Traditional Crafts Overview

What Are Traditional Japanese Crafts?

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Photo:Dyed goods

Traditional crafts are made from materials produced in each region of Japan and have been produced for many years using traditional techniques and craftsmanship.
Traditional Japanese crafts are regulated by the Act on the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries as follows.

1. They are items mainly used in daily life.
2. Major parts of the manufacturing process are done by hand.
3. They are manufactured using traditional techniques and technologies.
4. They use traditional raw materials.
5. Production areas have been established in specific locations.

It is said that there are currently more than 1,300 types of traditional crafts in Japan.
Of those, 235 are designated by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) as "Traditional Crafts" with the new additions of "Gyoda Tabi," "Edo Sashie," and "Naniwa Honzome" in November 2019.

A Look at Some of Japan's Traditional Crafts

Image of Wagasa

There are around 25,000 companies dealing in traditional crafts across Japan, and approximately 140,000 people working in the traditional craft industry, with a production value of about 100 billion yen (~$950m USD).
The production of traditional crafts peaked in 1984, and since then, production has been decreasing year by year due to the economic stagnation caused by the collapse of the bubble economy and the increasing quality of products imported from overseas.
Traditional Japanese crafts include textiles, dyed goods, ceramics, lacquerware, woodwork, bamboo products, metalwork, Buddhist altars, Buddhist instruments, Japanese paper, stationery (brushes, inksticks, inkstones, abacuses), stonework, dolls, local toys, folding fans, uchiwa fans, wagasa (Japanese umbrellas), paper lanterns, Japanese musical instruments, Shinto instruments and furnishings, congratulatory and consolation goods, craft tools, and craft materials.

All of the 47 prefectures in Japan have a variety of registered traditional crafts, with Kyoto Prefecture having the most, followed by Tochigi, Fukushima, Shimane, Ibaraki, Shiga, Tokyo, Yamagata, Kagawa, and Mie Prefectures.

Popular traditional crafts from all over Japan include Nambu ironware (Iwate), Arita ware (Saga), Hasami ware (Nagasaki), Kutani ware (Ishikawa), Edo-kiriko (cut glass) (Tokyo), Mashiko ware (Tochigi), Shigaraki ware (Shiga), Kumano brushes (Hiroshima), Wajima-nuri (Ishikawa), Bizen ware (Okayama), Hagi ware (Yamaguchi), Koishiwara ware (Fukuoka), Mino ware (Gifu) Yomiuri ware (Saga Prefecture), Yosegi (Kanagawa Prefecture), Nishijin-ori (Kyoto Prefecture), Kaga Yuzen (Ishikawa Prefecture), Tokoname ware (Aichi Prefecture), Tobe ware (Ehime Prefecture), Karatsu ware (Saga Prefecture), Kiyomizu ware (Kyoto Prefecture), Yuuki tsumugi (Ibaraki and Tochigi Prefectures), Arimatsu Narumi Shibori (Aichi Prefecture), and Koshu Inden (Yamanashi Prefecture), among others.

Aside from the famous crafts on the list of our most popular recommendations, many people buy traditional crafts as souvenirs, gifts, and presents, as they can learn about Japanese culture and the spirit of Wabi-Sabi and feel the splendor of Japanese craftsmanship. Japanese crafts are also popular among visitors to Japan as a Japanese art form.

The following is the ranking of traditional Japanese crafts that are appreciated as gifts and souvenirs for foreigners, as announced by Japan Prize Corporation in "Tips for Choosing Gifts for Overseas Business Trips That Won't Fail!"

No. 1 Cloisonne ware (frame)
No. 2 Lacquer ware screens
No. 3 Cloisonne ware (plates)
No. 4 Decorative samurai helmet
No. 5 Tokyo silver okimono
No. 6 Lacquerware byobu clock
No. 7 Lacquerware stationery set
No. 8 Furoshiki kimono
No. 9 Maki-e books
No.10 Maki-e USB

Edo Kiriko - One of Japan's Most Popular Traditional Crafts

Image of Edo Kiriko
Photo:Edo Kiriko

Here, we'll introduce "Edo Kiriko," an especially popular traditional Japanese craft.
Kiriko (faceting) is a technique that involves cutting the surface of glass.
Edo Kiriko dates back to 1834, approximately 200 years ago, when a glassworker in Odenma, Edo, used sand to cut the surface of foreign glassware brought in by the Portuguese.
Perry was astonished by the beauty and delicate design of this cut glass piece when it was presented to him as a gift during the arrival of the Black Ships in 1853.
During the Edo period, Edo Kiriko was sold for daily use, including glassware and goldfish bowls, as well as glass tableware.

Enjoying Traditional Japanese Crafts

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Japan's traditional crafts are the result of the handiwork of artisans and the mastery of Japanese craftsmanship, and they are something the Japanese are proud to be a part of.
Nowadays, it's easy to find products from all over the world through online shopping, but one of the best parts of traveling is experiencing traditional Japanese craftsmanship with your own eyes.

In recent years, more and more foreigners have come to Japan to experience traditional craftsmanship through hands-on tours.
The following is a ranking of the most popular "Cultural Experiences and Hands-on Experiences" by Activity Japan

No. 1 Pottery Making Experience and Ceramic Art Workshop
No. 2 Kimono and Yukata Rental
No. 3 Accessory Making
No. 4 Glass Making Workshop
No. 5 Making Japanese Sweets
No. 6 Soba Making Experience and Soba Making Workshop
No. 7 Interior and Miscellaneous Goods Making Class
No. 8 Candle Making
No. 9 Perfume and Aroma Experience
No. 10 Marine Crafts

As you can see, traditional Japanese crafts are very popular among foreigners, but in reality, they have many problems due to the emphasis on history and quality.
Further problematic is a lack of young people to take over the crafts, a shortage of domestic raw materials, and the high cost of traditional Japanese crafts compared to competing products made in developing countries.

COOL JAPAN VIDEOS is a site that introduces the charms of Japan through videos related to traditional Japanese crafts!