Not so famous but unique craft in Saitama | traditional crafts in Saitama


Gyoda Tabi Shoes: other craft in Saitama

The first unique traditional craft in SaitamaGyoda Tabi is a specialty product produced in Gyoda City, Saitama Prefecture, which boasts the nation’s largest production of Tabi Shoes.

The area surrounding Gyoda City, sandwiched between two major rivers, the Tone River and the Ara River, is rich in water and sedimentary sandy soil. Furthermore, the high temperatures during the summer are suitable for cotton cultivation, and cotton production has flourished. In addition, the nearby Nakasendo Highway is thought to have contributed to the flourishing production of tabi socks.

Tabi Shoes are made of cotton, and the kohaze is made of brass or aluminum (or similar material), and are characterized by being three-dimensionally sewn with a bulge to allow the fingers to fit comfortably. It is still an indispensable item in the Japanese dress culture today.


It is believed that the production of Gyoda Tabi Shoes began around that time, as three Tabi Shoes shops are mentioned in the “Gyoda Town Map” drawn around the Kyoho period (1716-35).

About 100 years later, during the Tempo era (1830-44), the number of Tabi Shoes shops increased to 27. In the modern era, Tabi Shoes became popular and demand expanded, and Tabi Shoes merchants in Gyoda expanded their sales channels to the Tohoku region and Hokkaido. The production of Tabi Shoes also evolved, as special sewing machines were introduced to suit the work process. In addition, the booming economy during the Russo-Japanese War also triggered the construction of Tabi Shoes factories.

tabi, craft in Saitama
Source: Tokyo newpaper web

As production increased, many warehouses were built to store the products, and about 80 of them still exist. About 80 of them are still standing, providing an atmospheric view of the town of Gyoda.At its peak in 1938-39, Gyoda produced about 80% of all Tabi Shoes in Japan and was called “the best Tabi Shoes town in Japan.Even today, with the spread of socks, Gyoda continues to produce Tabi Shoes, and continues to introduce new products both domestically and internationally.

Iwatsuki Dolls: other craft in Saitama

The next craft in Saitame, Iwatsuki dolls is a generic name for dolls made in Iwatsuki Ward, Saitama City, Saitama prefecture, which is one of the leading doll production areas in Japan. And it is also called “the town of dolls”. Iwatsuki is known as the “town of dolls” and produces and sells a wide variety of Iwatsuki dolls, including Hina and Gogatsu dolls, Mokumegome dolls, children’s dolls, Butoh dolls, Ukiyo dolls, Kabuki dolls, and many more. In 2007, Iwatsuki dolls were designated as a national traditional craft by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, as they have been produced using traditional techniques for more than 100 years.

craft in Saitama iwatsuki doll
Source: Saitama city

Historical Background

The history of Iwatsuki dolls is largely related to the construction and renovation of Nikko Toshogu*1, which was ordered by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Edo Shogunate, in 1634. The origin of Iwatsuki dolls is said to be that the craftsmen who stayed in Iwatsuki, which was an inn town on the Nikko Nikko Onari Kaido Onari Road*2 and worked on the Toshogu Shrine, made paulownia dolls and uso-nigyou*3.

Originally, Iwatsuki was famous for its paulownia work, and paulownia powder (kiriko), the material used to make the heads of dolls, was readily available in the area. In addition, the area has the Moto-arakawa River and the Ayase River as sources of water necessary for dissolving gofun (a pigment made from shells), which was applied to the paulownia heads to improve their coloring. The availability of paulownia wood and water, which were indispensable for doll making, the presence of skilled craftsmen after the construction and repair of Toshogu, the proximity to Edo (Tokyo) that made it easy to conduct business, and the boom in doll making in Edo (Tokyo), all contributed to the prosperity of doll making in Iwatsuki.

1 Nikko Toshogu Shrine:
A shrine built by Hidetada Tokugawa, the second shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate, to worship Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first shogun.
2 Nikko Onarimichi:
A path used by successive Tokugawa shoguns to visit the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu.
3 Paulownia dolls:
Dolls made from paulownia sawdust.

iwatsuki doll
Source: Saitama city

Unique Characteristics

Iwatsuki dolls are characterized by rather large eyes and heads, round and lovely outlines, and large, colorful costumes. Gorgeous and luxurious fabrics such as Nishijin brocade are sometimes used for the costumes. The doll’s glistening skin, coated with gofun (a type of lacquer powder), is smooth, and her hair, made of raw silk, is eye-catching and beautiful. The dolls are made by doll makers who have gradually added new techniques over time, and the continuous innovation that has made Iwatsuki dolls so beloved by the people is one of the great charms of Iwatsuki dolls.

All Iwatsuki dolls are made by hand in the traditional way. First, a plan is made for the type of doll to be made, then the work of making the head (kashira), attaching the costume (body), making the arms and legs, and making the props are all done by the division of labor. The partially finished products are then assembled into finished products at the wholesaler and sent to the market. In total, hundreds of processes are involved in the making of a single doll through painstaking handwork.


Kasukabe paulownia Chests


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