Four hundred years ago, a boat carrying Okinawan tributes was caught in a typhoon. A man, who happened to be on board from Miyakojima called Sugamayonin Shin'ei, heroically dived into the sea when the boat was about to sink and repaired the damage thus saving the lives of all the crew. Recognizing his bravery, the King of Ryukyu made him a monk. In return, Shin'ei's wife was overjoyed and lovingly wove a piece of cloth to give to the King, and it was this cloth that is said to be the origin of Miyako ramie.
It seems that the making of pottery started here during the Sengoku period (1428-1573), when tiles to roof a castle in Aizuwakamatsu were being made. Then, during the early years of the Edo period (1600-1868) Hoshina Masayuki, who led the Aizu clan, saw a need to patronize and further the making of pottery, and the production of what became Aizu Hongo ware flourished under the supervision of the clan. This subsequently led to the making of everyday pieces of pottery for use by people at large. Production of ceramics here suffered badly due to fighting just prior to the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and as a result of a devastating fire in the Taisho period (1912-1926). The industry recovered, however, and is still thriving today. It has the distinction of being the oldest area where white porcelain is produced in the whole of northeastern Japan.
Along with Shiozawa pongee, Honshiozawa is a representative cloth from the Shiozawa area and has been well known by the name Shiozawa Omeshi for some time past. Its origins are said to date back to the middle of the 18th century and similarly to the crepe from Echigo, it is a silk crepe with a characteristic crimp, which makes use of linen weaving techniques.
It seems likely that the making of this distinctive style of paulownia chest was begun in Nagoya by craftsmen who, having been involved in the building of Nagoya castle some 400 years ago, settled there and began making chest of drawers and chests. After the country was unified by the Tokugawa Shogunate, the economy stabilized and life in general was peaceful. As a result there was an enormous increase in the production of cloth and people became much better dressed. Even the ordinary person was able to afford good quality clothing and a new form of functional, easy to use storage for these fine clothes became necessary. The development of this craft in Nagoya was further stimulated by the fact that it was close to the region of Hida where there were rich supplies of timber, Hida paulownia being one of the best in the country.
Although dyeing techniques had existed since the 8th century, it is said that the yuzen technique of painting dye directly onto cloth was established by Miyazaki Yuzensai, a popular fan painter living in Kyoto toward the end of the 17th century. He introduced his own style of painting as a way of rendering pattern and this led to the birth of this handpainted dyeing technique. A multicolored yuzen was used to apply painterly designs to kimono cloths and grew in stature from the middle of the 18th century as merchant culture flourished. In the Meiji period (1868-1912), utsushi yuzen was developed using stencils to create these distinctive designs.
Situated on the extreme western boundary of Japan, records show that weaving on Yonaguni Island dates back some 500 years, and cloth was already being paid as a tax during the 1520s. During the difficult times after World War II, fishing nets were unraveled to provide yarn for this cloth, which is still woven by the women, who devote so much time producing this cloth that is very representative of the island's natural environment.
It seems that the island of Kihachijo got its name from the Hachijo cloth, and the island was a supplier of silk right back in the Muromachi period (1392-1573). Since the middle of the 18th century, very elegant striped and checked cloths have been woven on the island, and these kimono cloths and obi still have many followers today.
One night in early 19th century, a cabinet maker dreamt about an extremely beautiful, majestic Buddhist building. Inspired by his dream, he enlisted the help of work mates and together they built a Buddhist household altar. This is the story behind the origins of the Yamefukushima Household Buddhist Altars. It was not until about the middle of the 19th century, however, that production techniques became established and altar making in Kyushu really got its start. By the end of the Edo period (1600-1868), the craft had developed into a small industry employing 18 finishers, 14 craftsmen making the fittings, seven sculptors, seven sculptors making images of the Buddha and ten specialists preparing the wood needed.
By the 18th century, Edo was the center of political power of the Shogunate and the culture and economy of this metropolis that later became Tokyo flourished. A great deal of produce especially from western Japan consequently found its way into the city. Many dyers came with their feudal lords and settled in Edo, bringing with them their own skills and techniques. As town's folk became economically stronger, an urban culture developed. A chic yet restrained sense of taste became the norm and freehand dyeing developed at the hands of specialist artists.
At the beginning of the Kamakura period (1185-1333) the Kawanabe area was noted for its connections with Buddhism. Kawanabe, a local powerful family who held sway over the southern part of what is now Kagoshima Prefecture, and the remains of Heike family, who were defeated at Dannoura, began holding memorial services and preaching the word of Buddha along a ravine of clear water in Kawanabe-cho. Many monuments, tombs and Sanscrit engravings said to have been made by them still remain on the 500 meter high wall of rock there. Then in 1200, Hoko-in, a temple dedicated to the supreme enlightenment of Kawanabe, was built and this furthered the popularity of Buddhism even more. It is thought that the skills and techniques used in the making of Kawanabe household Buddhist altars became established as a result of local circumstances.
The origins of Satsuma ware date back to the 16th century. The local feudal lord, Shimazu, returned from the Korean peninsular with some potters who helped to get things started. The wonderful surroundings of Kagoashima have contributed greatly to the development of this ware during its long history spanning some 400 years. During this time, the tireless enthusiasm of the local potters has resulted in a number of original developments, which have given rise to a number of individual styles that are still in production today. In 1867, the Shimazu clan independently entered some pieces of Satsuma ware in the Great Exhibition in Paris. People in Europe were enchanted and soon the name of Satsuma became known throughout the world.
It was not until the latter part of the Edo period (1600-1868) that Owari cloisonne got its start. The area centered on present-day Nagoya was the domain of the Owari clan. The first pieces were made here and the skills and techniques of this craft gradually became established. The oldest piece of authenticated Owari cloisonne is a sake cup made in 1833.