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.
Kumihimo is a traditional Japanese form of braiding. Kumi himo can be translated as “gathering of threads.” The earliest form of kumihimo is believed to date back to the Nara Period (710 to 794 CE) when braids were used to secure clothing as well as in some religious ceremonies. The Heian Period (794 to1185 CE) saw braids becoming more elaborate and complex with the growing interest in the Buddhist religion. Braids were still used for clothing but more importantly in decorating temples with most of the braiding done by monks.
Other uses for kumihimo braids increased with the rise of the Samurai Warrior class during the Kamakura Period (1185 to1333 CE) through the Muromachi Period (1336 to1573 CE) when samurai armor was made of lacquered iron plates joined together with kumihimo. A single samurai suit of armor required as much as 250 to 300 meters of kumihimo braids. In addition to holding the armor together, kumihimo braids were also used in harnessing horses and binding swords. Kumihimo braids were produced in a wide array of widths and sophisticated designs.
KCP Winter 2015 students watch a kumihimo craftsman at work in Asakusa. | KCP Flickr
During the Azuchi–Monoyama (1568 to1603 CE), kumihimo was used when wearing a kimono. With the introduction of the wide obi sash, a braid called obijime was needed to hold it in place and is still used up until today. The Edo Period (1603 to1868 CE) saw the development of most of the widely known traditional patterns with the earliest known published patterns dating back to this period.
You can learn the craft of kumihimo, and even create your own designs to make unique and wonderful bracelets, necklaces, and other pieces.
Check out these videos on kumihimo:
Kumihimo workshop with Midori Suzuki Sensei by KotaDerkater
Kumihimo Braid, An Easy Tutorial by RubberStampRosie
Kanzashi are beautifully intricate hair ornaments used in traditional Japanese hairstyles. They were initially used in Japan during the Jōmon period, when Japanese believed that a stick could ward off evil spirits. So, people would wear them in their hair.
The Nara period brought about the influence of the Chinese culture, including hair ornaments. During the Heian period, new styles entered the scene. Instead of the usual putting up of hair, it became fashionable to wear it down and tied back. At this point, kanzashi become a general term for any hair ornament such as hairpins and combs.
Maiko Fukuyu wearing June kanzashi with willow.| MShades
The Azuchi-Momoyama period introduced wider varieties of hairstyles that gave women an opportunity to make use of more elaborate hair ornaments. The Edo period showed the birth of more finely crafted hair ornaments as Japanese hairstyles became larger and more complex. Kanzashi were even made to be weapons of defense. Nowadays, with Western influence, kanzashi are used for more traditional occasions such as Shinto weddings and as accessories for traditional kimono attire. But many modern women are starting to revive kanzashi by using them as accent pieces for more modern clothing.
Tsumami kanzashi is a kind of kanzashi that literally means “folded fabric hair ornament.” They are usually made from silk. Silk is cut into squares and are origami-folded into flower petals. The number of petals can range from a modest five to a lavish 75-petal piece. A cluster of flowers is called a hana kanzashi. A bira-bira is a long stream of petals made to look like hanging flowers.
Tsumami-kanzashi blossom. | Elinor
Tsumami kanzashi was considered a traditional Japanese handicraft in Tokyo in 1982. Artisans have to undergo extensive training that usually lasts five to ten years of apprenticeship to be a trained professional. Still, the petal folding technique has become a popular hobby among a growing audience. Numerous instructional books, kits, and lessons are available for anyone interested in learning the craft.
Check out this YouTube video by DreamBigLover on how to make kanzashi flowers:
Click image or: http://youtu.be/TaVb1-CoKUk