At the foot of Yahiko mountain soaring high in the middle of the Chikugo plain in Niigata pref. stands the Yahiko(Iyahiko) Shrine. The grounds are covered by a dense grove of aged trees, such as cedars and Japanese cypresses. Though the exact year of construction is not known, the shrine is referenced in Manyoshu, an old poetic anthology dating back to 750 AD, so it certainly predates that time. The shrine is devoted to Ame no Kagoyama no Mikoto. Ordered by Emperor Jinmu (the legendary first emperor), Ame no Kagoyama no Mikoto taught the people of Echigo region of Niigata pref. various agricultural methods of fishing, salt making, rice farming, and sericulture amongst others, and contributed greatly to the development of the region. The shrine was once affectionately called Iyahiko-sama and flourished as a spiritual home of the mind and the soul for people in Echigo. In its museum, shrine treasures such as Shidano-Ootachi, a prominent long Japanese Katana and designated as an Important National Property, and armors that are said to have once belonged to Yoshiie Minamto and Yoshitsune Minamoto, both being legendary warriors from 12th century, are exhibited. The hall was rebuilt in 1961after being destroyed in a large fire.
Kazuo Kawasaki was born in 1949, Fukui Prefecture. He is a design director and doctor of medical science. After graduating from Kanazawa College of Arts, he started working at Toshiba where he worked on developing and branding Audio Aurex, a revolutionary new audio system at that time. In 1979, he went freelance and two years later he moved his business base to his home town, Fukui. Since then, he has worked on a wide range of product designs including knives, LCD TVs, eyeglasses and artificial hearts. He has made significant advances in all of these fields.
He was the jury chair for the Japan Good Design Award from 2001 to 2003. He is currently a professor at Communication Design Center and Frontier Research Center at Graduate School of Engineering Osaka University. He is also a professor of Medical Center for Translational Research at Osaka University Hospital.
Mr. Kazuo believes that the designer is a professional that imbues idealism into a physical object. He incorporates many varied fields including mathematics, science, technology and art and builds reality hardheadedly and precisely.
Design is a dream. Here is at least one design director in Japan who earnestly believes that the power of design can change the world.
Kaminoseki Bansho is the old guard station located in Nagashima, Kaminoseki-cho, Yamaguchi Prefecture. The guard station was established by the local government to keep an eye on ports and inspect shipping cargo during Edo era.
Because there are very few remnants of buildings preserved from the administrative arm at the beginning of Edo era, Kaminoseki Bansho is of significant importance. It was moved from inside the port where it was once located to its current address in 1996 and reconstructed as it looked originally.
The western side of the Setonaikai Inland Sea had several guard stations for cargo inspection and the region, currently Yamaguchi Prefecture, wasn’t exceptional. They had three stations which were called, in order of distance from the capital, “kaminoseki”, “nakanoseki” and “Shimonoseki” respectively.
Kaminoseki guard station has an overall length of 11.66m and width of 3.86m. It is a wooden building with Irimoya tile roof style and has “geya” (a lower roof) on all sides. The station is designated as a tangible cultural asset by the prefecture.
In the middle of the Heian period, Minamotono Yoriyoshi visited Yamagata region in order to resolve the Battle of Abe Sadatou and Munetou. Foundry craftsmen accompanying Yoriyoshi discovered that the sand in the Mamigasaki River running through Yamagata City and the soil around Chitose Park were suitable for the iron casting process, and some of these people stayed and started production. This was the beginning of Yamagata iron casting.
It is reported that in 1356 when Shibano Kaneyori came to Yamagata and built Kasumiga Castle, nine local foundry men were ordered to make iron castings and offer their work to him.
In 1615, Seikichi Shouji, one of the nine most recognized craftsmen in Dou-machi, after visiting Kyoto to research the casting business there, invented “tatara”, a fan device that could be operated by foot. With this revolutionary device, the technology of Yamagata iron casting was established.
Around 1938, Dou-machi had forty production houses with about eight hundred workers. Both sides of the main street were mostly occupied by these manufacturers, continuously producing practical goods such as hibachi, tea kettles and Buddhist alter fittings.
