Traditional Crafts of TokyoTraditional Crafts of Tokyo 東京の伝統工芸品

7 Q&As to better know Traditional Craft Products

What kinds of Traditional Craft Products are there?
Who makes them? Where can you buy them?
This is an explanation of basic information regarding Traditional Craft Products in a question and answer

Q1 What kinds of craft products are there?

When people hear “Traditional Craft Products”, the first thing they probably think of is tableware such as ceramics or lacquer ware or kimono made with Nishijin-ori. However, these are only a few examples. Less well-known examples include such beautiful traditional crafts as Edo-gurass tableware (Tokyo), Unshu-soroban (Shimane), Miyakonojo-daikyu (Miyazaki), Tendo-shogi-goma (Yamagata), Iga-kumihimo (Mie), Marugame -uchiwa (Kagawa), and Banshu-kebari fishing tool (Hyogo).. Even residents of Japan might have fun discovering the Traditional Craft Products made in the prefecture they live in.

There are 15 different types of “Traditional Craft Products” designated by the Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry: woven fabric, dyed products, other textiles, ceramics, lacquerware, wood and bamboo work, metalwork, Buddhist altars and daises, Japanese paper, stationery, masonry, precious stone work, dolls and kokeshi, other Traditional Craft Products, and craft materials and tools, which includes gold foil. Traditional Craft Products are all around us; most people simply do not notice it.

Q2 Where are they made?

There are countless varieties of manufacturing processes and sizes when it comes to Traditional Craft Products. For that reason, the scale of workshops can vary greatly. Some traditional craftsmen work alone in their homes on small items such as metal carvings, while others manufacture their products in a large workshop with many assistants.

Recently popularity has grown for “industrial tourism”, which uses industrial heritage and production sites as sightseeing resources, and tourists can see manufacturing sites on tours that visit industrial zones. The city of Takaoka, Toyama, where Traditional Craft Products including copperware and lacquerware thrives, has conducted “Takaoka Craft Tourism” since 2012. This plan has become quite popular, as it allows people to learn about Traditional Craft Products through tours and experiences. If they contact the commercial and industrial union in that industrial area, they can even get tours of workshops. On our homepage which introduces the Traditional Craft Products of Tokyo, you can search for workshops to tour and experience Edo tortoiseshell or Edo hand-drawn lanterns. Inquire for details about anything that piques your interest.

Q3 How long is their history?

Just as the condition for designation as a Traditional Craft, “continuous history of at least 100 years” states, products called Traditional Crafts were already being made in the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912 A.D.). However, many Traditional Crafts boast a history of well over 100 years.

For example, ceramics have been made since the Heian Period (794 – 1185 A.D.) at the “Six Ancient Kilns of Japan”: Seto-yaki (Aichi), Tokoname-yaki (Aichi), Echizen-yaki (Fukui), Shigaraki -yaki (Shiga), Tamba-Tachikui -yaki (Hyogo), and Bizen-yaki (Okayama). These ceramics representative of the Japanese middle ages all started in Japan and their techniques have been passed down to the modern day. There are many Traditional Craft Products produced in Kyoto for which techniques developed during the Heian Period when the capital was moved from Nara to Kyoto. It is said that Osaka-naniwa-suzuki (Osaka), Tosa-washi (Kochi), and Echizen-washi (Fukui) started in the Nara Period, and have a history of well over 1,000 years. Furthermore, Osaka -butsudan (Osaka) which developed during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868 A.D.) have a history stretching all the way back to the Asuka Period (538 – 710 A.D.). They not only have value in their age, but significance in the fact that they have been made continuously for so many years.

Q4 Who makes them?

In the past, in order to become a traditional craftsman, it was typical to become an apprentice under a master, and carry on their techniques. Until the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912 A.D.) there was this apprenticeship system that there were people who have trained in craftsmen’s workshops from the early years of elementary school, and were ready to engage in their craft as mature craftsmen by the time they reach adulthood. Of course, many people become apprentices now as they did in the past, and training facilities for traditional craftsmen are operated by production areas and workshops across Japan. Unions and local governments in production regions also assist aspiring craftsmen, so it may be a good time to become one now.

In order to respond to sluggish demand for Traditional Craft Products and a shortage of successors, since 1975 the Japanese Master of Traditional Crafts Society has conducted the “Master of Traditional Crafts Certification Test”. The Society also holds exhibitions across Japan of products made by masters of traditional crafts who possess advanced knowledge and techniques, and these are highly recommended as opportunities to see their skills first hand.

Q5 How long can you use them?

From parent to child, from child to grandchild. Japan once had a culture of passing down tableware for celebrations, including lacquer nested boxes and bowls, from generation to generation. It was only possible to repair the favorite family craft products while passing them down to descendants thanks to traditional craftsmen carrying on their techniques. For example, even lacquerware which has started to peel after 50 years can be reborn if it is recoated, so it is possible to use it almost indefinitely. There is also a beautiful method of repairing ceramics known as “kintsugi”, which involves adhering cracked and broken pieces with lacquer and decorating them with gold powder. Tokyo-muji-zome (Tokyo) makes it possible to remove color and dye items new colors. By using such Traditional Craft Products carefully, they gain a new value not found in new products.

Once per month Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Square in Tokyo holds events where people can go to have lacquerware and ceramics repaired by professionals. In addition to tableware and dyed products, there are many other Traditional Craft Products which workshops and craftsmen will accept for repairs if they know how to do them. Those Traditional Craft Products lying untouched in your home may be worth a second look.

Q6 Where can you buy them?

Traditional Craft Products have garnered attention in the past few years, and department stores starting in Tokyo and now all across Japan frequently hold events with collections of Traditional Craft Products. Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Square in Tokyo exhibits and sells Traditional Craft Products designated by the Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry. There is also an online shop that anyone can access easily. At “Japan Traditional Crafts Week” held since 2014, lifestyle shops in the event area collaborated with Traditional Craft Products to hold exhibition sales and demonstrations of original products. This a great opportunity for people to buy Traditional Craft Products, because they can go shopping as they would on a normal outing.

Q7 What kinds of craft products are popular now?

More craft products are gaining popularity by utilizing traditional techniques while matching designs to modern lifestyles.

In ceramics, Hasami-yaki (Nagasaki) with pop patterns and modern design are gaining popularity among young people, and Kutani-yaki (Ishikawa) have become a hot topic for collaborations with popular characters such as Godzilla, Ultraman, and Doraemon. The hit animated film “Your Name” featured the traditional craft of braided cords. Japan has several styles of braided cords including Iga-kumihimo (Mie), Kyo-kumihimo (Kyoto), and Tokyo-kumihimo (Tokyo), and for a while there were so many orders that craftsmen sold out of Tokyo-kumihimo bracelets made with the motif of the braided cord that appeared in the film. Braided cords have great freedom when it comes to their shape, and these Traditional Craft Products can be used for a wide variety of purposes besides “cords”. As such, they have been sold as mobile phone straps and accessories, and even as wristwatches using braided cords for the band. It is easy to make items that match modern lifestyles, so there may be many more hit items to come in the future depending on the idea.