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Tag Archive: Japanese art

Elegant Japanese Craftsmanship

  • Posted by:
  • January 26, 2017

Japanese craft (工芸 kōgei) has a long and proud tradition and  includes hand crafts made by an individual or a group. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Japan has stated that crafts (工芸技術 Kōgei Gijutsu), are divided into eight categories: papermaking, woodworking, dollmaking, metalworking, lacquerware, textiles, pottery, and other. The categories are further subdivided into more specific subcategories.

Kokeshi Dolls. | Alex Watson

Many other variations are officially recognized and protected by the government. Craftsmen are eligible for recognition either as an individual (Individual Certification) or as part of a group (Preservation Group Certification), into the list of Living National Treasures of Japan (crafts).

Some crafts are awarded the status of meibutsu, or regional specialties. Each type of Japanese craft takes time to learn. It demands a set of specialized skills that have been passed on for many generations.  Japanese craft works are designed to serve a specific functional or utilitarian purpose, making them beautiful and useful at the same time.

History tells us that Japanese craft dates back to the time humans settled on the Japanese islands. Handcrafting had roots in the rural crafts (traditional crafts production that is carried on, simply for everyday practical use, in the agricultural countryside). Traditionally, handcrafters made use of natural, indigenous materials, even today. Traditional Japanese craft distinguishes itself from decorative arts and fine arts, as being created to be used. Crafts were needed by all levels of Japanese society. The execution and design of each type became increasingly sophisticated over time.

Japanese crafts were developed and taught to succeeding generations. This was known as dentō (伝 統), where systems of Japanese traditions were passed down within a teacher-student relationship (shitei 師弟). It included a strict system of rules to enable learning and teaching of a way (dō 道). It was a common tradition that mastery of certain crafts was passed down within the family for many generations, establishing dynasties. The established master’s name was then assumed instead of the personal one. If there is no male heir, a relative or a student could be adopted to continue the line.

Sake bottle. | Ashley Van Haeften

Some Japanese handicrafts include Kutani ware, from Ishikawa, a style of Japanese Gotō Saijirō porcelain known for its colorful, vibrant painted designs. Kutani ware was established by Gotō Saijirō of the Maeda Clan. Another popular craft is Kokeshi dolls, from Miyagi. They are traditional hand-crafted Japanese wooden dolls with origins traceable to northern Japan. And a final example is Bizen ware. It is characteristically reddish-brown in color. It is known for being hard as iron, and it isn’t glazed like other types of pottery. It has distinct markings from the wood-burning kiln (an insulated chamber or oven with controlled temperature used for hardening or drying earthenware) firing.

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The Art of Ukiyo-e: Japanese Wood Block Prints

  • Posted by:
  • July 5, 2012

A remarkable art form in Japan is the ukiyo-e, the woodblock print or painting. The word “ukiyo-e” means “pictures of the floating world.”  This floating world refers to the idea of a place of impermanence where people live for the moment, through forms of entertainment (such as kabuki, noh, bunraku, geisha, and courtesans) that are removed from the ordinary everyday world.

The origins of ukiyo-e began in Edo (now Tokyo) in the latter half of the 17th century. Woodblock prints initially displayed images of popular geishas and courtesans, as well as scenes from the entertainment district. Many were actually posters that advertised brothels and Kabuki plays. Ukiyo-e became popular during this time because it was easily mass produced, which meant that those who were strapped for cash could sometimes afford some of the woodblock prints.

“Daruma and a Young Woman in the Rain”, woodblock print by Suzuki Harunobu, 1765 | Clarence Buckingham Collection

Ukiyo-e was also used to depict the grandeur of nature. Hokusai and Hiroshige were two well-known artists who created beautiful landscapes.

During the 18th century, artists developed ways to make fully colored pictures through nishiki-e, a technique invented and popularized by Suzuki Harunobu, a skilled printmaker.

The art form then suffered a major setback with the importation of photography from the West. Photography was preferred over Ukiyo-e in capturing real life events, which made Ukiyo-e nearly obsolete.

“Behind the Great Wave at Kanagawa” | Hokusai

Thanks to the “shin hanga” (New Prints) movement of the 20th century, the popularity of Ukiyo-e resurfaced. Traditional themes were still used but this time incorporating elements of European Impressionism, such as the effects of light and emotion. The shin hanga movement, however, faded during WWII.
The sōsaku-hanga (literally “creative prints”) movement followed, established in 1918 by the Japanese Print Society. Traditional prints were made through the collaboration of the artist, the woodblock carver, and the publisher. However, in sōsaku-hanga, the artist must be involved in all stages of print making.