In 1974, with continued prosperity, Do-machi, which had been the center of the casting industry for a long time, became too small to accommodate the flourishing businesses, and they were transferred to a new industrial complex called Yamagata Casting Industry Danchi in Imono-cho. The following year, Yamagata iron casting was recognized as a traditional art by the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
Hakata Textiles is a traditional handicraft with a history of 700 years. The technique was first founded in this area in the Kamakura period. Later, during the Edo Period (1603-1867), Kuroda Nagamasa, the feudal lord of Chikuzen Province (presently Fukuoka prefecture), sent tributes (kenjo in Japanese) of Hakata textiles to the Shogunate, which led to the cloth also being called Kenjo Hakata and its geometric designs are called kenjo design.
There are 3 types of Kenjo-designs, each of which is characterized by the striped-patterns in the motif of Buddhist objects of tokko and hanazara. Hakata textiles are gusty but soft and flexible. Presently, there is a concern about the successors of these precious weaving techniques. Kisaburo Ogawa, the recognized authority on this technique, was designated as a holder of National Important Intangible Cultural Property in “Kenjo Hakata Textiles” in 2003. Now as a visiting professor at Department of Craft Art of Kyushu Sangyo University and a member of Hakata Textile Industrial Association, he is giving lectures at symposiums and talking at panel discussions held all over the country to help regeneration and development of this traditional handicraft.
Kami-Kawasaki washi paper is a traditional handicraft in Kami-kawasaki, Nihonmatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture. It is designated as a prefecture’s Important Intangible Cultural Property.
The making of this paper dates back more than 1,000 years to the era reigned by Emperor Reizei (967-969). During the Heian period (794-1192), the paper from Kami-Kawasaki was highly valued by nobles as “the paper from the Deep North.” It is said that “Mayumi-gami,” which was praised by the famous female writers, Murasaki Shikibu and Seisho Nagon, was made in this town.
In the Edo period, the Niwa clan, the lord of the Nihonmatsu domain, promoted washi making and gave the town a license to produce paper, which led to the development of the present handmade washi paper industry.
Locally grown paper mulberry and tororo-aoi (the forming aid made from the roots of the tororo plant) are used as materials. Kami-Kawasaki washi paper has been made in the same processes and techniques of manufacture as was written in the Kamisuki Chohoki (the handbook of paper making) written in 1798.
Blade forging industry in Yoita area in Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture, has a history of about 400 year. The products are well known for being sharp and trouble-free.
The making of Echigo Yoita forged blades dates back to 1578, when a retainer of Uesugi Kenshin invited wordsmiths from Kasugayama to the area and asked them to make various kinds of forged blades. In the Kyoto era (1716-1736), carpentry tools from Yoita became known as Tohi-nomi and Hyobu-nomi. At the start of the Meiji period (1868-1912), the wordsmiths in Yoita turned their hand to making plane blades, which soon became famous all over the country.
In 1986, chisels, planes, axes and chona (a Japanese ancient hand ax) were designated as a Traditional Craft Product, Echigo Yoita Forged Blades by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (present METI).
Yoita forged blades are made by traditional hand forging even today, in which the hard steel being laid on the soft metal is heated, and then it is taken out of the forge and beaten with a spring hammer. Careful and hard-working efforts are made in these repeated tempering processes, which result in creating such reliable tools.
Chanoyugama, or tea kettle, is a traditional artwork and occupies an important position in the world of the tea ceremony. Its significance is evident as people say “put a kettle on” to mean to hold a tea ceremony.
80% of the tea kettles are said to be produced in Yamagata Prefecture and this traditional iron casting was designated as a traditional art by the Ministry of Economic Affair in 1975.
Casting and tea kettle making in Yamagata dates back to Heian period when Minamotono Yoriyoshi visited Yamagata during Zen Kunen no Eki Battle (1058~1064). He accompanied foundry craftsmen who discovered that the soil around Mamigasaki River running through the Yamagata City was suitable for the casting process. Some of these people stayed and started production.
The vessel is characterized by its coarse, rough surface. The traditional techniques that create a rough surface such as Monyoou-oshi, Hadauchi and Kinkidome have been handed down, and the tea kettle which has a simple appearance yet exhibits an imposing presence, is still produced in large numbers.