What has contributed to the diversity of Traditional Japanese crafts

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Why Japan has such a large variety of traditional crafts?

When looking at articles or magazines, as well as media platforms like YouTube, you would notice that Japan has a variety of traditional crafts , and each of them has own features distinguish from others. I wondered it, too. We have more than 200 kinds of traditional crafts accredited officially only. Compared to large countries, Japan is small in area, only 1/26 of the United States. It is natural to have a question in mind that why and how they have grown to have so many different traditional crafts. So, I will explain several factors that have contributed to the diversity.

1. Logistic

2. Weather

3. Geographical features

1.The Lack of logistics nurtures traditional Japanese crafts

When hearing this sentence without and knowledge about history of Japan and traditional crafts, you will become puzzled with it. In general, logistics plays a significant role in growing industries. So, how the dearth of proper logistics has brought about the development and a variety of traditional crafts? The answer is that craftsmen were required to manufacture their products with materials and tools procurable in the region, making different from things made in other regions. The advent of traditional Japanese crafts dates back to several hundred years, and the origin of those craftmanship goes far back to a thousand years. In other word, the fundamental technics and raw materials to use was established more than 1000 years ago. Logistics in those day contributed only to trade indispensable goods to sustain lives, such as foods.

The Roles of Hikyaku

The word “logistics” does not mean what you have in your mind. It is not trucks or other vehicles, but people called Hikyaku. They carried and run to another region on foot, unable to carry heavy materials or delicate, breakable products. That is, craftsmen were unable to transport material, as well as their work. Therefore, they tried to build facilities and manufacture goods only with indigenous sand, woods, mud, and so forth. The lack of enough logistics lingered until industrial revolution in Japan, started from 1970s, allowing traditional crafts flourishing in each region without mixing with crafts having developed other way.

reason for a  variety of traditional crafts
They run about 450km(Tokyo-Kyoto) in 3days

Although industrial revolution rendered opportunities for people to purchase necessities transported from outside their own community, the development of traditional crafts of each region were not impaired. The main reason is that raw materials and method to manufacture did not fit into other regions’ climatic feature. For instance, some of traditional crafts were made of mixture of sand and water, weak against dry weather. The product developed in relatively wet weather were unable to tolerate dried atmosphere and broke in another parts of Japan. People in such area often manufactured and used mud made pottery. As the result, even after logistics had become able to transport crafts, traditional Japanese crafts continued to grow without mingling each other.

2. Weather

Weather conditions vary significantly from region to region in Japan even though Japan is small county in size. And weather conditions in a big contributor to the diversity. First and foremost, it is better to understand what Japan has so different weather conditions in each region. One of the most power influences is ocean current; there are four major currents surrounding our country. In North side of Japan, cold current from Russia and warm current from south eat Asia, in south side, cold current from Alaska and warm current from Pacific Ocean. Each current triggers unique weather conditions, and the intersection of two currents causes different, relatively severe climate.

In addition, Japan has steep high mountains that divide Japan and climate zone. For example, Hokuriku-region, such as Niigata or Toyama, prefecture, experiences heavy snow every year due to clouds flowing in the westerlies with water from the north cold current. These clouds bring not only heavy snow but so cold atmosphere, making the region cold and snowy winter. ( This climate has brought about the development of textile industry such as Kaga YuzenOjiya-Chijimi, or Shiozawa Pongee.)This regional weather conditions is not solely because of current, but mountains too. The clouds hit a chain of mountains and release water and humidity at all, then flow over the mountains and go into Kanto-region (Tokyo) with dried air. During winter, Tokyo is hit with extreme dried air, sometimes less that 10 precent humidity. With the help of the south current from Pacific Ocean, weather condition is usually sunny and relatively warm.

Chain of mountains in Japan

Such discrepancy between regions nurtures different traditional crafts. Take Niigata for example. Thanks to a chain of mountains and heavy snow, craftsmen can precure clean and cold water flowing in near river and groundwater, thereby crafts necessary such water have flourished there. Glasswork is a typical example. In manufacturing process of glasswork, clean, beautiful, and cold water is indispensable because after heating glass and altering figures, a craftsman cools the work with pure water. Tap water cannot replace the pure water as it contains Kalki, a chemical substance to sanitize, which might blemish the beauty and transparency of glass. In other words, water brought about weather conditions is the key to traditional glasswork in the region.

3.Geographic feature makes up raw materials for traditional crafts

As I party mentioned above, geographical features have played a vital role in developing regional-based traditional crafts. However, I should explain another contribution that geographical features have been rendered. That is “soil components”. Most of traditional crafts are made by natural raw materials, rather than artificial chemical substances. To accelerate your understanding of its influence, I will give you an example of different types of pottery. Take Mino-Yaki for example. This craft is categorized as Touki (pottery) from clay. Mino-Yaki has developed in Gifu prefecture, the northwest side of Nagaya. The land contains a lot of water and humidity, so it is easy to procure clay.

On the other hand, Kyo-Yaki, developed in Kyoto, is often classified as Jiki (porcelain). Land in Kyoto is filled with hard rocks and bedrocks, thereby craftsmen shatter them and mix with water to make mud-like material. In this way, the characteristics of traditional crafts differ radically depending on the soil in which they are made.

In addition, the geology of Japan has great regional differences. For example, the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, is made of volcanic ash clay, and the Kyushu region is also made of volcanic ash. On the other hand, Nagano Prefecture and Hyogo Prefecture are mainly made of hard bedrock. Osaka, on the other hand, is a low-lying area that used to be an ocean, so its geology is mainly sand. In each area, products are made using methods that take advantage of the characteristics of the raw materials available.

The actual
regional classification is much more detailed.

What do you think of the reason for a variety of traditional crafts. In this explanation, I explained some prefectures to illustrate those three factors has significantly contributed to the diversity.  (See, The lists of traditional crafts sorted by prefectures.) This is to make it easier for visitors to understand, as they are supposed to be overseas. In reality, there are countless geological and climatic conditions within Tokyo. In addition, even in areas that now seem close to each other due to the development of transportation networks, the craft culture was fragmented in places where it actually took several hours or more to walk.

In other words, traditional arts and crafts were born in a much finer division of regions than we have today, and have developed to the point where there are now well over 200 officially recognized types. In fact, it is said that there are several times as many traditional crafts that do not meet the strict legal requirements, or that meet the requirements but have not yet been applied for. This shows how Japan’s traditional crafts have developed in a regionally dispersed manner. This history is the source of the overwhelming diversity that remains even today.

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