Traditional crafts are made with techniques that have been inherited through history. Coming in various forms including household items and kimono, they can be found all over Japan. Of over 1,000 traditional handcrafts, 230 items, which are called "nationally-certified traditional handcrafts," have supported Japanese’ life. This time, we are going to introduce traditional crafts rooted in the Kinki region: Suzuka sumi ink, Shigaraki ware, Kyo-yuzen, Izumi Comb, Banshu Abacus, Takayama Tea Whisks, and Kishu Lacquerware.
About traditional crafts
Traditional crafts are items made using techniques that have been inherited through history. Those techniques can be considered as the origin of Japanese manufacturing.
On the other hand, "nationally-certified traditional handcrafts" are crafts that meet the five requirements set by the nation, including having at least 100-year-long history and the production process consisting largely of manual work and etc.
Mie Prefecture・ Suzuka sumi ink
"Suzuka sumi ink" is produced in the Shirako district of Suzuka City, Mie Prefecture. Among all the sumi inks produced in Japan, it is the only nationally-certified traditional handcraft.
Suzuka sumi ink began to be made in the early Heian period. It is said that it was first made by solidifying soot obtained by burning pine resin collected in the Suzuka Mountains.
During the Edo era, the shogunate required people to have a family crest, which needed to be drawn by high-quality brush sumi ink. This enhanced the need of Suzuka sumi ink, which was known for its high quality.
Then, as the needs grew, the technique used to produce the sumi ink also improved. Suzuka sumi ink was also the first to develop colored sumi ink, which came in various colors.
Why has the sumi ink production become so prosperous in Suzuka? This is related to Suzuka's climate and geographical conditions.
In Suzuka, it is easy to obtain materials for sumi ink. The water quality of the surrounding area is weakly alkaline, which makes it suitable for the solidification force and viscosity of natural gelatin that hardens the sumi ink. This is the reason for the prosperity of sumi ink production in Suzuka. The sumi ink made in Suzuka is pigmented as well as elegant.
Shiga Prefecture・Shigaraki ware
"The Six Ancient Kilns” are the producing areas of the six pottery representing the medieval Japan. Seto (Seto ware) and Tokoname (Tokoname ware) are two among the famous six kilns, and so is the "Shigaraki ware".
Shigaraki ware is produced mainly in Shigaraki-cho located in the Shiga Prefecture, which is associated with ninja.
The origin of Shigaraki ware can be traced back to the Nara period. It is said to have originated when roof tiles were baked when Emperor Shomu was building Shigaraki Palace in the current Koka City.
Due to the popularity of wabi-cha (a style of tea ceremony) that valued the mindset of wabi (acceptance of austerity) in Japan during the Muromachi era and later, Shigaraki ware was applied to tea utensils that were used by many tea ceremony masters including Sen No Rikyu.
Racoon dog figures
As time passed, Shigaraki yaki came out as different products including braziers, dishware and tiles. Above all, the "racoon dog" figure is widely known throughout Japan as ceramic ware representing Shigaraki ware.
Raccon dog’s eight lucky traits
The Shigaraki ware racoon dog figure is known to be lucky, having eight traits that bring good luck:
・Bamboo hat: Always be prepared to avoid unexpected calamities.
・Passbook: A book that keeps records of financial transactions. Trust is the most important
thing in socializing.
・Eyes: Pay attention to every direction and look at things in the right way.
・Belly: It is necessary to have both calm and bold aspects.
・Face: Always be amiable.
・Money pouch: Be blessed with freedom to use money freely.
・Liquor container: Japanese alcohol container. Make ends meet while keeping virtue.
・Tail: Bring happiness by finishing things properly
There are many traditional crafts in Kyoto, 17 of which are nationally certified. This means Kyoto, along with Tokyo, possesses the largest number of nationally-certified traditional handcrafts in Japan. "Kyo-yuzen" is one of them and has greatly contributed to the Japanese kimono culture.
Yuzen dyeing is a representative technique to make patterns on dyed kimonos.
Kyo-yuzen originated in the Edo period. It is said that it began when the painting style of the popular Uchiwa-e (picture painted on a fan) painter in that period, Miyazaki Yuzensai, applied to pattern dyeing for Kimono.
Prior to the birth of Yuzen dyeing, such methods as embroidery and tie-dye were used for dyeing, but the problem common to all these techniques was that their finished goods has stiff texture. However, after a good deal of research on techniques and dyeings, Yuzen dyeing was successfully applied to drawing designs as desired.
