Japanese ancestral traditions through craftsmanship
Tohoku is the most rural region of Japan. Located north of the main island of the Japanese archipelago, Honshu has its own cultural identity and traditions passed down from generations for years. Among these traditions rooted in the life and history of Tohoku, discover the Japanese craftsmanship specific to this region!
The Tohoku region is a vast region that includes six prefectures: Aomori, Akita, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, and Yamagata. A trip to this little-visited part of the country offers the chance to see exceptional craftsmen at work, and to find a unique souvenir to bring back from Japan's "far north". Their remarkable works reflect the region's history and way of life.
The skills and knowledge of traditional craftsmanship are passed down from generation to generation and today's craftsmen have received their knowledge from the masters of yesteryear. Many artisans in Tohoku open their workshops to the public, which makes it easier to discover local crafts. It's common not to have to make an appointment, but remember to call ahead (or have your hotel call) to confirm opening hours.
The famous Kokeshi dolls originate from Miyagi Prefecture. They were made in the late Edo period (1603-1868) as toys for children in hot springs. Since Tohoku has many natural hot springs and Onsen, these little dolls quickly spread throughout the region.
These wooden dolls without arms or legs have an enlarged round head and are usually painted red, black, and yellow. Don't be fooled by their simplistic appearance as there are 11 different kinds of kokeshi dolls in the Tohoku region, nearly half of which originate from Miyagi Prefecture.
To discover these traditional dolls, go to one of the spas in the region such as Naruko Onsen, which also has a museum dedicated to kokeshi. It is about 45 min from Furukawa Station, which connects to the Tohoku Shinkansen. Little more, you can go to Naruko Onsen using the Japan Rail Pass!
- Read also: Japanese dolls
Tsugaru Kogin-zashi embroideries
One of the specialties of Aomori prefecture, the northernmost point of the Tohoku region, is traditional embroidery from the Tsugaru region.
One of the characteristics of Kogin-zashi is that it is made up of geometric patterns called "modoko", giving it a modern and contemporary look.
The history of Tsugaru Kogin-zashi dates back over 300 years. It was a sewing technique used to repair the clothes of the peasants of the region. During the Edo period, the farmers there wore hemp clothes, a fabric that was not warm enough and not suitable for the harsh winters of Tsugaru. Embroidery was then incorporated into the clothes via the kogin-zashi technique to add an extra layer.
Nanbu Tekki ironwork
High-quality iron utensils have been made in Iwate Prefecture, and specifically in Morioka City since the 1600s under the name Manbu Tekki. The region was then under the influence of the Nambu clan and the name has remained until today.
The region's ironwork workshops are renowned for their kitchen utensils and other everyday household objects, but also and above all for iron teapots, popular all over the world and a flagship object of this art.
These teapots are carefully cast and lacquered and what makes them special is that their interiors are burnt over a charcoal fire for about an hour to prevent rust and ensure a long life.
Each craftsman is free to create the pattern that suits them best on the outside of the teapots, you will find different types depending on the workshop
Aizu Erosoku candles
These candles are made, colored, and painted by hand. They originated in the city of Aizu in Fukushima Prefecture and their origin dates back more than 500 years.
These candles are meticulously designed one by one by a craftsman. To create them, the wicks are hand-rolled and dipped in wax dozens of times, giving them delicate “growth rings,” similar to those found in trees. They are then painted by hand and decorated mainly with floral motifs.
This technique was first introduced in Yuzawa City, Akita Prefecture. With nearly 800 years of history, Kawatsura Lacquer is highly regarded for its durability.
The essential part of this technique is the undercoat, consisting of a mixture of persimmon juice and charcoal powder, applied and polished after drying. This undercoating procedure is repeated 5-6 times until the wood is very smooth and strong.
These high-quality lacquer items are designed for use in our daily lives: bowls, trays, plates, cups, bento boxes, etc.
- Read also: Urushi, Japanese lacquer