With its picturesque quality and its scientific technique, Yuzen dyeing is an art form unique to Japan.
Takahashitoku, an elite dyeing studio in Kyoto, has for 100 years produced Yuzen dyes for the prominent manufacturer, Chiso.
The Takahashitoku studio is trying to preserve and make relevant this traditional art form for modern uses. They dye dresses and jeans for Yoji Yomamoto, one of world’s top contemporary designers. They also collaborated with a celebrated young artist and created scrolls and screens of his compute graphics paintings. For public, they hold classes for to experience hand painted Yuzen for fun.
“Tradition and techniques need to be accepted by people in order to survive’, says Kinya Takahashi, director of the studio. “But then what makes them acceptable? This question is always on my mind.”
The Chitose Gourd Festival is a bizarre and peculiar festival that has been traditionally held at the Shibayama Hachiban Temple in Chitose, Bungo-ono, Oita Prefecture.
The festival is also known as the Shimotsuki Festival and these days takes place every year on the first Sunday of December. The festival dates back about 800 years to a time when two powerful families, Otomo and Satsuma, who were Shugo-Shoku (provincial military commissioners) of Bunzen and Bungo respectively, warred constantly over the sorrowful land of Masunaga Toyotake, who were also a powerful family.
The Chitose Gourd Festival is believed to have begun when Masunaga filled his gourd with Japanese sake, and dedicated a 'shishimai' (lion dance) and contest of 'yabusame' (archery on horseback) to the Uji Shinto temple. He made a supplication for a 'bunrei' (a part of the deity needed to establish a new branch of a shrine).
The festival performers wear scarlet 'hitatare' kimonos, or hakama, and bear a large sword on their backs while carrying a long gourd, some 85cm long, on their heads. They also must carry a gourd filled with about 5.4 liters of sacred sake on their waist, and wear giant 'waraji' (straw sandals) about 70cm wide.
The leading headman, known as 'Hyotan-sama; (Mr Gourd), must wear a peculiar outfit that is about 1.20m long, while saying 'Let's all hope for a good harvest! Drink this sake! It's good for your health!'. The leader shares his sake with his comrades who drink cheerfully and merrily and parade for about 2 hours along a 1km route.
The Kanko Odori dance is performed during the Bon festival, at Ise, in Mie prefecture and surrounding areas. It is also known as the Shaguma Odori dance.
The Kanko Odori is basically a folk dance in which the dancers move and bang 'kanko' drums hanging from their chests. Their large and gorgeous headgear and decorations carried on their shoulders are the characteristic costumes of this elegant performance. 10 to 15 people form a circle in this Bon festival dance, which is carried out to commemorate ancestors.
There are two types of dance: one features the decorative headgear called 'shaguma'; the other features bamboo hats decorated with flowers and is an elegant dance. Shaguma is made from glued horsehair and is worn with a set of grass skirts, creating a beautiful and fascinating atmosphere.
The dancers in the Kanko Odori perform in parade, wearing white clothing, carrying the drums and banging them sometimes dancing energetically. The dance is very spectacular and dynamic.
Edo Kimekomi Dolls are made in Tokyo and Saitama. They are made by tucking and fixing cloth (usually brocade) costumes to grooves on the doll's body.
The first doll of this kind is said to have been made by a priest at the Jogamo Shrine in Kyoto, who fixed scraps of cloth to a notched piece of wood.
After that, kamo-hina dolls spread to Tokyo, where they came to be called Edo Kimekomi. By the end of the Edo period, many dolls of this type were being made.
The body of the doll is made from toso, which is paulownia powder mixed with wheat starch glue. Then, the body is notched and the costume is fixed to the grooves.
Edo Kimekomi Dolls have long, lean shapes and fine, delicate features: the contrast with the plumper Kyoto dolls is very interesting.
Edo Dress-up Dolls (ishougin ningyo) is a general name for any doll, such as May, March or Ichimatsu dolls, whose costume you can change. These dolls date back to the period of the fifth shogun, Tsunayoshi.
Dress-up dolls were originally made in Kyoto, but as Edo culture flourished, many Kyoto techniques came to be practised by Edo artisans. They invented various dolls such as Hina, Satsuki and Ichimatsu dolls, which were the prototype of the Edo dress-up Doll.
A typical doll's body is made from toso, a paste made by mixing paulownia powder with glue; its lively face is layered with white paint; the eyes are glass and the hair is human with silk threads. The costumes can be made from materials such as crepe.
Using these traditional Edo techniques, today's Edo dress-up dolls match beauty and prettiness with a modern sense.
Kasekake is a classical female dance-form and a part of traditional Ryukyu dance in Okinawa. Kasekake was originally a process of weaving yarn into cloth.
Kakesake as a dance assimilates movements of weaving yarn with movements of affection and love that the young wives experience after their loved ones depart and go forth while they are left to stay. The dancers wear crimson costumes, with their right shoulder out of their sleeves, while holding a reel of yarn and enacting weaving.
The reason why the dancers' right shoulders are not in their sleeves is so they can accurately depict the weaving movements. The dance itself does not involve furious movement and steps, but expresses delicacy through the subtle dancing that requires great experience and talent from the dancers.
This dance-form is not captivating for furious movement or dancing, but for its ability to give people the utmost feelings of affection and emotion through minimal movements.
Kurushimakudouchi is a song that accompanies the dancing typical to the small island of Kurushima, one of the Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.
According to the 'Shimauta-kikou' ('Notes about Island Songs'), the song and dance forms, now known as the Kurushimakudouchi, were developed during the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Kurushimakudouchi uniquely differs from other forms of Yaeyama entertainment in that the song follows a mainland-influenced concept called Shichigo-cho (a song composed of 7 sounds, followed by 5 sounds then repeating that pattern) that depicts folk traditions in a humorous, yet very lively, dance song. To this song, the dancers dance in an outfit that is supposed to represent the women of Kurushima: Basho clothes fastened by a Minsa sash, with a white towel wrapped around their heads, and bare feet. The outfit is definitely one of the main features of the Kurushimakudouchi, but the emotion and passion of the dancers is the most alluring point of the dance.
The Kurushimakudouchi is unique even in Japan, with its humorous and lively songs, and its passionate and expressive dancing.
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.