Augustus the Strong (1670-1733), Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, was an ambitious man who sought to surround himself in the trappings of wealth and power. Perhaps for this reason, he became an avid collector of porcelains from China and Japan, precious and rare in Europe at the end of the seventeenth century, a … Continue reading Zwinger: A Palace for Porcelains
Japan has been producing silk since around the third century, raising silkworms for the raw silk threads and then weaving those threads into cloth. Although it is not now regarded as a major silk producer, even as recently as a century ago, Japan was the world’s largest producer/exporter of raw silk, exporting predominately to the … Continue reading Silken Threads Tie Japan and France
I recently had the chance to learn about Nishinouchi Washi, which is a particularly durable form of handmade washi paper. I also learned about some of its particular uses, included turning into cloth for garments and making chochin paper lanterns. Read about it in this article in All About Japan.
You don't have to go very far in Okinawa before you encounter shisa, in pairs or alone. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes serious, they are found on roof tops and gatehouses of houses, on shelves inside shops and restaurants, pretty much everywhere you go. These little creatures are tasked with warding off evil and bringing luck. Although … Continue reading Shisa: Lucky Lion-dogs of Loo-choo
In July I moderated a panel discussion at the Foreign Correspondents' Club on Japanese traditional crafts and their struggle to survive and be relevant in our modern world. My summary of that session is in the September issue of Number 1 Shimbun.
This article looks at the Miyagi coastal town of Minami Sanriku, badly damaged by the 2011 tsunami, but surviving and thriving with lots of interesting things for tourists to see and do. (Archived article – Originally published by Japan Today.)
Every spring Japan celebrates the pale pink petal of the cherry blossom. And justifiably. But there is much more to cherries than just the delicate springtime blossom. In early summer, Yamagata Prefecture is popping with the fruit itself, little red balls of sweet juiciness. Further north, in Akita Prefecture, the bark of the mountain cherry, … Continue reading Cherries in Japan: more than a springtime blossom
Without the mineral kaolin, fine porcelain could not exist. It is said that Korean potters first found kaolin in Japan near the village of Arita in Saga Prefecture in 1616, launching Japan's porcelain industry. These days, 80% of Japan’s kaolin actually comes from the Amakusa Islands of Kumamoto Prefecture, another area known for its pottery … Continue reading Finding fine porcelain off the beaten track
This article describes the geologically and historically fascinating destination of Shimonita, an easy overnight excursion from Tokyo. (Archived article originally published by Japan Today)
The city of Karatsu in Saga Prefecture has been a center of ceramic production since the end of the 16th century. While all manner of dishes are produced, the Karatsu style of pottery is particularly well known for its tea ware--dishes used for traditional Japanese tea ceremony. On March 10, 2020, a new museum featuring … Continue reading A new gallery celebrates Karatsu tea ware
This article introduces the traditional cloth dyers of northern Shinjuku-ku in Tokyo, clustered near the Kanda River since the beginning of the 20th century. Every Autumn, several dyers open their studios to public visits in a Konya Meguri (Dyer's Tour). Learn more in this article. (Archived article originally published by Japan Today.)
It is often observed that Japan borrows ideas and technologies from various sources, adapting them to suit Japanese needs and sensibilities, essentially making them Japanese. Paper, one of Japan's earliest borrowings from China, is no exception. Japanese paper is nothing short of amazing. Traditional hand-made washi paper is lovely and soft; fun to make and … Continue reading Origami Kaikan: a chance to explore the folds and layers of paper