In mid-May, wisteria blooms beautifully over the mountains. Fujifu is a cloth made by weaving fabrics extracted from the vines of those wisterias. In the Tango areas, the weaving skills that developed over 1,200 years are now designated as a traditional handicraft of Kyoto.
The history of fujifu is long. There is a phrase that indicates the presence of fujifu even in the 'Manyoushu' (a collection of Japanese poetry, compiled around the mid-8th century), which mentions 'the fujifu of a salt farm worker, working for the lord'. Also, an anecdote describes how the Emperor Godaigo took a wisteria seedling with him to Okinoshima island, when he was exiled there by the Kamakura Shogunate in 1333 (Genkou 2). The anecdote explains that he loved the wisteria and remembered the imperial capital by dressing in fujifu cloth.
At one time, fujifu was being produced widely across Japan as general apparel. Today, there have been approaches to adapt fujifu for modern lifestyles by making new products, such as 'noren' curtains, tapestries, obi belts and interior accessories.
In Kyoto, it was a tradition from ancient times to grow high-quality bamboo and process it. The processed bamboo is called 'kyo-meichiku' and is used in architecture, for artifacts, and to decorate traditional Japanese rooms.
It is believed that bamboo originated from China. The fluctuating climate in the fertile Kyoto basin, created just the right environment for bamboo to grow strongly and flourish.
During the Heian period, bamboo began to be used in architecture to create the structure of walls and pillars. It also became increasingly used in many aspects of Kyoto culture, such as in gardens, as both a plant and a structural feature, and in pavilions used for the tea-ceremony.
Bamboo adds a special taste to Kyoto's cityscape. It is designated as one of Kyoto's traditional crafts.
Japan is considered to be a treasury of ningyou (dolls). This reputation developed in Kyoto, which has been considered the principle base of doll-making (Kyo-ningyou) for many years. The elegant and graceful Kyoto dolls are widely praised, and many fine, exquisite ningyou are still being made today.
The history of Kyo-ningyou dates back to the Heian period, when girls in the nobility used dolls called 'hina' to play house. As time passed, these dolls became more elaborate and impressive, so that by the Edo period, it had become a tradition to display these dolls on March 3rd (seku-no-hi).
The business of doll-making flourished. The day before seku-no-hi, doll-makers displayed an assortment of ningyou to spirited crowds of people.
In the late Edo period, Gosho-ningyou (Imperial palace dolls) were being made, which were sent from loyal courtiers to daimyos (feudal lords) as gifts.
The process of making Kyo-ningyou is formidable, and requires competence. These dolls are hand made, by artisans with great skill and knowledge of the process. This skill and specialization is what gives Kyo-ningyou their profound and genuine presence.
Kyofusahimo/yorihimo are exquisitely braided ropes and strings decorated with clusters of ornaments. These magnificent objects date back to the Heian period, and are considered to be a traditional handicraft of Kyoto.
These crafts originated in the Heian period. The kyofusahimo and yorihimo developed because the nobles and lords of Japan wanted some flamboyant and luxurious accessories for their interior furnishings and belongings.
During the Kamakura period, samurais used these braids as kimono cords for their armor and katanas. During the Muromachi period, when the tea ceremony became popular, these braids were used to decorate equipment used during the ceremonies. In the Edo period, when many different temples were built in Kyoto, stores that sold Buddhist altar fittings decorated with these braids and stores that specialized in braids, prospered.
As braiding designs and techniques developed, there were many social changes that led to the kyofusahimo and yorihimo becoming more of a common commodity, than a luxury one.
Up to this day, the kyofusahimo and the yorihimo are beloved by the people of Japan because of their many uses in a range of applications, from everyday decoration and accessories, to traditional events, such as tea ceremonies and commemorations.
Japan is well known as a country for doll-making. In particular, Kyoto has a long history in doll-making.
Kyoto ceramic dolls (Kyo-toh-ningyo) are colored and unglazed dolls made in Kyoto. Although these dolls have a naive, sweet image, they are also very delicate and have an attractive brightness.
Busshi (sculptors specializing in Buddhist statuary) and nohmenshi (sculptors specializing in Noh masks) also would sculpt dolls such as Kamo-ningyos and Gosho-ningyos for the nobility. However, dolls gained general popularity in the Edo period, when mass production became possible from cast molds.
Kyo-toh-ningyo is one type of doll-making that developed at this time, and was appreciated by the public as accessible, simple and cute dolls.
Today’s Kyo-toh-ningyo are integrated with late-Meiji Hakata-ningyo. These dolls set new trends at the time and achieved new aspects of artistry and creativity.
Generally, these figures are made in small numbers, though there are many varieties in shapes and forms. For instance there are Kyo-toh-ningyo dolls made for the doll festival (Hina matsuri), and for boys festivals, as well as historical figures, zodiac animals, and the dolls combined with bells. Zodiac dolls and bell-dolls are very popular, since they are believed to bring good luck.
Kyoto incrustation is a traditional craft that is made by inlaying pieces of shaped gold and silver into the base metal. Nowadays the artistry is used in personal belongings, such as necklaces and brooches, and for interior decorative objects, such as clocks and picture frames.
The technique of incrustation originated in Damascus, Syria, in the Middle East. Later it spread to Europe, China, Korea and finally to Kyoto in the 14th century. The technique became prevalent in Kyoto in the late-Edo period, with the trend for incrusted inlay work on the scabbards of samurai swords.
In the Meiji period, incrustation workmanship was admired in America and became a major export. Due to its delicacy and elegance, no other craft could follow. Each of the pieces crafted by proficient craftsmen show different characters and are brilliant.
Kyoto knives and the sophisticated art of making them date back to the Heian period. The entire process is done manually and the blade quality is unparalleled elsewhere.
It is claimed in 'Records of Ancient Matters' and 'The Chronicles of Japan' that knives were first introduced to Japan in the 4th century. However, the implements were more like swords. In the Heian period, proficient sword-smiths, such as Sanjyo Munechika, began to spread knife-making techniques around Japan. As time passed, these knives were treated more as a commodity. As a result, the craftsmen subdivided their work into swords, farming implements and other bladed implements.
As a result, techniques of metalwork and forging became more skilful and there was demand for the manufacture of implements used in fan-making, cuisine and dyeing. Nowadays, items ranging from knives to specialized swords are manufactured and are acknowledged for their quality.
In Kyoto, various ceremonies required the making of special implements and costumes. Ceremonial objects include wooden apparatuses, mirrors, flags, curtains and instruments. Ceremonial costumes include dresses, typical Heian clothing and their accessories.
Some 85% of these ceremonial objects are made in Kyoto. Production proceeds slowly as most objects and costumes are handmade.
Because the imperial court used to be based in Kyoto until the Meiji Restoration, there were a great many different ceremonies, and professionals were needed to make the ceremonial goods. In the Edo period, the Sakamoto family became renowned as craftsmen working at the Ise Shrine. Kyoto craftsmanship was more skilled than elsewhere in Japan, even before the Sakamoto family appeared.
Nowadays, the demand for ceremonial objects is increasing because traditional implements are coming back into favor for use at occasions such as weddings. As a result, more craftsmen are needed and the industry is trying to foster successors.