This trip to Japan has been so deeply inspirational and one of the most memorable experiences of my life along with part 1, Mexico in January. Learning about the Japanese approach to ancient craftmanship and seeing some of the finest Masters of Craft in the world has opened my eyes to the meaning it brings to the new generation of craftsmen and women today. Everyone we have visited along the way had been so kind, we have been given gifts or keepsakes from everyone we met, whether it is a bag of oranges or a beautiful leather bag, such is the Japanese culture of temiyage.
I am also leaving with a small piece of fabric etc from each workshop/business/organisation we have visited, which will be stitched into a new collection of shoes over the next year or so which I am really looking forward to doing.
A big thankyou goes to WCMT for sending me out here on such a wonderful quest.. But it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my cousin Jasmine Penarroja’s kindness and patience over the past month and my apprentice Mariko Kato, invaluable translator, guide and travelling companion.
Now home to write everything up ! ..
It is said that the technique of making Hakone Yosegi Zaiku was invented by Ishikawa Nihei, a craftman in Hatajuku, Hakone, towards the end of the Edo era. As mountains in Hakone are blessed with various trees, Ishikawa took advantage of natural colours and shades of the woods to form geometric patterns. At the beginning, ran-Yosegi and tan I Yosegi moygou (pattern unit with basic designs) were mainly made. Today, as machines and means of processing have been improved, Yosegi Zaiku with a variety of elaborate patterns are produced. This traditional technique is highly original and cannot be found anywhere else in Japan.
This business has been designated as one of the traditional craft products with the stamp.
We met with the decendant of Ishikawa Nihei who gave us a demonstration on how he makes Yosegi Zaiku which is a really beautiful process.
To conclude our week in Tokyo we finally see the first of the cherry blossoms and watch the hanami party’s commence. We went to Marikos old shoemaking school where I made lots of new shoemaker friends and had a hanami of our own.
Our final interview we have in Tokyo is with Ms Fukatsu who is a maker of the Edo folding fan, another long standing tradition in Japan. Also meeting us is a friend of hers, Ms Kinoshita who runs a very interesting independent website for new craftsmen and women. She very kindly gave me a new set of books she has just published about Japanese crafts.
It was actually a real breath of fresh air to meet and talk to a female master of craft as everyone we have talked to so far has been male. Although in some of our interviews we have seen women doing some of the work it has mainly been men that we have had our meetings with. Just to illustrate this point, one of the first things Ms Fukatsu talked about was the fact that her father (a master of Edo folding fan) did not want her to learn the craft and pass on his skills and instead be a mother and housewive. In defiance she has spent her life dedicated to mastering her craft and making a name for herself. She spent the day showing us her techniques and giving me a lesson on how it is done!
There are heavily patterned lavish gold designs on some folding fans but I like that Ms Fukatsu is inspired by stories and fiction and as she says, her designs are simple but the space around leaves space for the imagination.
Washi is a style of paper that was first made in Japan. Washi is commonly made using fibers from the bark of the gampi tree, the mitsumata shrub or the paper mulberry, but also can be made using bamboo, hemp, rice, and wheat. Washi is one of the UNESCO’s Intangible cultural heritage objects and the unique strength makes its many uses so many it is hard to list them all.
Washi is generally tougher than ordinary paper made from wood pulp, and is used in many traditional arts. Origami, Shodo, and Ukiyo-e were all produced using washi. Washi was also used to make various everyday goods like clothes, household goods, and toys as well as vestments and ritual objects for Shinto priests and statues of Buddha. It was even used to make wreaths that were given to winners in the 1998 Winter Paralympics. Several kinds of washi, referred to collectively as Japanese tissue, are used in the conservation and mending of books.
Mr Tagaki explained the paper actually comes from the bark of the tree, not the tree itself, in fact only 4/5% of the tree is used. The trees grow an very quickly, around 2-3 metres a year and are harvested in December or January as it is important to do it in very cold temperatures. It requires a long process to make it into a pulp, it is steamed and peeled and hammered which has been done for centuries in Japan.
It will take a while to translate the interview but in the meantime here is a few photos to illustrate the amazing process.
Our first interview of the day was with Hideaki Kishi from Marukishi co ltd, who runs his third generation fabric merchant firm. I wanted to find out more about the success of British tweed in Japan and also to talk to someone who works as a fabric distributor, selling to department stores and bespoke tailors rather than directly to customers. It was really interesting to hear Hideaki’s Perspective on the similarities and differences between Japanese and English fashion industries and the rise of Harris tweed in Japan which is timelessly fashionable. One quite astounding point about Harris tweed in particular is that half of the worlds supply actually comes to Japan as it is so popular here. We talked about the shift of focus we have both noticed in our respective businesses, in people’s awareness and genuine need to search for a tailor or perhaps independent stores to find the suit or item of clothing that is individual and unique which hopefully will continue, so as to support the small flourishing family firms that depend on the need to find that item with a difference.
Traditional crafts have been developed through the extensive history of Japan as necessities of daily life differing by region, each area with its own unique features. The Japanese government recognized the value of these traditional crafts and the need to pass on to future generations the special handcraft techniques used to make them. In order to implement appropriate measures, the Act on the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries (Densan) act was promulgated in 1974, since which time the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry has designated 218 items as traditional crafts.
The Association for the Promotion of Traditional Crafts Industries was founded in 1975 with the support of the national government.
Besides conducting various programes to promote local production, the association also mana variety of programmes to raise public awareness towards traditional crafts products and to expand the demand for traditional craft in Japan and abroad.
We met with Aiko Miyamoto and Mr Fukuda from The Association for the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries who told us about the associations work and we had a look round the exhibition centre for the METI-designated traditional crafts.
One of the major parts of their work is to qualify traditional crafts and recognise master craftsmen with the Dentou mark (Dentou means traditional)
They also do some fantastic work to promote traditional craftsmen and women and provide visitors with guides of workshops all over Japan. Their major programme events are : Permanent exhibitions of traditional craft products, special individual craft exhibitions, reference library, craft consultations, advice and contacts for repairs etc and they have membership club activities for traditional craft enthusiasts.