Even a decade or so ago it would have been accurate to say that there was more handcraft activity in Japan than in any of the developed countries. Today, the Japanese economy is very different than it was ten years ago, and though this claim may still be true, how long it will hold has become a valid question.
Much more than the quantity of handcraft activity in Japan, what is of interest and value is that Japan has been and still remains a repository of continental Asian craft techniques, many of which have disappeared long ago on the continent. Also of value to the history of technology are Japanese crafts that developed to high levels, such as the making of carbon steel for blade tools; the production of a great variety of fine papers, including gold-decorated papers; the development of a wide spectrum of shaped-resist (shibori) textile dyeing techniques, and so on. The use of superlatives in the description of a number of these crafts is not simply bragging or cheap PR copy, for indeed they may have been equaled, but remain unsurpassed elsewhere.
Among the many different types of Japanese handcrafts are those that formerly were important local industries protected and promoted by the feudal lords. The crafts represented in this site are the 198 craft industries recognized by the The Association for the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries, an organization affiliated with the government Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). These industries vary greatly in size and organization and do not represent all the crafts or craft communities in Japan by any means. Most of the 198 industries are structured around a cooperative union or association (or sometimes more than one); not all of the industries utilize handwork exclusively (there is limited mechanization); and not all are organized in the same manner. The towns of Wajima (Wajima Lacquer Ware) and Mashiko (Mashiko Ware) have many companies, artisans, and artists working independently, making a very wide variety of things in many styles, types, and modes--everything from inexpensive trinkets to major art pieces. Koishiwara Ware, in contrast, has a small number of producers, making a "folk pottery" of set style and limited range of types.
METI's efforts to promote traditional Japanese crafts is done in the hope that the Japanese people as well as the people of the world do not forget the quality of handwork and keep a place in their hearts for the unassuming and innocent products of direct human effort as well as the products of contemporary technology. Handmade objects are not a thing of the past, however economic factors may increase their market price, but are our contact with something basic and profoundly precious. In recognition of this, and to help protect the traditions, the nonprofit Association for the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries was established in 1974. The Japanese Cultural Agency also has an independent program of promoting crafts that complements the work of the Association.
The few pages of this site are meant as a brief introduction to the vast field of Japanese crafts, and, hopefully, will serve to entertain as well as to whet viewer's interest in at least one of the numerous crafts represented. Japanese ceramics have received much active interest from potters and pottery students abroad, but information about the other crafts remains sparse in foreign languages, and they do not seem to have the same "boxoffice" appeal as ceramics. It is hoped that this site may help to correct this.