Throughout Japan, there are many traditional crafts that represent Japan and showcase the beauty of Japan’s culture and techniques. Within the many traditional crafts that exists today, we will introduce 4 traditional crafts from the Chugoku District.
About Japanese Traditional Crafts
Japanese Traditional Crafts are items that have been created and used in daily life throughout Japanese history. In total, over 1,000 traditional crafts exist in Japan. Of the 1,000, 230 crafts have a special approval from the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry. In order to get the approval, the craft must be hand-made, have over 100 years of history, or fit in the other 5 conditions stated by the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry.
The Continued History from Nara during the Heian Period
The Izumo stone lanterns are made in the cities of Matsue and Izumo in Shimane and Sakaiminato in Tottori. The lanterns are made from a special stone called the kimachi stone, which is found on the southern coast of Lake Shinji in Shimane prefecture.
Kimachi stone was formed about 1.4 million years ago, and is a tuffaceous limestone. The Lake Shinji area is one of the world’s few spots for tuffaceous limestone. It is said that lantern making with this stone began from around the Heian Period (794 – 1185).
Today, the lanterns are hung up in temples around Japan, however, some people use smaller lanterns as a part of their interior design.
2. Bizen-yaki Lacqer Ware (Okayama)
Bizen-yaki lacquer ware comes from the Inbe region of the city of Bizen in Okayama. It is one of Japan’s “Six Old Kilns”, along with Tokoname-yaki from Aichi, Shigaraki-yaki from Shiga and more.
Lacquer that has unbreakable solidity
Because of the ever-changing soil properties and how it reacts with the kiln temperatures, Bizen-yaki ware all have a unique finish to them. Bizen-yaki cups great for serving beer and creating smooth foam, as the surface of the cup is uneven and a little bumpy.
The roots of the pottery, Sueki
Bizen-yaki ware started with its hard, blue looks during the Kofun period. Then, during the Heian period, the demand for household items increased. And in the Kamakura Period (1185 – 1333), Bizen-yaki ware began to look like how it does today, with its burnt brown surface. During those times, it was commonly created for everyday use. Its popularity as a household lacquer ware declined in the Edo Period (1603 – 1867), but began to become used for items such as bricks and drainpipes. In the 57th year of the Showa period, Bizen-yaki had been named a Japanese Traditional Craft, which increased its popularity once more.
Kumano Brush (Hiroshima)
Kumano brushes are made in the town of Kumano, Hiroshima, which is surrounded by mountains on all sides. The brushes come in 3 types: painting brush, writing brush, and makeup brush. In both Japan and overseas, the brushes have proven their high quality, and is proudly produced worldwide today.
Over 10 animal hair used in the making of just 1 brush
Kumano brushes use over 10 types of animal hair, such as sheep and horse, in one brush. Much of the hairs are imported. What amount of which hair is to be used varies on the type of brush. The Kumano brush has gotten very high reviews overseas as well, so it was given as a souvenir gift to the Japanese Women’s Soccer Team in 2011.
Often called, “The Capital of Writing Brushes” in Kumano-cho, Hiroshima Prefecture
Kumano brush making
Brush production is said to have started in the late Edo Period. Farmers in Kumano were struggling to get by with just farming, and decided to sell brushes that they imported from the Nara region.
Later, they began to make their own brushes. Some of the townsmen would go work in Nara or Hyogo and come back to Kumano with their brush making skills.
In the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912), when education policies were put in place, the demand for brushes grew as they were used in schools. Around 1955, the town of Kumano began produces brushes for art and cosmetic purposes as well. Today, Kumano is the number one brush produer in Japan – for writing, art and makeup.
4. Hagi-yaki Lacquer Ware (Yamaguchi)
Hagi-yaki pottery has over 400 years worth of history. This kind of lacquer ware originated with a tea bowl (a kind of pottery used with boiled tea water) that was made in Suo and Nagato as an order kiln from the Mori clan.
A change in color of the Hagi-yaki occurs due to the penetration of tea and sake
Hagi-yaki’s Seigan Blue color
As time passed, Hagi-yaki developed its own unique style by mixing Japanese techniques. The clay used for Hagi-yaki is high in absorbency. After being used for several years, Hagi-yaki items tend to absorb the colors of whatever is served inside it, such as alcohol or tea. This characteristic is called, “Hagi no nanabake”.
Hagi-yaki lacquer ware does not have many patterns on them; rather they are produced based on material, impressions, glaze, and baking style. The beautiful blue Hagi-yaki lacquer ware, pictured above, is created by the famous potter Yamane Seigan. The color is even referred to as Seigan Blue. This item is particularly popular because of its outer space-like beauty.
History of Hagi-Yaki
Hagi-yaki lacquer ware originates from the city of Hagi in Yamaguchi. The history of Hagi-yaki dates back to around 400 years ago, when feudal lord Mori Terumoto brought two Korean potters to Hagi to open up a kiln.
After the death of one of the two potters, the other remained in Hagi at the kiln. He was then named Saka Koraizaemon by the domain lord, and his legacy is continued to this day by his descendants. At its beginnings, Hagi-yaki was very similar to that of Korean pottery. As time passed, Hagi-yaki developed its own unique style by mixing Japanese techniques.
Feel the beauty of traditional crafts
We have introduced 4 traditional crafts that we feel connects to the region of Chugoku. These crafts do not only show superb techniques but also the culture and historical background. The feeling of the long history and good quality of the traditional crafts has kept these crafts relevant for multiple generations.
Because traditional crafts are made one by one by hand, a lot of time, effort, and care goes into each item. If you ever visit the Chugoku region, why not purchase one of these unique pieces as a souvenir or for your own memory?