Some of the earliest classics of Japanese literature date from the 8th century A.D. The Kojiki is a compilation of stories about the creation of the universe and the founding of the nation. The Kokinshu introduced the tanka style of Japanese poetry. Each poem is only five lines long. The 10th-century Makrua no Soshi (Pillow Book) by Sei Shonagon deals with the nobility in a humorous way. The Tale of the Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu, a 54-volume masterpiece, describes the life of the aristocracy in Japan in the 11th century.
During the 17th century, a style of short, three-line poetry emerged, called haiku. Matsuo Basho (1614-94) was a famous haiku poet. Modern Japanese literature is read worldwide. In 1968, Kawabata Yasunari was the first Japanese writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. His books, Yukiguni (Snow Country) and Senbazuri (A Thousand Cranes) have been translated into many foreign languages.
There are several styles of Japanese theatre. Kabuki, which originated in the 17th century, consists of song (ka) dance (bu) and skill (ki). Each play lasts about six hours. The plays are humorous but also teach a lesson. All the parts are played by men. Noh plays are based on legends and folklore involving spirits and ghosts. Rakugo theatre is a form of storytelling. The storyteller or rakugoka, sits in the centre of the stage and tells a story using only a fan or hand towel as a prop. The stories may be punctuated with drums or flute music. Bunraku is a traditional Japanese puppet play. Puppeteers move large, elaborate puppets around the stage while a narrator tells the story.
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Japan has produced some excellent filmmakers. The best-known is Akira Kurosawa, who has made many films based on Japanese history, including Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Dersu Uzala (1974) and Ran (1985).
Ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arrangement, originated in the 13th century. The flowers symbolize heaven, earth and humanity. Bonsai is the art of miniaturizing trees or plants by trimming the branches and leaves and constricting the root system. A bonsai tree that is well maintained may last 300 years.

 Japan is famous for its calligraphy, ceramics and painting. In calligraphy (shodo), characters are formed using a fude (brush) and sumi (Chinese ink). Japanese ceramics can be traced back to the Jomon period, about 10,000 years ago. Ukiyo-e, a style of woodblock painting from the 16th century, is also known as "paintings of the floating world". A famous woodblock artist named Hokusai did a series of landscape prints called "Thirty-six views of Mt. Fuji".