When it comes to traditional handicrafts, Japan’s craftsmanship techniques have been carefully passed down through the hands of people in each producing region. With a history dating back over 100 years, artisans make full use of ancient skills to handcraft a wealth of products which are in line with the needs of modern consumers.
1.Koshu Inden and Ise Pattern Paper
Koshu inden, a specialty product of Yamanashi Prefecture, is a good example of the fusion of new and old techniques and culture. Koshu inden refers to the practice of tanning and lacquering sheep or deer hide which can then be used to draw designs or tailored into products such as handbags. Some designs are traditional, such as the time-honored dragonfly which has been appreciated from time immemorial as a good omen because it is always moving forward without looking back. This uses another traditional handicraft, Ise pattern paper, which is placed on top of the tanned hide before lacquer is applied to form the design. Currently, an abundance of designs appear on products ranging from small items such as purses and wallets to high class handbags.
2.Braids- Kyoto Braid, Iga Braid, Sanada Braid
When it comes to braids, the Kyoto and Iga braids are famous. Fine silk threads are braided in a variety of patterns. Japanese people are very well-acquainted with the decorative strings used on Japanese clothing such as kimonos, but there many product designs in modern everyday life which take advantage of this technique. For example, glasses holders, hat fasteners, and a variety of similar products use braids. Braids are also used in the drawstrings of the silk pouches utilized in tea ceremonies. The When viewed at a slightly different angle, the “Sanada Braid” is another technique which is related to the previously mentioned braids. It even became a hot topic thanks to the long running NHK drama “Sanada Maru,” in which relatives of the of the Sanada clan wove cotton thread into durable braids for the battle dress of military commanders during the Warring States Period.
3.Joboji Lacquer, Iwate Prefecture’s Local Specialty
Japan’s skill in lacquer-ware receives so much praise worldwide that overseas, the word “JAPAN” has come to be synonymous with “lacquer-ware.” Yet even in Japan, the the combination of elegant vermilion and rich black hues of Iwate Prefecture’s lacquer-ware are highly regarded. Locally produced lacquer is coated many times over, and through a carefully repeated process of polishing, it achieves a very robust aesthetic that is unmatched even in Tohoku lacquer-ware. Speaking of Tohoku lacquer-ware, that region boasts Hidehira and Aizu lacquering, but the polished, elegant vermilion coloring of Joboji lacquer-ware is unique.
4.The Southern Ironware Teapots of Iwate Prefecture
The southern ironware teapots of Iwate Prefecture are a traditionally crafted product whose design and quality have been re-evaluated. Recently, when this author ordered black tea at a coffee shop, it was prepared in a white southern ironware teapot that was both cute and modern. Yes, strong and durable kettles may come to mind at the mention of southern ironware, but the merits of ironware teapots which have been influenced by modern design, such as this cute white one, are spreading widely.
5.Kyoto’s Konpeito Candies
There is also a food that while it may be very familiar, is a concentration of traditional craftsmens’ techniques. That’s right, it’s the nostalgic candy, kompeito. The small kompeito candies, which are called seeds, are heated in a large flat pan. Then, with meticulous attention to detail, the confectioners pour honey over the seeds while slowly turning them to create that cute star shape. Konpeito are made using intuition and techniques for applying heat and pouring honey which have been handed down by artisans for many years.
The most essential component of Japanese crafts is preserving the feeling that a product has been handmade using techniques passed down from the long ago, even in this time of mechanical technology. By adhering to techniques and designs from the past, some modern consumers’ needs will not be met and some techniques may be lost. However, it is wonderful that current traditional handicrafts refine and improve upon them the latest sensations.
For souvenirs which let you experience Cool Japan, why not add some konpeito to a southern ironware teapot? Have a look at sundries and candies that will let you experience the combination of traditional skill and modern design.
Top image：Shizuka Tatsuno
This post is also available in: Japanese