About Japanese Traditional Crafts
Sanuki Lanterns (Kagawa)
Awa Washi Paper (Tokushima)
Tobe Porcelain (Ehime)
Tosa Washi Paper (Kochi)

There are over a thousand traditional crafts that can be found throughout Japan. Many have been officially approved by the country, and all have historical value. It can even be considered as the starting point of Japanese craftsmanship. Let’s take a closer look at four traditional crafts which roots in the Shikoku area: Sanuki Lanterns, Awa Washi Paper, Tobe Porcelain, and Tosa Washi Paper.

About Japanese Traditional Crafts

Traditional crafts are those that are made with skills that have been passed down and inherited in a particular region. Currently there are over 1,000 traditional crafts in Japan and they have been admired through the ages. Additionally, a craft may be officially approved by the country if it meets five certain criteria including having a history over 100 years, or being predominantly hand-made.

Sanuki Lanterns (Kagawa)

Sanuki Lanterns (Photo by the Kagawa Prefecture Produce Promotion Group)

Used as a light source, chouchin or Japanese lanterns can often be seen at festivals in Japan. Though they may seem similar, there are actually many varieties of these lanterns, one of which is the Sanuki Lantern.

The origin of the Sanuki Lantern is thought be 1,200 years ago when lanterns were brought over from China so that the Buddhist monk Kukai could offer them to the 88 temples in Shikoku during his pilgrimage of the island. For this reason, Sanuki Lanterns are often printed with the symbols or emblems of temples and shrines where they are also usually hung.
There is also a special technique used in Sanuki Lanterns called the “Sanuki Ippongake”, where one bamboo stalk is used to create a three-layered frame without being cut. This technique had been passed down in complete secret until only recently.

There are some lanterns made with this technique that feature eccentric designs like udon or Santa Claus. These “sculptures of light” are showing the way to a new world of lanterns.

Awa Washi Paper (Tokushima)

Awa Washi (Photo by the Tokushima Prefecture Tourism Association)

Awa Washi paper is made primarily in Yoshinogawa City, Naka town in Naka district, and Ikedacho in Miyoshi city, all in Tokushima prefecture. The beginning of Awa Washi is uncertain, but there are records that the Inbe clan that worked for the Imperial Court used hemp and mulberry trees to make paper and cloth 1,300 years ago.

Awa Washi became known nation-wide during the Edo period, when making paper was encouraged for political means. Examples of papers made at the time are houshogami (high quality, white paper used for official documents) and hansatsu (currency used within a feudal clan’s territory).

Awa Washi Varieties (Photo by the Tokushima Tourism Association)

The arrival of paper-making machines began to decline the Awa washi production, and where there were once 250 makers, now there is only one. However, the traditional methods are still being passed down today thanks to being named as an intangible cultural asset of Tokushima prefecture in 1970 and being officially approved as a traditional craft in 1976.

Usually, washi is made with the fibers of the paper mulberry tree, oriental paper bush(mitsumata), and ganpi plant. In Awa washi, hemp, bamboo, and non-paper mulberry are also used.

Awa washi paper still has the distinctive coloring and soft feel of handmade washi. There is now also washi being made using the traditional indigo dye produced in Tokushima and even waterproof washi made using the latest technologies.

Tobe Porcelain (Ehime)

Tobe Porcelain Tableware

The Tobeyaki or Tobe Porcelain has a long tradition in Tobe, Ehime prefecture. It was officially approved as a traditional craft in 1976.
Whetstones, known as “Iyoto,” have been produced in Tobe since the Nara Period. In the Edo Period, it was discovered that the scrap dust leftover from cutting out the whetstones could be used as raw material for making porcelain. Then in 1775, Yasutoki Katō, the lord of the Ōzu domain, which Tobe was a part of, ordered the production of porcelain. The next year, the potter Josuke Sugino succeeded in making the first Tobe porcelain.

Tobe Porcelain

Later in the Meiji Period, Tobe porcelain experienced significant growth with the start of mass production. There was even a time when 70% of the ware produced was being exported around the world.

The characteristics of Tobe porcelain are a somewhat thick, white base and designs painted in a light indigo with the Gosu pigment. Its simple designs and durability have made the Tobeyaki popular for everyday use. In recent times, there are even Tobeyaki that are microwave and dishwasher safe.

Tosa Washi Paper (Kochi)

Colored Tosa Washi

Tosa Washi paper is made in Kochi prefecture’s Inocho town and Tosa city. The first known record of Tosa Washi is from 1,000 years ago. It is listed as a presented item in the Engishiki, a book from the Heian Period. Since then, it has been known as a regional product of Tosa, and in the Meiji Period Tosa Washi grew to have the greatest scale of paper production in Japan.

The extraordinary growth of Tosa Washi was made possible by two natural conditions found in both Inocho and Tosa city.

First is that they have clear water from the Niyodo River, one of the clearest rivers in Shikoku. The second is the paper mulberry trees found in both areas have longer, and thicker fibers than those found in other prefectures. The Tosa Washi is made durable because of the quality of the local water and trees.

Other distinct traits of Tosa Washi are its thinness, which is peerless at 0.03mm, and its variation with over 300 types.