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Everything You Need To Know About The Japanese Tradition Of “Dou”

Masters devote their entire lives to the practice of dou. Learn about it from ANA, an airline devoted to sharing the inspiration of Japan.

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ANA is a Japanese airline dedicated to enriching people’s lives by connecting them to the world and giving them once-in-a-lifetime moments that excite and inspire.

When the 2011 earthquake and tsunami led to a decrease in visitors to Japan, ANA created a project called Is Japan Cool? (spoiler: it totally is) to help promote Japan’s unique destinations and cultures.

As part of Is Japan Cool?, ANA has now launched a new project introducing the tradition of dou.

With visitors to Japan now reaching an all-time high, Is Japan Cool? has launched a new project focusing on the ancient tradition of dou, with the aim of providing a deeper understanding of the nuances of Japanese culture and way of life.

The project introduces dou via nine masters who have each attained excellence in martial arts, fine arts, or performing arts.

It uses cutting-edge data viz and interactive demos in an attempt to get across what is really an intangible “way of life” — highly valued in traditional Japanese culture — hereafter referred to as dou.

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Here you can learn more about dou and watch interviews and 4D demonstrations of each master's practice — which use data to give form to some of the intangible cultural assets of Japan.

So what even is dou?

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Related to bushido, the way of life adhered to by samurai masters, dou (道 ) may translate as "path" or "way of proper conduct" and is usually attached to another noun, e.g., karatedo or judo. It's about acquiring the skills and manners necessary to perfect one's practice, while relentlessly pursuing beauty in one's art, and spiritual strength and integrity in one's existence. It's beautiful, and it's complex, but we'll try to break it down to some of the philosophy's essential components.

The philosophy of dou begins and ends with respect.

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In Japanese martial arts, having compassion and respect for your opponent is essential. Karatedo nurtures mental and spiritual strength through the practice of courtesy, focus, and most importantly, patience: "No taking action ahead of time in karate", the saying goes.

In any competition, it's important to remember that without your opponent, there is no competition.

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Kendo opponents will lower their eyes and bow to one another before and after every match to show respect and gratitude to one another. This respect is valued more highly than victory.

Meticulous attention and dedication to a craft — for your entire life — is necessary but will only get you so far.

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A master of shodo (traditional Japanese calligraphy) knows that it's not only the soft brushes and inks that determine a creation, it's the way the brush dances on the paper, the pressure, the speed, the way a calligrapher "circulates blood through the characters" that breathe life into the work.

There is a consistent pursuit of beauty in one's art.

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The highly-valued traditional Japanese performing art noh is recognized by UNESCO as part of the "intangible cultural heritage" of humanity. Whether through subtle movement, angles, costumes, or the embrace of nature in the performance, the highest goal for a noh practitioner is the expression of what is inside one's heart.

A master understands that the way she lives her life is always reflected in her performance.

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Japanese archery, kyudo, requires intense concentration and an honest relationship with one's inner self. The yumi (bows) are revered as divine, and archers are required to both practice kyudo and live every moment in their life with dignity, integrity, and honesty.

Self-discipline is everything.

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A master of the martial art iai practices intense self-discipline in their movements. In this way, and with the correct power and speed, a bamboo tree could be cut with an uneven blade. But according to ancient Japanese swordsmen, precision in cutting also shows compassion and respect for enemies — by "putting them in the ground without discomfort."

Great joy and beauty can be achieved through minimalism and grace of movement.

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Sado — the art of the Japanese tea ceremony — teaches that a host's omonetashi (hospitality) can be expressed through minimalism, care in presentation, and grace in every gesture. It is this that facilitates a silent appreciation between host and guest.

And so is having a deep awareness of the beauty in the space around you...

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...in that which exists in the present, in that which existed in the time and space of the masters who came before you, and in that of future generations to come. Dou embodies respect and thankfulness toward oneself, other people, and one's environment — past, present, and future.

Always sincere, always humble, and always polite.

That is the dou way, and it's the ANA promise.