Japanese wood blocks | paranoidnotandroid 


Ukiyo-e includes these basic steps:

  • A master sketch is made in ink.
  • A tracing of it is then made.
  • The tracing is glued face down on a piece of wood. Impressions were then carved into a block of wood, similar to a stamp.
  • The stamp is then inked and used to make more copies of the original drawing.
  • More stamps are made using the copies, but this time for different colors.
  • When a print is made, the printer adds ink on the woodblock and place a piece of paper on top of it. He then uses tools to evenly press the paper. This is repeated to add different colors.

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How to Make Origami Flowers

  • Posted by:
  • March 28, 2012

Spring is here, and with it unfurls new life. Young leaves wave in the cool breeze and flowers bloom in colorful profusion. You can bring the essence of spring into your home, or give it to a loved one, by creating lovely origami flowers that will never wither.

Like most origami designs, the difficulty of making origami flowers depends on your paper folding skills and patience. Here are three how-to videos on making origami flowers. Some may be more difficult than others, but all are equally gorgeous.

Origami roses | fdave

Origami Rose

A classic favorite. You can use regular red paper for your origami rose, or combine different hues and shades to create a colorful bouquet.

click image or: http://youtu.be/NjEVM0UNrdw


 Origami Lotus Flower

In Buddhism, the lotus flower symbolizes purity of mind, body, and speech. In Asian culture, it represents perfection and grace. Lotus flowers are also  just plain beautiful, even as origami.

click image or: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfMGjjW4avc&feature=fvst


Origami Tulip

Tulips are elegant and immediately bring cheer to any home. This video shows you how to make origami tulips, easily.

click image or: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3564V8laRzo&feature=relmfu


See KCP’s other origami posts here, here, and here.

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Museums in Marunouchi

  • Posted by:
  • March 23, 2012

Mapping out an agenda can be a challenge if you want to drink in all the sights and sounds of Japan’s metropolis. Tokyo is a vast web of museums, from the ancient and traditional to the ultra-modern. The Marunouchi area alone, near Tokyo Station, is home to four popular private museums where you can catch a glimpse of Japan’s rich history and culture.

Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum

This museum is a replica of the original structure of Maranouchi’s first office building in 1894, designed by British architect Josiah Conder. It was destroyed in 1968 but was rebuilt and opened to the public in 2010. Mitsubishi Ichigokan offers 20 rooms of exhibition space and concentrates on Western art from the 1800s. The museum’s strategic location makes it easy for people to visit during their lunch break. It takes only 45 minutes to explore each gallery. International exhibits are often displayed throughout the year.

The museum is located at 2-6-2 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku. Admission fees vary per exhibit. Hours are 10am-8pm, from Tuesday to Saturday, and up to 6pm on Sundays.

Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum | kubotake


Bridgestone Museum of Art

Impressionist art has had a large influence on Tokyo. The Bridgestone Corporation private art collection of Shojiro Ishibashi, the founder of Bridgestone Tires, was opened in 1952. It houses mostly contemporary and Impressionist paintings, as well as Japanese art from the Meiji Period. Special exhibits are displayed three or four times in the year.

The museum is located at Bridgestone Building 1F & 2F, 1-10-1 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku. Admission is 800 Yen for adults. Hours are 10am-8pm, from Tuesday to Saturday, and up to 6pm on Sundays.

Bridgestone Museum of Art | david.orban


Mitsui Memorial Museum

The Mitsui Memorial Museum houses an assortment of Japanese traditional art gathered by the Mitsui family over 300 years. Some artifacts even date as far back as the Edo Period.  Collections include national treasures, tea utensils, and an international stamp collection of over 130,000 stamps.

You can visit this museum at Mitsui Main Building, 2-1-1 Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku. Admission is 1000 Yen. Hours are 10am-5pm, Tuesdays to Sundays.


Mitsui Memorial Museum| kawanet

Idemitsu Museum of Arts

This museum houses the private collection of Sazo Idemitsu, the founder of Idemitsu Kosan Co., Ltd. It focuses on East Asian antique ceramic art and Japanese paintings. Temporary exhibits are mounted six or seven times per year. Idemitsu Museum of Arts is situated right next to the Imperial Theatre.

The museum is located at the Teigeki Building 9F, 3-1-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku.  Hours are 10am–5pm, Tuesdays to Sundays. It closes at 7pm on Fridays.

Idemitsu Museum of Arts | CLF


Additional source:

Lonely Planet Japan, 12th Edition

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Origami: Japanese Paper Folding

  • Posted by:
  • August 5, 2011

Origami (折り紙) is the Japanese art of folding paper. It is one of the purest and simplest art forms–it requires only a piece of paper and folding techniques. Origami became hugely popular as knowledge of it spread around the world.
An origami crane| kekremsi


Origami spread to Japan (from China) in 600 A.D. At the time, paper was scarce and only the rich could afford this hobby. Shinto noblemen would celebrate their weddings by wrapping saki glasses in paper folded in the shape of butterflies, which signified the bride and groom. As the availability of paper spread, origami became a popular hobby for everyone.

