About traditional Japanese crafts
Japan is a treasure trove of traditional crafts with almost 1200 different traditions continuing today across the nation. It’s perhaps the diversity that is striking about Japanese traditional crafts, which include ceramics, textiles, urushi lacquerware, wood and bamboo craft, metalware, handmade paper, stone craft, glassware, lanterns, fans, umbrellas, furniture, calligraphy brushes, Buddhist altars and dolls among others.
Many Japanese craft traditions have ancient roots. The Jōmon (ancestral Japanese) people were producing sophisticated ceramics some 16000 years ago and using urushi lacquer by 9000 years ago. Some of the craft traditions in Japan today have existed continuously for 1000 to 2000 years. Over the millennia, the traditions absorbed Influences from mainland Eurasia, developing their diversity and unique styles. As Japan’s industries and trade grew during the Edo period (17th to mid-19th centuries), the craft traditions flourished with items were being exported as far away as Europe.
Japan’s modernisation that began in the mid-19th century caused many craft traditions to decline. Wars and changing Japanese lifestyles took their toll and many traditions have become extinct. Most traditions that have survived now face immense challenges, particularly in regional and rural areas of Japan. A dire shortage of young trainees has meant that many traditions are being maintained by aging artisans. Materials and specialist tools for the crafts are increasingly difficult and costly to source, as the suppliers themselves age and cease to operate. Economic hardships are common, resulting from the falling demand for traditional handcrafted items, rising living and overhead costs, and declining regional economy. Natural disasters and changing weather patterns have had a catastrophic impact on some craft traditions—the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters in northeastern Japan, the repeated flood and landslide disasters in Kyūshū and western Japan, and so on.
As the world discovers the wonders of traditional Japanese crafts, their future is uncertain to say the least. We sincerely hope that the time-honoured traditions continue so that future generations can experience the joy that they bring to us.