The Kimono design like a painting became very popular, and in the middle of the Edo period, the name of Yuzen dyeing was widely known throughout the country.
Currently, the only Kimono that can be considered as Kyo-yuzen is genuine silk products, and those that have been processed abroad do not count. The rigor is also one of the reasons behind the beauty of Kyo-yuzen.
Osaka Prefecture・Izumi Comb
Izumi Comb is produced in Kaizuka City and Kishiwada City, Osaka Prefecture. It originates to the Asuka period, when a foreigner cast ashore to Nishokunohama in the current Kaizuka City passed on the production method of combs.
The area became Japan's top producing area of combs in the Edo period, and Yashina Shrine near Nishokunohama enshrines the god of combs.
It takes more than a year to complete an Izumi Comb and in particular, it takes nearly a year to naturally dry and smoke the raw wood.
The characteristics of Izumi Comb are that it is unlikely to cause static electricity and does not damage one’s hair. Therefore, combing your hair with Izumi Comb for years increases its luster.
Hyogo Prefecture・Banshu Abacus
Abacus used for calculation
Abacuses have traditionally been used for school education and other purposes. The production method of Banshu Abacus is one of Japan's top-rated, and its characteristics include usability and the beads sliding smoothly.
Transmitted from China at the end of the Muromachi period, Banshu Abacus originated in the Azuchi-momoyama period. At that time, abacuses were produced as handwork during the agricultural off-season.
During the Edo period, the demand for abacuses increased as Terakoya (private educational institute for children in the Edo period) was established all over Japan. After that, the demand continued to grow along with economic and educational development, but the prevalence of electronic calculators led to its decline. Currently, 500,000 Banshu Abacus are produced annually.
The usage of Banshu Abacus has broadened to many purposes other than calculation, for example, colorful abacuses as well as abacus watches are also available.
Nara Prefecture・Takayama Tea Whisks
Takayama Tea Whisks were born in Ikoma-takayama, Nara Prefecture. Tea whisks are a type of bamboo-made utensils used to make tea, which are made of an about 10-cm-long bamboo cylinder whose head is finely split and woven with thread.
Takayama developed as the only tea whisk producing area in Japan since it is close to Kyoto and Osaka, where tea whisks were commonly used, and also were high-quality materials obtained there.
Takayama Tea Whisks originated in the Muromachi period. It apparently began when Juko Murata, who is said to have founded Wabi-cha, commissioned Takayamamimbu-no-Jonyusosetsu to make tea whisks (there are various theories).
There are approximately 120 types of Takayama Tea Whisks, whose shapes and numbers of bamboo prongs vary from one type to another. Above all, "80 prongs" is the representative one. It has 80 thick bamboo prongs on the outside and 80 on the inside, making the total 160 prongs.
Wakayama Prefecture・Kishu Lacquerware
Kishu Lacquerware (Photo: Public Interest Incorporated Association, Wakayama Tourism Association)
"Kishu Lacquerware" is lacquerware made mainly in Kainan City in the Northwestern Wakayama Prefecture. Lacquerware is produced in various parts of Japan and the lacquerware brands which produce the largest number of products are called the Four Great Lacquerware Brands of Japan, one of which is Kishu Lacquerware.
The representative lacquering style of Kishu Lacquerware is "Negoro-Nuri," which shows the black hue as base through the vermillion lacquer. Neogro-Nuri originated in Negoro Temple in Iwade City, Wakayama Prefecture, where the simple lacquering style of applying vermillion lacquer on top of black lacquer as base was used. This often made the black base visible with the vermillion application on the surface worn down through usage.
However, the black lacquer showing through became a trend for its taste and became a pattern to represent Kishu Lacquerware.
Kishu lacquerware originated in the Muromachi period. A woodworker living the vicinity of the current Shiga Prefecture moved to Kishu, where he made the first Kishu Lacquerware as a wooden bowl. During the Edo period, Kishu became well-known all over Japan as the producing area of Shibuchi Bowls, to which persimmon tannin was applied as base.
Then, Kishu Lacquerware continued to develop under the protection of the shogunate to become one of the best lacquerware brands in Japan. Simple, durable, and easy to use in everyday life, Kishu Lacquerware has been popular among people as household items since the Edo period.
Perfect for souvenirs
There are many household items among traditional crafts, including such practical items as Tsuge-combs by Izumi Comb and chopsticks by Kishu Lacquerware. It is a great choice to get these for home use.