Where to Learn Japanese Culture in Singapore
Where to Learn Japanese Culture in Singapore
Maybe because it is an island. Maybe because it has had years of isolation. Maybe because it has successfully married rich tradition with rapid change. But Japan has a culture distinctively its own. At once genteel and refined (think noble Samurai and artful geishas), and quirky and kooky (who can forget the colourful cosplayers and Harajuku street fashion). No wonder Nippon’s unique culture has engendered fascination worldwide.
In Singapore, there are opportunities aplenty if you want a piece of Japanese culture. We tell you where you can learn the ways of the Land of the Rising Sun.
1. Tea Ceremony
The Japanese have elevated tea-making and tea appreciation to a fine art. Called the Way of Tea, the Japanese tea ceremony traces its origins to a Buddhist monk in the 12th century. The ritual involves a choreography of graceful movements for preparing and serving matcha or powdered green tea and ends with o-kashi or sweet cakes served to complement the tea. From the process to the utensils used, every detail is planned with aesthetics in mind.
At EN Japanese Tea Culture School, you can learn this ancient art form from Japan native Yasuko Norris in a tranquil traditional setting. Classes for children are available, too, as are full tea ceremonies with meals you can enjoy. If you want to bring home a keepsake, you can enrol in a pottery class to make your own Japanese tea bowl to use in your tea ceremony class.
Japanese calligraphy is judged by the way the kanji characters are drawn and positioned, the gradation of the dark ink and the force of the brush strokes. Valued by the Japanese court of old, it was a skill the noblemen of the day were routinely expected to master. Even today, children in Japan’s elementary schools are taught this art.
Studio Miu is where you can be schooled in Japanese calligraphy which promotes calm and composure. There are lessons for the novice as well as those who want to be certified by Shuji Kenkyusha, the Calligraphy Board in Japan. The Japanese Association offers classes for children with rank certification from Japan as well as courses for adults.
3. How to Wear a Kimono
The traditional garment of the Japanese, the kimono dates back to the 14th century. Introduced from China as an undergarment, it became the national dress that is still worn in Japan during formal occasions. Because it is made from a single long bolt of silk, wearing a kimono takes some measure of skill.
The Japanese Cultural Society offers free kimono-wearing classes with their Japanese language courses. E N Japanese Tea Culture School also conducts kimono classes. You can combine them with the tea ceremony classes to fully immerse yourself in the experience of enjoying tea the truly Japanese way. The Japanese Association takes kimono-wearing to a whole new level with intermediate classes that go beyond kimono made of hard materials to those made of softer fabric worn for formal occasions. The double drum knot with a sash, more advanced than the taiko knot, is also taught.
The Japanese art of flower arrangement has its origins in 7th century Japan when floral ornaments were made for altars and, later, for homes. Ikebana is among the three classical Japanese arts of refinement. The other two are kodo or incense appreciation and chado or tea ceremony.
What makes this an art form is the care and consideration put into the selection and arrangement of flowers and plants to bring out their natural beauty, seasonality and symbolic meaning. There are over 1,000 ikebana schools in Japan and around the world.
The Singapore Chapter of Ikebana International, an organisation dedicated to the appreciation of ikebana, has lessons for beginners. At Poppy Floral Studio, ikebana classes include the history and appreciation of ikebana as well as the art and mechanics of arrangements.
Paper cranes and boats are commonplace but folding a single piece of paper into intricate two- and three-dimensional designs require practiced precision and no small amount of talent.
Origami originated from 17th century Japan but if you want to learn the craft, UniqArts has a series of workshops. You will be taught how to turn sheets of paper into exquisite creations such as bouquets of flowers and their vases, animals, vehicles and complex geometric shapes simply by folding and creasing.
Buyo or Nichibu, short for Nihon buyo, is a Japanese dance that draws from moves in Kabuki and Noh theatres as well as folk dances. Incorporating symbolic gestures, fine movements and subtle facial expressions, this part dance part pantomime is a joy to watch.
You can get into the groove with Reitoku Kai. The award-winning dance group organises dance lessons. They also have kimono rental services and kimono-wearing classes so you can perform the buyo in full Japanese regalia.
Source: College of Social Sciences and Humanities - Northeastern University
If music is more your thing, try taiko. You can learn the Japanese drum which was the tattoo of battles of old and the soundtrack of shrine worship. Taiko studio Hibikiya promises you rousing drum-beating sessions.
The Japanese are known for being unfailingly polite. If you do not want to commit social faux pas, you can sign up for lessons on Japanese etiquette with Diverse Origins. The learning community was established to equip people with international inter-personal skills that take into account cultural nuances. Their Etiquette in Japanese Homes class will teach you key phrases used in Japanese homes, and manners observed when you arrive and leave so you will never offend your host.