Kitamura Shosai is an urushi lacquerware artist who was born in 1938. As the holder of the intangible cultural heritage of 'raden' he is a Living National Treasure and an official repairer of urushi craft.
Kitamura Shosai actively works on both preserving and creating cultural assets. Raden is a decorating skill using mother-of-pearl inlay work on lacquerware and woodware.
Kitamura Shosai was born into an hereditary family of urushi craftsmen. After graduating in fine art from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts & Music, he practiced and cultivated his urushi techniques. His sophisticated technique of 'atsu-gai raden' is an original development from a tradition. His combination of 'hishimon' and 'hanamon' patterning makes his pieces stand out and draws praise for their beauty as a contemporary art form.
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.
Edo sudare blind-making is a traditional handicraft which uses natural materials like bamboo.
In her 'Pillow Book', the Heian-period authoress Sei Shonagon confirms that sudare were used at court. By the early Edo period, the main techniques of sudare-making were firmly established and there were expert sudare craftsmen.
Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806), the famous Ukiyoe (woodblock-print) artist often depicted sudare in his works, such as 'Coolness in Hyakka-en', 'A Beauty behind a Sudare' and 'Fuzoku Sandan Girls'. Indeed sudare were common features in the Edo period.
Edo sudare directly express such natural materials as bamboo, lespedeza (Japanese clover), cattail and reed. Bamboo is the most popular material and it is picked between the autumn and spring equinox, when it is firm and takes on beautiful colors.
Edo sudare are still used today as a cool interior decoration and are essential to the elegance of summer.
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.