Shokyoto, which literally means “small Kyoto,” is a nickname given to the townscape that is similar to Kyoto. Most of the cities called Shokyoto were built by the daimyo in and after the Muromachi period, who adored Kyoto as the center of politics, economy and culture.
In some cases, Shokyoto was built because the daimyo had a yearning for the sight of home. In other cases, the land features were similar to those of Kyoto; being surrounded with mountains in the three directions, having a river running through the town, or being located in a basin. It is also called Shokyoto because the town has a shrine where the deity was transferred from Kyoto. In the modern times, the places with the features that remind visitors of Kyoto are also named Shokyoto. Such features include townscape, festivals, traditional handicraft, landscape and atmosphere.
Among the places that represent Shokyoto in Japan today, those built because the powerful ruler of the area had a yearning for Kyoto are Yamaguchi City in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Takayama City in the Hida region (Gifu Prefecture), and Chiran Town in Kagoshima Prefecture and Nakamura City in Kochi Prefecture. Those with the similar land features to Kyoto are the old castle towns in Hagi City in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Takahashi City in the ancient Bichu province (Okayama Prefecture) and Ashikaga City in Tochigi Prefecture.
Inden is Japanese traditional lacquered deer hide craft products. The technique is said to have been introduced from India during the Heian period (794−1192). They have been made in the Koshu region (the present Yamanashi pref.) because, surrounded by mountains, a lot of deer inhabited in this area and also abundant supply of urushi lacquer was possible. The typical technique is called “Urushituke,” in which the stencil (made of fine Japanese paper with hand-curved patterns) is laid on the dyed hide and the lacquer is forced through the stencil with a spatula. When the stencil is removed, the raised glowing patterns appear on the hide. The oldest Inden shop, Inden-Ya, was established in 1582 by the first Yushichi Uehara. Since then the secret process of the making of Inden has been handed down within the family of Inden-Ya. As it fits to a human body and very durable, it was favored as parts for samurai armor at first. Later in the Edo period other items such as purses or wallets began to be made and favored as articles of both utility and adornment. Inden articles made by Inden-Ya are still very appealing to people in the present days.
99% of Japan’s gold leaf is made in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Pref., which is due to the fact that climate and water in this area is suitable for gold pounding and that the producing places of Buddhist family altars and lacquered ware, for which gold leaf is consumed in high volume, are close to this city. A gold leaf is 1/10,000 to 2/10,000 mm thick, which is almost transparent. It is said that a piece of gold sized as large as a ten-yen coin can be thinned out into a sheet as large as a tatami-mat. A gold leaf must be uniformly flat without breaking or tearing. Imai Gold Leaf Co., Ltd. established in 1898 is Japan’s only one gold leaf trading company that has its own factory. It deals in other metal leaf such as silver leaf, platinum leaf and edible gold leaf as well. The company has handed on the traditional technique and tries to pass it on to the posterity, pursuing the beauty of gold leaf. In the showroom of the company, the hands-on-experience section is provided for the customers to know the charm of the gold leaf “with their own eyes and heart.”
Nao paper has been made fir over 300 years at Nao area in Yamato-machi, Saga Pref. Yoshisuke Noudomi, who studied paper making in Chikugo district (present Fukuoka Pref.), introduced the technique to this area in around 1700. As this area is located in the mountains between Saga Plain and the Genkainada Sea and has very scarce farmland, paper making developed as a side job for the farmers. At present only one workshop of Taniguch Washi Kobo remains. The characteristic of Nao paper is that kaji (a kind mulberry) is used instead of kozo (paper mulberry). Kaji belongs to the same class as camellia in the botanical classification and has durable long fiber. Its elaborate surface, hard touch, and transparency can’t be found in any other paper. It is favored to make a variety of items such as chochin (lanterns), wall paper, calligraphy paper, and the lanterns specially made for the Grand Sumo tournaments held in Kyushu and Hakata Dontaku Festival.
Echizen forged blades, one of the traditional handicrafts of Echizen City,
Fukui Pref., has its own distinctive sharpness produced through 700 years of
its history, where craftsmen have competed in refining their skills. The
history dates back to the Nanbokucho period (1336−1392), when a swordsmith
from Kyoto came to this area. This swordsmith, Chiyotsuru Kuniyasu visited
Fuchu (present Takeo City, Fukui Pref.) in search of a suitable place for
sword-making. He also made grain sickles for the local farmers and this
evolved into forging in the area. Since then Takeo is a big producing area
of edged farming tools, which were spread throughout the country by peddlers
unique to Hokuriku region. Using aged-old Japanese forging skills before
being finished by hand, kitchen knives, sickles and trimmers are now
produced. Echizen forged blades were awarded the nationally recognized
Traditional Craft Product in 1980, as daily commodities combined with
accomplished skills and artistic sensitivity.
Tobe pottery is one of Ehime Prefecture’s traditional crafts. Its simple design in deep indigo on pure white rather thick porcelain of uncomplicated form is very impressive. Tobe pottery is said to have begun in the 6th or 7th century. Pottery started in this area such a long time ago because the mountainside of Tobe Basin was suited for building kilns and since surrounded by rich forests it was easy to get plenty of firewood. The indigo blue patterns of flowering grasses drawn with strong touches of brushes against simple white porcelain have been handed down from the predecessors. Its simple and plain design, which gives warm and familiar impression and its beautiful but practical shape are appreciated by many enthusiasts. Nowadays there are a lot of woman potters in Tobe area and the works adopting new materials and modern designs also attract people’s attention.