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Goin’ Japanesque!

5 Great Anime & Manga Inspired by Traditional Culture of Japan

There are various aspects in traditional culture of Japan.

Perhaps because Japan is an island country, what was brought from foreign land has evolved distinctively.

Thus, they may be hard to understand for foreign people, for example watching a video of Noh play.

But in Japan many kinds of traditional culture are explained in manga and they are easy to understand.

This time I am bringing to your attention 5 anime/manga that deal with traditional culture of Japan.


1. Noh: “Hana Yori mo Hana no Gotoku”

Noh is one of uniquely Japanese performing arts with a long history.

It consists of infinitely simplified minimum movements and extended songs in a distinctive tone, and it appears to be both a dance and a musical.

Noh can be described as very primordial, in other words a highly sophisticated entertainment.

Manga work of “Hana Yori mo Hana no Gotoku” (“More Flowery than a Real Flower”) features the Noh and its surrounding world.

The main character, Norito Sakakibara, enters the world of Noh as an apprentice, and the story depicts his growth to be a Noh master.

Noh is hard to understand even for Japanese people, but this is a perfect introduction, because the story explains the art in manga with easy-to-understand notations.


2. Sumo Wrestling: “Samejima, Saigo no Jugo-nichi”

Sumo is a fighting sports with a simple and clear rule for winning and you only need to push the opponent out of a loop made with rope.

This form of sports is widely practiced in Asia including Japan, but it evolved in its own way in the island country of Japan.

As a likely story of sumo manga, you may imagine the main character, after jumping into the sumo world, struggles hard to become a yokozuna, the highest rank of sumo wrestlers.

However, in “Samejima, Saigo no Jugo-nichi” (“The Last 15 Days of Samejima”), the main character Koitaro Samejima has already ascended to a middle-class professional sumo wrestler at the rank of maegashira, and the story depicts him giving his best while feeling the limit of his abilities and contemplating on his retirement.


3. Rakugo Story Telling: “Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju”

I have introduced this anime already in the past. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

This story deals with rakugo, the pinnacle of monologue plays performed in Japan.

The anime features masterpieces of classical rakugo stories, allowing you to feel the art more closely.

But these stories are told in Japanese, and understanding the language is the premise you may not be able to avoid.


4. Kabuki: “Kabukibu!”

Kabuki is a leading performing art of Japan.

To tell the truth kabuki includes a lot of rather absurd stories, and in its heyday kabuki was one of entertainment in Japan like a movie.

“Kabukibu!” takes its stage in Kouchiyama Academy high school.

The drama depicts the main character Kurogo Kurusu, who wishes to play kabuki for fun, struggling to create a kabuki club at his school.

The story features kabuki as an entertainment for common people rather than a formal traditional art of Japan.

Broadcasting of the anime version started in April 2017, and its original story came from a light novel for young readers.

Maybe because of this origin the story is told in a bright mood and style for young people, unlike other anime works introduced this time.

The story is not about kabuki as a traditional performing art but about a youth struggling to play kabuki, so it came out to be an entertaining story for people other than Japanese, too.

Related Articles:
Kumadori: The Three Colors To Know To Better Enjoy Kabuki
Strike a Pose, Kabuki-Style: The Meanings of “Mie”
Traditional Japanese Color Combinations: The 3 Colors of Kabuki Curtains and More


5. Japanese Historical Drama: “Onihei”

Japanese people love period dramas featuring famous figures during Edo (1603-1868) or Sengoku (1467-1603) period.

There are a wide variety of stories, involving not just action such as war and sword fighting.

The original story of “Onihei” was written by Shotaro Ikenami, a famous writer of period novels.

This story was adopted for live-action dramas and stage plays for many times, but the anime version was aired in January 2017.

Containing many gruesome scenes or cruel expressions that could not be shown in live-action drama or in theater, the anime is intended for mature audience.

However, action scenes including Japanese sword fighting presents its distinctive world view, deploying unique expressions of anime.

Related Articles:
Why So Popular!? Saitama’s Hanyu Rest Stop Reproduces Edo TV Drama Set

There are many more anime and manga besides these that pick up various fields of traditional culture as theme, such as puppet show “ningyo joruri”, Japanese archery, “naginata” halberd, or calligraphy that seeks aesthetic sense in writing letters.

By all means, please do explore many more anime and manga other than the 5 stories introduced this time.

I am sure they will serve as a catalyst to know Japanese culture and help you learn while having a good time. 

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Berial the Demon

About the author

It has been over 40 years of reading manga in the deep world of manga. Japan’s manga has an endlessly wide variety of genres. I will be recommending special manga for you to read from such infinite amount of works.

View all articles by Berial the Demon