Karui, made from woven bamboo, is a basket used to carry things on one’s back. They have been used in the Miyazaki Prefecture to carry grains, mushrooms, manure and other things needed for farm work.
The bamboo used to make karui baskets is “madake bamboo”, which grows wild all over Japan. The bamboo used for the body of the basket is woven with six strands and the “masubushi” weave is applied to finish the edge. Karui is a useful item made from all natural materials.
These baskets have an upside-down triangular pyramid shape which doesn’t allow the basket to sit on a flat surface easily. Although the baskets are unstable on level ground, they sit well on steep, mountainous hills. The wisdom of this design was gained from living in deep mountainous regions.
Today, karui are used, not only as baskets for transporting things, but also as interior decorations such as vases, letter holders or newspaper racks. They remain much loved by many people.
Ainu is an ethnic group on the Northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Its culture uses a very distinctive pattern called Ainu-monyou or Ainu pattern for their clothes, furniture and ceremonial instruments.
Ainu have many differing designs largely based on two basic patterns: one is a swirl pattern called Moreu in Ainu language and the other is a parenthesis pattern called Aiuushi which means things with thorns. The patterns are designed not only for decoration, but also have some symbolic effect of warding off evil spirits. They are commonly embroidered in cuffs, collars and the hem of clothes. By looking at the pattern one can tell which region it comes from. There are many theories as to the origin of the patterns, but there is no definite explanation.
To express their fondness for the opposite sex, Ainu women used to give an embroidered tekunpe (a cloth to cover the back of the hand and wrist) and hoshi (a cloth to cover the shin) with Ainu pattern while men used to give menokomakiri (small sword) curved with Ainu pattern. Ainu people believed they imparted part of the soul to their handmade crafts and valued them accordingly.
Nowadays, Ainu patterns have more design varieties and have wider applications such as for skirts and blouses.
As the kanji meaning a sword blade was used for the name Tsurugi in the old times, it was a cutlery-producing town. The town was the distributing center of products from forest industry in Hakusan mountains and agriculture in the plain areas. Accordingly hoes and spades for both forestry and farming were in high demand and forgery thrived in the town. In the Edo period, a master forger, Ittetsu, was appointed as the Kaga clan’s sward manufacturer.
Tsurugi became famous as a producing center of high quality cutlery products and was producing a wide variety of cutlery for lumber jacks, farmers as well as household users. It reaches at its peak in the Taisho period (1912-1926) but gradually declined in the late Taisho period. At the present time, there is only one blacksmith in town, who keeps on manufacturing various items using the traditional outdoor forging techniques.
Suruga lacquer ware is a traditional handicraft handed down in Shizuoka Pref. In the Muromachi period (1336-1573), when this province was ruled by the Imagawa clan, there was a group of workmen called “Nakagawa Carpenters” in this district, who were making food vessels such as bowls. In the Edo period (1603-1868), excellent lacquerers were called to construct Sengen Shrine in present-day Shizuoka City. Some of them settled down in Suruga after the construction, and taught their techniques to the local lacquerers, which allowed this craft to grow into an industry and Suruga lacquer ware became known all over the country. With the growth in export in the Meiji and Taisho periods (1868-1926), products with Kawari-nuri (lacquering in unique styles) and Makie (sprinkling of gold and silver powder) were also developed and Suruga became the top producing area of lacquer ware for export. Presently, Makie technique is used for furniture and daily commodities. Products such as jubako (Japanese stacking box), bowls, flower vessels, cake bowls, and accessories are being made today. Suruga lacquer ware is used in people’s daily life.
A hishaku is a utensil traditionally used to scoop water. Hishaku used to be made from bamboo with the handle fashioned from a branch of a tree. These days, they are mostly made of metal or plastic.
The size and use of hishaku vary. Although the wooden magarimono hishaku can only be seen at Temizusha (purification buildings where water is drawn) of shrines and temples, and sometimes at houses that admire Japanese elegance, it used to be a part of everyday life.
The origins of hishaku come from a hisago (gourd), which was broken in half. The word 'hisago' was pronounced in a different accent, becoming 'hisaku', which was then changed again into 'hishaku'.
It was traditionally thought that divine spirits dwell in places that are dented, or caved in, thus the hishaku was treated as a holy container.
Before wakamizumukae (meeting of the first water) on new year's day, people have prepared new hishaku for the drawing of water from a well or spring. The water that is drawn is then placed before the new year's deity, and used to rinse out the mouth, as well as to make ozoni (vegetable soup with rice cakes in it).
Since the hishaku is thought to have special powers, the water that it scoops is used in other ways, for example as holy water to be sprinkled in front of one's house as a talisman against evil and sickness. A hishaku hung from a pot hook acts as a charm to prevent fires.
Hitoshi Ota was born in 1931. He was designated as a Living National Treasure for his 'kinma' work, which is an intangible cultural heritage.
Kinma uses woven bamboo as a base material, which is then layered with lacquer. Patterns are incised on this using a special carving knife or a Japanese sword and finally, the carved lines are filled with colored urushi. It is a traditional craft that has beautifully engraved lines.
In 1953, Hitoshi Ota was apprenticed to Joshin Isoi, known as the 'father' of Sanuki-urushi-chuko. Later, Hitoshi Ota developed his original style 'nunomebori-kinma' using 'rantai' (peeled bamboo or woven vines) as a base material.
He also used a wide variety of knives to make patterns. Ota, who has a sense of contemporary design, still creates colorful and beautiful pieces that are highly rated.
Takeji Iwatani was born in the town of Fuka-Ura, Aomori Prefecture, in 1939. He is a lacquerware craftsman using the 'tsugarunuri' technique. He is also known by the pseudonym of Gozan.
Takeji Iwatani established a tsugarunuri atelier called Gozan-Kobo in 1969. In 1975, he founded the Tsugarunuri Friendship Society. The next year, he won the chief-director's prize at the national lacquerware exhibition. In 1981, he was authorized as a traditional craftsman. At present, he is the chairman of the Tsugarunuri Traditional Craftsmen Association. In 2003 he won the Director General of Forestry Agency prize in the national lacquerware exhibition.
Tsugarunuri, or tsugaru lacquer, is believed to have originated with the Tsugaru clan in the early Edo period. This technique is also known as bakanuri. It involves the repeated process of painting and layering lacquer. It takes several months to finish just one piece.
Iwatani's work are made for private orders only. It is interesting to see that he has persistence with his work. When having two orders, he makes three pieces, one for each order and one for himself to make sure that the sold pieces are truly perfect.
Kamakura-bori is a traditional carved lacquerware craft from Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture.
During the Kamakura period, various artistic objects were imported from the Chinese mainland. Among these, carved red and black lacquerware (Chinese 'diaoqi' or 'tsuishu' and 'tsuikoku' in Japanese) had some of the greatest influence on Japanese craftsmen. Many of these craftsmen began to make their own designs, using these objects as models.
In the late Muromachi period, the tea ceremony became popular and Kamakura-bori were used as tea implements. In the Meiji period, carved wooden objects for everyday use were designed and used for broader purposes.
Powerful and bold designs in relief colored with Macomo Indian ink and expressed in peculiar forms emphasize the solidity of Kamakura-bori. These are features not seen in other wood carving in Japan.
Kamakura-bori embodies the warmth of Japanese trees, and expresses a depth of color and density of carving. As artistic objects, Kamakura-bori harmonizes these three characteristics..