It is the beginning of the year, so many people are looking to try something new. It might be traveling or beginning a hobby, but we’re often inspired to get a fresh start and expand our horizons. One area that’s rich for exploring in Japan is its traditional crafts. Many have been practiced for centuries, and they provide a great first experience for anyone wanting a unique experience. Here are some to try in 2022.
You may have noticed the prevalence of the dark blue color in Japanese design and clothing. One of the reasons it is so important is the history of indigo dyeing, called aizome. It was used during the Heian period (794–1185) for clothing of the nobility. Aizome garments, which provided a layer of protection and cooling, were also worn by samurai under their armor. Aizome items even have antibacterial properties, so they helped combat infections in battle wounds.
Shikoku is generally considered the home of aizome, but you can travel to other regions such as Miyagi Prefecture to experience indigo dyeing. You can create your own patterns and designs with this craft, but the beautiful dark blue color is truly something that can only be experienced in a specialty shop. You may need to do some research to find one close to you, but it will be worth it.
Udon comes in a variety of types, and is a favorite among Japanese people as a comfort food. However, many have not experienced udon they have made themselves. The process is very engaging and pretty good exercise, so it is worth trying at least once.
You can generally try your hand at udon-making at a ryokan, or inn. There will usually be a master or expert to guide you. The process involves making the udon dough, foot stomping, and cutting the noodles into their perfect shape and thickness. It is an oddly satisfying experience that is cheap and relatively available.
Togei is an earthenware pottery art whose history in Japan is said to go back tens of thousands of years, as far back as the Jomon period (circa 14,000–300 BCE). It is refreshing to enjoy these kinds of products because you can appreciate the time that went into making them as opposed to mass-produced products.
There are two main ways to create your earthenware of choice. The first is called rokuro, and is probably what you think of when it comes to making pottery. It involves using a pottery wheel to spin the clay as you shape it. The second way is called tebineri. This involves kneading the clay with your hands and then shaping it on a table. It lends itself better to creating shapes other than typical circular plates or bowls.
You can try togei in various places, but the three locations most famous for this traditional craft are Arita, Echizen, and Mino. This is a great option for family trips and the best part is you have a physical to remind you of the great time you had.
This art started in Okinawa around the Meiji era (1868–1912), but developed after WWII when locals began to use recycled soda bottles to create their own blown glass. It is a craft that requires great skill, but it has become one of the most unique activities you can experience in Okinawa.
The glass can be shaped into virtually anything, and comes in a multitude of colors and textures. Because of the time and skill it takes to create even just one, you can go home knowing that there is no other glass creation quite like the one you just made. You can experience this craft at different places around the islands, but check out Ryukyu Glass Village, the largest handmade glass shop in Okinawa.
Paper is very important to Japan, both historically and to this day, as many government and business processes still rely on the material. Washi, however, is a type of paper that holds a different importance in Japanese culture. Making it involves dipping the paper into a liquid containing fibers so that bonds are formed on top of the paper, giving it its strength. The strength of this paper made it more useful for tasks other than writing and drawing pictures.
It has been used for traditional doors, umbrellas, lighting fixtures, and more. There are various locations around Japan that offer washi experiences of some kind to those interested, but if you are in the Kanto area, check out Washi no Sato. It is a theme park where visitors can make their own hosokawa-shi, a special type of washi.
It is important that these traditional crafts are learned and shared with others, so that they will continue to be passed on, even as Japan’s population ages. This list is far from exhaustive, so don’t hesitate to delve even further into the traditions of craftsmanship in Japan.