The Japanese honestly kept to their traditions instead of modifying them into commercial pop displays like Korea and Vietnam had. Pop derivatives sprung up, but in Japan these versions never overshadow the originals. As one who lives and believes in the way of the warrior, honor is the first among all qualities. The most notable is the architecture style of the Tang Dynasty, as well as its clothing and weapons. You will be able to see it in Kyoto and Nara, as well as Osaka. It’s as though Japan continued what China couldn’t when it fell from its peak.
Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism are philosophies which Japan and China shared, but after China sovereignty started to decline in the Song Dynasty, Japan took a different path from China’s feeble scholar way, which is the proud warrior’s way, which people call ‘Bushido’. Personally if you ask me, I will choose the warrior’s way, like many strong hearted Chinese will. We do not go to the extent of performing "harakiri" for mistakes we or our superiors make though.
The Japanese definitely had their own artistic inclinations, for example in the five elements instead of fire, earth and metal elements that are most commonly used in Chinese designs, they present more of wood and water elements in their design. It is evident in Nara Era designs which uses dominantly the red color, while Edo Era designs uses mainly dark brown or black wood. Such is the Japanese uniqueness of ‘living in line with nature’. We can see it in the fittings of Japanese swords compared to Chinese swords, the former uses straw rope adornments while the latter uses brass or copper brackets on their sword handles and sheathes.
Prince Shoutoku was the folk icon who was always featured wearing a Tang Chinese style straight blade. The Japanese katana sword was adopted from Tang Chinese straight blade, the latter’s art of forging and using was already lost in countless times of barbaric chaos. The Chinese of the Han and Tang Dynasty went an extra step in sword forging, which was to straighten the sword after the heat quenching process caused the blade to warp backward due to varying degrees of hardness in the steel. They preferred straight blades, while the Japanese preferred curved blades.
The Tang Dynasty straight blade was always the sword I most desired to have in my collection. Just to let you know, I practice and sweat with every sword, every weapon in my collection, much unlike many sedentary sword collectors that I know. It’s really a pity that the swordplay of the Tang straight blade was lost in transmission, not even the Japanese today know how to use it. Sword lovers have tested replica swords of Tang design, those simply decimates any Ming or Qing Dynasty swords upon contact due to their solid design and construct. I am aware of some Wushu teachers who offer to teach the Tang Dao, and won’t be surprised if there are more to come, as some masters like to invent their own forms.
Chinese folklore like Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sangokushi), Journey to the West (Saiyuki) and The Water Margin (Suikoden) are widespread in Japan during the Edo era. A friend of mine has likened them to the Star Wars of modern pop culture in Edo Japan. These served the warrior taste of the Japanese well, as they are stories about manly brothers defeating cunning thieves. I see many illustrations of the characters in these stories using weapons that look like Japanese Yari spears and single handed katana. It could be that way, as it was the Qing Manchu period that introduced the wushu-like spearheads with fancy tassels.
The Tang Dynasty was the Golden Age of Chinese civilization. Then, Japan sent thousands of young boys (called Qian Tang Shi envoys) to Chang An’s imperial court and begged for Chinese imperial consent to learn Chinese crafts and science to bring back to Japan. Most of these voyages ended up in shipwrecks and tragedies, as the monsoon winds could sweep the ships to the center of the Pacific ocean or even to Malaysia, far from their destination. Thousands died in the process. People from back then cherished it, as it meant the transmission of a systematic way of living and technology from the mainland to Japan.
When we explore Japan’s rich cultural cities and towns, we can see that Japan inherited arts such as wood and metal crafting from the days when Europe was still in their dark age. All while China lost many wars to the nomadic empires, gradually generating an entire lifestyle and culture that was heavily mixed with their horse archer overlords. Wearing mandarin clothing like Qipao and Magua is like wearing the shame of defeat on your body. They remind me of the folly of the later dynasties; how they weaken the country by over-emphasizing academic and artistic pursuits over military and martial interests.
During my trip to Japan in which I took the plane and the bullet train, I’ve been thinking that the Chinese people in "Nanyang" who chose to take up Japanese martial arts may have their reasons. They want to be seen as a strong Chinese person but choice of wushu is nonexistent to them. People who know real Kung Fu are few. Being Chinese speaking, they want to identify as an Asian instead of Westernized Chinese, so they opted for Japanese martial arts.