Folding methods were handed down from one generation to the next, and this then represented a cultural heritage for many Japanese families. The first known book that gave detailed instructions on origami was published in 1797, titled “The Secret of One Thousand Cranes Origami” or Hiden Senbazuru Orikata in Japanese.

Traditional origami cranes | Dominic’s pics

The grand master of modern origami is said to be Akira Yoshizawa. He created a set of terms and symbols with written instructions on how to create models through paper folding, currently used all over the world.

Types of Origami Paper

Origami paper is usually sold in various sizes, from 2.5 cm to 25 cm. Some sheets are even bigger. It is usually colored on one side and white on the other, but there are some sold with colors or printed patterns on both sides. Origami paper is lighter than regular paper, and you can repeatedly fold it without it becoming too thick and unmalleable. Regular paper is heavier but it can still be used for simple designs. Other usable papers are foil-backed paper, washi (made of wood pulp and is tough), and artisan paper such as gampi, kozo, and lokta, which are all made from long fibers and are quite strong.

Instructions for an origami frog | OrIgAmI IaN

Extra Materials

You can use a flat surface such as a clean table for folding, although many origami artists don’t need to place the paper on any surface. While creating your origami, you can use paper clips to keep some sections folded, tweezers to fold tiny areas, and a spray for wet-folding techniques, as well as to moisten the paper and maintain their final shape.

Types of Origami

Here are some of the more popular techniques:

Polyhedron module | Ardonik

Modular – a combination of several identical pieces to create one cohesive piece.

Pure Land – using only one fold at a time. Complex folds, such as reverse folds, are restricted.

Wet-Folding – a technique  for gentle curves instead of sharp creases. Paper is dampened to allow easy molding.

Action – movable origami (by pulling or tapping one of its parts). Examples include the jumping frog and the traditional flapping bird origami.

Japanese designs also vary from the simple, which grade school children can do in art class, to more complex designs, such as fantasy creatures and intricate modules.

Final Fantasy’s Bahamut | kekremsi





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Appreciating the Beauty of Bonsai

  • Posted by:
  • August 3, 2011

Bonsai 盆栽, means “plantings in tray,” from the Japanese terms bon, which refers to a tray or shallow pot, and sai, which refers to plantings. It is the art form of growing miniature trees in pots or trays. The origins of bonsai are in ancient China where it was originally known as “pun-sai” or “penjing.” It was often grown in the shapes of both real and mythical creatures such as birds and dragons.

The trident maple above, Acer buergerianum, is from the penjing collection at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum in the U.S. Its foliage and stems are trimmed in the shape of a dragon.

Japan adopted the art form during the Kamakura period in 1185-1333 under the influence of Zen Buddhism. Bonsai-making was initially practiced by monks in their monasteries but was later introduced to the elite and upheld by them as a symbol of prestige. Over the centuries, its popularity has spread all over the world.


Bonsai-making is not just simple horticulture, but mostly an expression of beliefs and aesthetic beauty. The Japanese ideology of bonsai is the marriage of ancient and Eastern philosophy, with its emphasis on the balanced relationship among nature, man, and the soul. Each part of the bonsai–shape, color, texture, container–is meticulously planned and maintained to create a symbolic, attractive result. The end goal of bonsai-making is to recreate nature in a realistic and miniaturized form.

An assortment of bonsai grown by Mr. John Thompson| San Jose Library

Growing a Bonsai

Bonsai cultivation involves growing the tree from cuttings or a seed. A bonsai plant is not a specific or special kind of tree. It can be any variety, but to make it look like a miniature replica of the standard tree size, it takes meticulous maintenance. There are many techniques you can use to mold the bonsai’s form, two of the popular ways are pruning and wiring. When pruning your tree, it is important that you already know the shape you want. This involves deciding which branches should be kept and removed to achieve the intended design.

Pasture Juniper bonsai | cliff1066™

Two advanced techniques are layering and grafting. With layering,  the tree grows new roots at strategic areas by manipulating the flow of nutrients from the root system. Grafting is joining together the stump (which includes the root system and the lower part of the trunk) with the upper portion of another trunk.


Several styles of bonsai guide the formation of the tree. Common styles include the formal upright or chokkan style, which displays an upright and tapering trunk; the slant style or shakkan, where the trunk is growing diagonally from the soil; and the broom or hokidachi style, where the trunk is upright and the branches and leaves form a thick round shape.

Most bonsais can be anywhere from 5 cm to 1 meter in height, and they can live to be hundreds of years old as long as they are properly tended.

This Japanese White Pine (Pinus parviflora ‘Miyajima’) bonsai is also known as Hiroshima Survivor because it survived the atomic blast in Hiroshima in 1945. It is nearly 400 years old. | Ragesoss

Interested to know more about the Japanese art of bonsai? You can check out these links.










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