- Other Fiber Crafts
- Pottery and Porcelain
- Buddhist Altars and Accessories
- Miscellaneous Crafts
- Craft Materials
A Little-Known Subject
The fact that there is little information available from the conventional sources in English about Japanese metalwork is like a cry in the dark. The subject is wide open for the Western researcher and student and metalworker.
It is thought that metallurgy came to Japan from the Asian continent at about the beginning of the common era, in the brief Yayoi culture (ca. 300 b.c. to 300 a.d.), the few centuries of intense cultural import and upheaval that defined the end of Japan's long Neolithic period (which started about 10,000 b.c.). Basic research into the import of metallurgy is still urgently needed, but it seems that only about one century separated the appearance of bronze and iron techniques in the archipelago. How this basic technology was imported, how it spread, and how it affected the lives of the people remain challenges for the ambitious researcher.
Both metal forging and casting seem to have appeared as mature techniques. There is no evidence of primitive stages of these skills. Among the early cast objects are the wonderful dotaku, the bronze, bell-like objects that in 1996 received much press attention because of the discovery of a hoard of 30-some intact pieces.
One of the mysteries of early metallurgy is the complex, curved carpenter's blade tool known as the yariganna. That an example of this sophisticated surface-finishing tool was discovered among the remains of the earliest days of Japanese metallurgy contemporaneous with the dotaku opens rather dense and important questions.
The subject of Japanese metallurgy would fill many volumes. The variety of techniques is stunning, and some accomplishments of the craft over the centuries are unsurpassed. Not all these techniques are alive today.
For example, it is not an idle claim to state that Japanese hand-forged carbon steel was and is among the finest produced by any people. The importance of this carbon steel for blade tools and weapons cannot be overstated; the ability to make excellent cutting implements had profound effects on Japanese society as well as on cuisine and eating habits. Japan led the world in steel technology for perhaps a millennium, and today's hand-forged Japanese kitchen knives are justly famous, as are carpenter's and sculptor's chisels and hand-forged scissors for household and garden use.
Among the metal crafts included here are two sand-casting industries. Both are from the north of the country and are famous for cast-iron tea kettles and other products related to tea. Another casting industry from Takaoka city is famous for producing the immense bronze bells that grace the Buddhist temples of the country as well as for other highly decorative copper-alloy objects, including Buddhist images.
Decorative metal techniques came with the arrival of aristocratic culture and taste from the Korean peninsula and were nurtured by the Japanese imperial court as well as by Buddhism. Metal openwork, engraving, inlay of various types, repoussé, and damascene reached high levels. Damascene, in particular, as sword guards and fittings, is considered a major Japanese metal art and is widely collected. The making of gold leaf and the seemingly countless grades (actually about fifteen for each category of shape) of tiny gold bits, nuggets, flecks, flakes, squares, rectangles, splints, slivers, and the like used to make maki-e gold lacquer decoration reflect the amazing development of this decoration in precious metal.
Alloys, particularly copper alloys, took unique paths in Japan. Some Japanese copper-gold alloys such as charming bronzy-black-purple shakudo, used to make everything from sword guards to statues, are unknown elsewhere. Unfortunately, these alloys remain little known, and their full beauty for contemporary work has hardly been explored. They remain an exciting frontier.
Though it has not received the acclaim or attention of other metal industries, Japan also produces a small quantity of pewter ware. The history of this craft in the Orient has not been studied, and not much is known about it. Pewter in both China and Japan seems to be associated mainly with alcoholic beverages, with tea, and with religious altar vessels. Why this alloy did not see a wider range of application remains to be discovered.
Directions--Takefu Knife Village
Though traditional knives have a ready market in Japan, the forward-looking people at Echizen Forged Blades obtained the talents of internationally famed industrial designer Kazuo Kawasaki to design new blade products. The ambition caught fire, and with Kawasaki's creative efforts, the Takefu Knife Village in Takefu city, Fukui Prefecture was established in 1993, enlisting the advice of photographer Mitsumasa Fujitsuka and architect Kiko Mozuna to build a "shrine to the gods of fire, iron, and water." The Takefu brand of contemporary blade products thus was born. Though the Takefu Knife Village is less than eight years old, Takefu products appear in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Cooper Hewitt Museum, and the Montreal Museum.
- Nambu Cast Ironwork（Iwate）
- Yamagata Metal Casting（Yamagata）
- Tokyo Silversmithery（Tokyo）
- Tsubame Beaten Copperware（Niigata）
- Echigo Yoita Forged Blades（Niigata）
- Shinshu Forged Blades（Nagano）
- Takaoka Bronze Casting（Toyama）
- Echizen Forged Blades（Fukui）
- Sakai Forged Blades（Osaka）
- Osaka Naniwa Pewter Ware（Osaka）
- Banshu Miki Forged Blades（Hyogo）
- Tosa Forged Blades（Kochi）
- Higo Inlay（Kumamoto）