Ralph Kiggell is a British artist who was born in Zambia in 1960. He is a woodblock printer, whose work is strongly influenced by East Asia.
Since he was a child, he had always been interested in Japanese woodblock prints. Works by masters such as HOkusai and Utamaro could be seen periodically in special exhibitions at the British Museum in London.
In 1990, Ralph Kiggell came to Japan to study woodblock printing. He first studied at the Yoshida Hanga Academy in Tokyo under Tsukasa Yoshida, the son of Toshi Yoshida, and the grandson of Hiroshi Yoshida. Later, he learned contemporary woodblock printing techniques at Kyoto Seika University and at Tokyo’s Tama Art University.
Kiggell enjoys the sensitivity of Japanese woodblock printing, because the whole process is carried out by hand using hand-made and natural materials. There is an organic connection from hand to wood to paper. Kiggell thinks that in the digital age that we live in, woodblock printing has particular resonance as an important medium for contemporary artistic expression.
Keiko Yoshida is the owner of Yoshida store in Daito-ku, Tokyo, that creates and sells Takarabune-kumade, or Treasure ship rakes, which are sold only at the Tori Fair of Ootori Shrine. Ms Yoshida was born in 1921 and is a master craftswoman recognized by Nihon Shokunin Meikoukai, the association for the Japanese Master Craftsmen.
Yoshida is currently the only store that creates Takarabune-kumade employing traditional methods, and Ms Yoshida continues to use the methods passed down since the Edo period. She initially started making the rakes to help her husband who was originally a carpenter. After his death, she became the head of the store and single-handedly manages the business.
Takarabune-kumade made by Yoshida store uses only natural materials of bamboo and paper. The whole manufacture process including cutting bamboo, cutting paper using a pattern, coloring, drawing faces, painting exterior, and insertion are done by hand. These techniques have been handed down to Ms Yoshida’s daughter, Kyoko.
“Kimigara slippers” are the traditional handicraft in the Towada area (Aomori Prefecture), which is known for large amounts of corn production. “Kimi-gara” refers to the husks (kara) of corn (kimi) in the Tohoku dialect. The making of the corn husk slippers in this area dates back to 1947, when farmers found the way to utilize the husks of corn, which had been discarded as wastes. They started to make slippers during agricultural off-season. Later, efforts were made to promote its production and Towada Productive Cooperation of Corn Husk Slippers was established in 1963.
In fall, the husks are removed from the ears of corn one by one and dried in the sun. They are woven into slippers during the agricultural off-season in winter. All processes are done by hand and the materials are all natural. The corn husk slippers are in good repute because they are sturdy, light, and resistant to humidity. Also husks can be dyed in various colors to create a multitude of designs.
“Wagara-Yukataji Aloha Shirts” made of domestically produced fancy Yukata cloth with traditional Japanese patterns are developed, designed and sold by KANTARO’S. Tsuyoshi Fujii, the owner of the shop, gave the name to the products. A Japanese taste and a Western style are successfully blended, while there are no oversights in every detail. As the cloth sold for Yukata is 40 cm in width, two pieces of cloth are sewed together at the back. Two back tucks are made for easy movement and air permeability. Buttons are made of natural materials, mainly bamboo. The Chest, waistline, sleeve width and armhole opening are made loose. The sleeve is sewed to the sleeve cap and stitches are given on the seam. Before going on sale, the prototypes had been tried on by a lot of people with various body types and improved in the process of trial and error. Mr. Fujii says, “We made efforts to design it so that the front piece won’t be pulled up even when worn by a person with a little potbelly. We are also careful about the patterns of the pockets to fit those on the body pieces. As is explained by Mr. Fujii, there are thoughtful considerations given to cover for our figures.
Shigaraki yaki is a traditional pottery fired in Shigaraki town, Koka, in Shiga Prefecture. It is one of the six original ceramic sites of ancient Japan.
The origin of Shigaraki ware can be traced to the piece Shigaraki-no-miya, which was made by order of the Shomu Emperor in the Tenpei period. Later in the Kamakura, Muromachi, and Ando-momoyama periods, Shigaraki ware was used for tea ceremony implements. In the Edo period, Shigaraki ware began to be acknowledged as an everyday ware.
Nowadays, Shigaraki ware consists of various forms for different purposes. Characteristics of Shigaraki pottery are its odor of natural mud and the cracks in its surface made by fire. In other words, the mixture of mud and fire creates a sophisticated pottery with the elegant naturalism of wabisabi.
In 1976, Shigaraki ware was designated as an important cultural asset.
Yaeyama joufu (high-quality ramie) fabric is woven on Ishigaki Island, Okinawa. The small dark-brown 'kasuri' (scratched) patterns against the white background on this material give a very refreshing look.
In the early 17th century, the Satsuma clan invaded Ryukyu (Okinawa) and imposed taxes on the Okinawans. Many people were made to weave fabric to be sent as tribute to their rulers, hence the development of the Yaeyama joufu technique.
After regulations were abolished at the end of the Meiji period, the craftworkers organized guilds and Yaeyama joufu became a popular cottage industry.
The materials for the ramie and the many kinds of dye are all natural, and are turned into beautiful fabric by the hands and wisdom of the people. The cloth is dried in the May sun and the dyes are fixed by seawater.
Many people love this high-quality ramie because it suits the subtropical climate: it is refreshing and light enough to to let air pass through.
Edo Wazao are fishing poles made from natural bamboo, with structures that vary depending on the kind of fish to be caught and the fishing place.
These rod-poles were first produced in the mid-Edo period; by the end, they were an established artistic handicraft known as Edo Wazao.
The quality of the pole depends on the material used, which varies according to the bamboo and the lacquer finish. Craftsmen cut the bamboo themselves, selecting the best from among thousands.
Edo Wazao are still used today, their forms are adapted to the types of fish caught and the fishing place. In some cases, they are easier to use than up-to-date rods.
Edo Wazao represent the epitome of craftsmanship meeting the demands of the Edo people, who wished to fish in a land blessed with sea or rivers.