All posts tagged: japanese artisan

Japanese Handicrafts – Hagoita

A few years ago I photographed Mr Nishiyama, a hagoita artisan in his Tokyo workshop. Nishiyama Kogetsu’s workshop makes hagoita – decorative paddles meant to bring good luck to Japanese households. The workshop is on the second floor of his Tokyo home, where there are two work tables. Nishiyama-san’s father occupied the other one until he passed away – now he continues the tradition alone with no apprentice to take up the workload.  Hagoita are in effect paddles for an ancient game called hanetsuki, which was a very early form of badminton. With a history as far back as the Eikyo era (1429-1441), hanetsuki was enjoyed by members of the Japanese aristocracy as a New Year’s diversion. Shaped like a wooden trapezoid with a handle, there was plenty of space to add decorations, which started out as pictures painted directly onto the wood.  The paddles became more and more complicated as artisans strove to outdo each other, and on entering the Edo period (1603 – 1863), the idea of using fabric collage with cotton padding …

Nanbu Tekki (Iron Kettle) artisans

My book on traditional crafts in Japan – Handmade in Japan, published by Gestalten, will be out in September this year (hopefully – this covid thing is keeping everyone on their toes), so I thought I would share some of the crafts that I had photographed but for one reason or the other could not be included in the book. Originally the book was slated to run at under 300 pages but we ended up extending it to 340 pages and there still wasn’t enough space for all of the awesome crafts in Japan. Nanbu Tekki is the kettle you want. It is a solid cast iron piece that – according to tea experts from China to London – apparently makes the water boiled inside very delicious, due to an infusion of iron into the water. Nanbu Tekki is of course handmade and very time consuming, requiring clay and sand molds to be created before a specialized craftsman presses an intricate design into it. The clay mold for the spout and body are combined before …

Japanese Handicrafts – Bunraku Puppets

In my travels across Japan photographing artisans – one of my absolute favorites was the Bunraku puppet artisan Hishida-san in Osaka. I am absolutely gutted that it didn’t make the book so I’d like to introduce him here. Bunraku is a type of theatre in Japan that uses articulated puppets in conjunction with an orchestra and chanters to tell as story. The technical prowess required from the puppeteers is daunting; three puppeteers are responsible for moving one doll; one to control the right hand and head, one to control the left hand and one to control the feet and legs. The makers of these magnificent puppets are called ningyoushi, and are declining in numbers nationwide.  Hishida Masayuki, 58, has been making puppets for Bunraku for over forty years, in the artform’s hometown of Osaka.  ‘Bunraku was a way for people to speak out against the Shogunate without fear of persecution,’ says Hishida-san. Because puppeteers traditionally wore black outfits with black masks, the identities of the troupe were often difficult to divine and thus arrest. Bunraku’s …

Japanese Handicrafts – Kokeshi

In my travels around Japan photographing artisans and craftsmen for my upcoming book, I met Abo-san, a Kokeshi craftsman. His workshop and art was absolutely splendid however we weren’t able to include him in the book for space reasons, so I am going to introduce him here. Kokeshi are a type of decorative wooden doll that is popular in the northern regions of Japan. They served as toys for children hundreds of years ago and now are valued as folk craft items that bring good luck. Although the prefecture of Miyagi is famed for having the highest quality kokeshi, Abo-san is from Aomori, and his dolls have been praised as some of the best in Japan. Watching him work it is very clear that Abo-san is a true master, as he transforms a featureless block of wood into a smooth and shiny kokeshi figure within minutes using a variety of well-worn chisels. The ground is littered with wooden shavings around his feet, which controls the spinning wheel. Painting the doll looks deceptively simple – Abo-san …

Japanese Handicrafts – Kanayama pottery

I have been touring Japan photographing craftspeople and artisans for my upcoming book to be published by Gestalten this year. In total I managed to photograph some 70 artisans, all of them wonderful, however due to space constraints in the book not all of them were able to make it into the final cut. I plan to introduce some of the ones that we unfortunately couldn’t include here, so I hope you’re in the mood to learn about some crafts! Kanayama-yaki, or Kanayama pottery is a very recent type of earthenware in Japan’s very long and rich history of pottery. It was established in the 1960s in Aomori prefecture, the second Northern-most prefecture in Japan, when the clay in a particular marsh near the town of Hirosaki was discovered to be extremely good for pottery. Now, there is a large wood-fired kiln as well as extensive pottery facilities for young artists to come and take advantage of. Foreign potters are often in residence in the huts behind the kiln. There’s even a charming pizzeria for …

Japanese Artisans: Ki-Oke Master Shuji Nakagawa

Despite being a Tokyo based photographer I often like to travel into the countryside to find interesting people to photograph, because I find that’s where some real gems can be found. Here is ki-oke (wooden bucket) artisan Nakagawa Shuji, who lives in Shiga Prefecture. Shuji Nakagawa’s workshop sits on a rise overlooking the glittering Lake Biwa – Japan’s largest lake. One wall holds every imaginable shape and size of kanna – Japanese wood planes which are capable of shaving mere microns off of an uneven surface. Other woodworking implements unique to ki-oke (wood bucket) making are lined up in the floor – crescent shaped blades with two handles meant for giving wood slats a concave inner surface so they can be fit together to form a bucket. Shuji Nakagawa is the third generation scion of his family’s business in crafting ki-oke, or wooden buckets. He comes from distinguished lineage – his grandfather spent forty years perfecting the craft before starting the company, and his father received the coveted ‘Living National Treasure of Japan’ award, which …