the original nature and purpose of them, and they will ensure their haikus remain about subjects that matter deeply to them. These subjects can include nature, religion, philosophy, family, or anything the person writing the haiku feels has great and important value to his or her life.
The art of paper folding is one area of Japanese culture about which most people have heard (Goldstein-Gidoni, 1999; Henshall, 2001). Even in the United States, origami can be a popular pastime and has been done in schools and in workshops where people learn to do it for themselves. The number of things that can be done with origami is staggering, and so many animals and shapes can be made. There is…