Japan: A True Or False Quiz

noh mask twoFun entry today. At least for me. Been reading A Traveller’s History Of Japan by Richard Tames.

Today’s entry is in the form of True Or False. Think you know a little something about Japan? Well, let’s see whatcha got…

Following is a list of statements. You guess whether they are each True or False. The answers are below. (I’m just going by one source, Tames’ book, so there could be some mistakes). I’d be interested to hear how some of you did…


1. In the traditional Japanese puppet drama, bunraku, the puppets are two-thirds life size and require three people to operate.

2. For thirteen centuries, the great shrine complex at Ise, devoted to the Sun Goddess, has been dismantled and rebuilt every twenty years with fresh, untreated cypress timbers.

3. The extravagant stage plays known as kabuki began as all-women, seductive entertainments that were often no more than advertisements for more intimate forms of diversions off-stage.

4. The French went wild for Japanese woodblock prints in the late 1800s, in a craze dubbed “Japonisme.”

5. Before Tokyo, Kyoto was the capital of Japan.

6. In traditional Japanese paintings, there was little-to-no shadow or sense of perspective.

7. The word kamikaze means “divine winds.”

8. Japan, far to the west of North America, is known as “The Land Of The Setting Sun.”

9. The Pillow Book, written around the year 1000, is a woman’s guide to positions and games of the boudoir.

10. The Tale Of Genji, written around the year 1000 by a woman named Murasaki Shikubu, is largely about the life and loves of Genji, “the Shining Prince.”

(answers below…)



1. TRUE. The bunraku puppet dramas date back to at least the 1600s, and unlike many puppet plays in the West, these are serious dramatic productions. Chikamatsu Monzaemon, known as “the Shakespeare of Japan” wrote many plays for bunraku. He said he preferred writing for puppets because they didn’t change his words as much as the humans did!

2. TRUE. The shrine is reborn with every generation.

3. TRUE. According to tradition, the first kabuki show was performed by O-Kuni, a shrine-servant in Kyoto. Her success inspired imitators, until in 1629, the government banned such performances. Modern kabuki uses wildly extravagant costumes, an exaggerated style of postures and gestures, and bold, masklike make-up to stage action-packed shows full of colorful scenery, revolving stages, hidden trapdoors, and drums and flutes to heighten the tension.

4. TRUE. After Japan was opened for trade in the 1860s, the country began to export porcelain to Europe. Woodblock prints were used for wrapping paper, and the craze took off from there, perhaps crescendoing with the 1890 exhibition sponsored by the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Woodblock printing had a great impact on Impressionist painters.

5. TRUE. Kyoto, a name which translates to “Capital City,” was the pre-eminent city of Japan for nearly a millennium before the government began to concentrate in Edo (modern day Tokyo). Tokyo translates as “Eastern Capital.” Kyoto’s full name was originally “Heian-Kyo” which means “Capital Of Peace And Tranquility.

6. TRUE. Distance was implied by object placement in the painting; the higher up the scroll or screen, the farther away the viewer would assume the object was supposed to be.

7. TRUE. The usage of kamikaze as a war-related term dates back to the 13th century when Kublai Khan tried to invade Japan, but his ships were annihilated by a severe storm.

8. FALSE. Tried to trip you up with this one. Japan is The Land Of The Rising Sun. The first recorded use of the phrase is in a letter from the Japanese to the Chinese government sent in 607. Japan, using a subtle propaganda, was perhaps attempting to put itself on equal footing with China, bestowing upon China the name, Land Of The Setting Sun.

9. FALSE. The Pillow Book was written by the aristocratic courtier Sei Shonagon. It portrays society at the Emperor’s court, a society Tames describes as living “in a present both eternal and evanescent, dreading the explicit,” and obsessed with “the aesthetic niceties of such obscure pastimes as incense-blending and the spontaneous composition of thirty-one-syllable poems.” The Pillow Book is known for, among other things, containing 164 lists with titles such as “Depressing Things” and “Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster.”

10. TRUE. The stories in the book span decades and contain hundreds of characters and take up over a million words. Some call it the world’s first true novel.


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