For hundreds of years, the island nation of Japan was a remote and isolated land. Generations of feudal rulers kept the country cut off from most other nations and cultures until the 19th century. Although Japanese culture had flourished for thousands of years, the rest of the world knew virtually nothing about Japan and its people until it opened its doors to the West in 1854.
Today, Japan has considerably expanded its role in world affairs. During the 20th century, it has changed from a remote, underdeveloped country into a modern nation of great international importance. It is a leading economic power, second only to the United States in its yearly production of goods and services. It is the world's foremost shipbuilder and a major producer of steel, automobiles, and manufactured items. .
For many years, Chinese arts had a great influence on Japanese arts. A western influence began about 1870. But, there has always been a distinctive Japanese quality about the country's arts. Most forms of Japanese music feature one instrument or voice or a group of instruments that follow the same melodic line instead of blending in harmony. Performances of traditional music draw large crowds in Japan. Most types of Western music are also popular. Many Japanese cities have their own professional symphony orchestras that specialize in western music.
Drama is very important to the Japanese also. The most traditional play is the no play. The no play developed in the 1300's. Masked actors perform the story with .
carefully controlled gestures and movements. A chorus chants most of the important lines in the play. .
Two other forms of traditional Japanese drama are bunraku (puppet theater) and the kabuki play. These were both developed in the 1600's. In Puppet Theater, a narrator recites the story, which is acted out by large, lifelike puppets. The puppet handlers work silently on the stage in view of the audience.