Climbing Monkey is a folk toy that has been handed down for years in the Nobeoka, Miyazaki Prefecture. The toy is put up on a bamboo pole along with Koinobori or carp shaped streamers on “Boy’s Day” – May 5th to pray for the children’s good health and prosperity in the future. When the wind blows, the monkey starts climbing up the pole.
The making of the Climbing Monkey toy is said to have started around 200 years ago as a homemade craft by the samurai wives of the Nobeoka Naitou Clan. There are some popular myths as to why a climbing monkey first appeared. One story says that it was created to admonish Sarutahiko, a Monkey God during the mythical age, who acted violently and ran amuck. Another story is that, before he was victorious in battle, the head of the Arima Clan, a previous occupant of the region prior to the Nobeoka Clan, had a monkey drawn on the war banner that he carried on his back.
The toy is made by first creating a monkey shaped wooden mold. The mold is wrapped with many layers of Japanese paper and then, the back of it is cut to remove the mold. The remaining paper is then stitched up before it is colored. The monkey wears the golden-striped eboshi headgear worn by court nobles and it carries a kozutsumi drum and a gohei (a wand with paper streamers) on its back. His appearance resembles a dancer who performs the celebratory dance before a Kabuki performance. The monkey is then suspended from a banner on which iris flowers are drawn. Although it is not a modern creation, Climbing Money continues to delight children into the 21st Century.
The Big Cedars of Omiwa are located in Tamozawa, Kanayama Town, Mogami County, Yamagata prefecture. They were originally planted for lumber.
The cedars, up to 128, are some of the biggest cultivated trees of their kind in Japan. They were first planted as saplings back in the Edo period, probably in 1764, making them about 230 years old.
Mogami district has much snow in winter. In May 2006, there was such a heavy snowfall that six trees were bent by the weight of snow. As a result, these six trees, all of them over 250 years old, were cut down.
To see such enormous trees felled was overwhelming, particularly because two of the trees were 50m tall with trunks 80cm in circumference. Their immensity was a living demonstration of history.
Incense burning is a unique Japanese art in which fragrant wood is burnt for the enjoyment of its scent.
Fragrant wood was introduced to Japan at the same time as Buddhism and the custom of adding scent to clothes or hair was born. By the mid-Muromachi period, the burning of fragant wood had become stylised in the same way as the tea ceremony and flower arranging.
The basic style of incense burning involves cutting a piece of fragrant wood and putting it into a censer; the censer is passed back and forth so that its scent can be enjoyed.
Incense burning has an element of game and you guess which scent is which by comparing it with the Japanese classics and waka poems relating to it. This is different from other arts but, of course, winning and losing are not as important as enjoying the scent.
Incense burning is a very profound art that integrates one's literary knowledge, etiquette and mastery of books and tools. Many people love this art.
Hiromichi Osaka was born in 1937, in Kurayoshi, Tottori prefecture. In 1997, he was designated as a Living National Treasure for his woodcraft work.
After graduating from the Tokyo Gakugei University art department, Hiromichi Osaka became a public school teacher. He also became a disciple of Himi Kodo, another Living National Treasure. Under Kodo, Osaka studied woodcraft techniques such as 'kara-sashimono'. After much hard work, Osaka's work won a prize at the Traditional Japanese Crafts Exhibition.
In 1980, when he was 43, he was appointed by the Imperial Household Agency to copy a treasure from the Shoso-in. At this point, he retired from teaching and concentrated on the restoration project. The restoration imitation of a shitan wooden box was completed in 1986 and placed in the Shoso-in collection. His usage of materials such as 'kokushi' and 'shitan' using techniques and motifs from the Shoso-in wooden pictures and carvings have been highly praised.
The mikinokuchi is a folk craft article that dates back more than 300 years. It is presented in symmetrical pairs within a tokkuri and placed on the household Shinto altar of each district in order to celebrate the gods. It is also sometimes seen at weddings and ridgepole-raising ceremonies for good luck or as a charm.
Although the origin of the mikinokuchi is unclear, it is believed that it may have developed from a gohei (a white decorative item used mostly in Shinto rituals), or that it is an 'antenna' for receiving a god.
Mikinokuchi are made from bamboo, cypress or paper depending on the district, but mikinokuchi from Shimoichi in Yoshino, Nara Prefecture, are made from Yoshino cedar. Mikinokuchi are made by weaving thin slats of wood that are cut by a kanna and notched on the surface. They are flame shaped, which represents the wish that all evil and filth be burned away.
In Shimoichi, the mikinokuchi is burned after New Year, during the Dontoyaki (a rite which terminates New Year celebrations in Japan) in order to wish for perfect health for everyone throughout the year.
Miharu-goma horse toys are part of a traditional wooden-toy craftmaking tradition in Miharu, Tamura district, Fukushima prefecture. Miharu-goma, along with Yawata-goma of Aomori prefecture and Kinoshita-goma of Miyagi prefecture, are known as the three best wooden horse toys of Japan.
Wooden horse toys were first made following a legend that a wooden horse had appeared to help the Heian shogun, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, in a close battle with Emishi.
These toy horses come in two basic body colors, white or black, while the whip, saddle and accessories are painted in red, black, gold and purple.
These toy horses express the love the Miharu people have for horses. Miharu has traditionally been a horse-breeding area.
The wooden horses consist of two basic carved pieces that fit perfectly together using joints and notches. Several accessories are added to show the dynamism of the horse. When the white and black horse are placed together they are extremely cute. There is a Miharu wooden horse decorating the finishing post of the Fukushima racecourse.
Edo Sashimono is furniture and woodwork that is assembled without nails, and expresses a cool sense with elegance.
In the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate invited craftsmen from all over Japan to set up workshops in Kanda and Nihonbashi.
By the mid-Edo period, the workshops had refined certain styles and skills, one of them being sashimono woodwork.
Without using any visible connection or metal nail, sashimono craftsmen created sturdy yet beautiful wooden pieces, such as mirror-stands, drawers for tea paraphernalia and boxes for inkstones.
In Kyoto, sashimono for the Imperial Court and for the tea ceremony developed. In Edo, sashimono were mainly used by samurais, tradesmen and Kabuki actors.
Edo Sashimono avoids over-decoration and retains a smartness and toughness. Hence, Edo sashimono fully characterizes the cool sense of the Edo people.
Kyoto woodblock printing began in the Asuka period. It was widely used as illustration, for patterns on common fabric, and on folding fans. This form of printmaking has an incomparable power, depth and individuality.
In the Asuka period, woodblock-printed sutra texts from Korea were copied in Kyoto, some of them with simple Buddhist pictures. By the Edo period, woodblock printing in Kyoto was flourishing. The inimitable art of Japan astonished the West when they first saw it at world expositions.
Kyoto woodblock printing gradually evolved as one of its classical forms of art and culture. It uses typical Japanese pigments, such as 'gofun' and 'kira', which are handmade using a method called 'Kyo-gonomi'. Even though this printing method became standardized in Japan, it still possesses the soul of Kyoto, beloved by contemporary people.