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Traditional Crafts Trivia

Carving Signs

Carving Signs◆The History of Signs in Japan

Ryonogige from 833 was an amendment to Taiho Code, which was a code of law issued in 701. Japanese signs likely originated from the Ryonogige's requirement that products sold at markets needed signs.


Cashew is a varnish made from the squeezing oil from cashew shells. While cashew is a type of sumac tree, the oil does not cause skin rashes like typical Urushi lacquer. Difficult to tell Cashew varnish and Urushi lacquer apart, they share a similar thickness and glossiness. Cashew varnish is sometimes referred to as "Cashew Urushi".

Chukin (Casting Metal)

◆Unit of Gold, Karat

Most people have probably heard of 18K or 14K. Although people in Japan will read 18K as "Juhachi Kin" (lit. 18 Gold), the K does not stand for Kin (gold). Rather, K stands for Karat, which is a unit that measures the pureness of gold. Pure gold is 24K. That means that 18K gold is 75% is gold and 25% other metals, such are silver and copper. Altering the mixture of this 25% changes the color of the gold, which is how white and pink gold is made.

◆Units for Platinum and Silver

Platinum and Silver are expressed as 925 or 950 out of 1,000. In other words, if platinum is expressed at Pt800m it means the metal is 90% platinum and 10% other metals. In Japan, the "other" metal is commonly palladium, but silver may also be used. Sterling silver is 925 silver, which means it is 92.5% pure silver. Because Japan, Europe, and the U.S. use different metals for the remaining 7.5%, sterling silver will have a slightly different color, hardness, and gloss.

Edo Furin (Wind Chime)

◆Mayokeno Oto (Sound that Wards Off Evil)

The Japanese are known to place faith in the power of sounds. According Rokugakushu, which was a book written in the Kamakura period (late 12th century to early 14th century), people would hang wind chimes under eaves and the sound was presumed to ward off misfortune.

◆Inuhariko (Paper Dog)

This paper doll shaped like a dog is presented as an offering to gods at the shrine to protect newborn babies from evil spirits.

Edo Sensu (Folding Fans)

◆Origins of Sensu

Sensu originated from Uchiwa (paper fans) that China introduced to Japan during the 7th century. Sensu is a foldable variation of the Uchiwa and was invented in Japan during the Heian period, around the 8th century. The original Sensu was called Hiogi, which were originally used as a cheat sheet for men when speaking in public. As people began drawing pictures on the Sensu, it gradually evolved into a decorative accessory and became popular among women.

◆Susutake (Smoked Bamboo)

Susutake is bamboo that was smoked over a fireplace for at least 100 years and used on the floors and rafters of thatched houses. Polishing Susutake draws out intricate colors and classic tastes.

Edo Shishu (Embroidery)


In Japanese, Shikkai means "everything" and Ya means "shop". As the name suggests, a Shikkaiya is a shop that does everything regarding Kimono, from removing stains, cleaning, tailoring, and stretching a Kimono on boards after it is washed.

◆Nuu (Sew)

In Edo Embroidery jargon, the word "nuu" (sew) is used to describe the act of stitching, rather than the more common expression, "sasu" (insert). Edo Embroidery uses a needle that is 2 to 3 centimeters shorter than regular needles.

Edo Yukata

◆Senshoku Katagami Dyeing Stencil

This stencil is used to dye Yukata, Tenugui (hand towel), and Hanten (Kimono overcoat). The stencil is placed on the cloth before introducing the colors. The cloth depicts the shape of the stencil and creates a beautiful pattern. You can dye multiple cloths with the stencil.


Tan is a measurement specifically for narrow textiles. Although the length depends on the fabric, one Tan is typically 11 meters long and 35 centimeters wide.

Hyoso (Frame)

◆Three Major Hyogu (Frames)

Hyogu are rice paper frames for calligraphy or paintings. The three major Hyogu are named after each region they come from. Kyo Hyogu from Kyoto is known for its gracefulness, Edo Hyogu is known for its stylish colors and pattern, and Kanazawa Hyogu is known for its grand, sophisticated style.


Urauchi is the process of reinforcing the artwork by applying Washi (Japanese paper) or cloth on the back of the artwork with adhesive. It takes craftsmen years of training to perfect the craft of applying adhesive, which can only be applied once to a work of original art, quickly and evenly.



Bingata is a traditional dyeing technique from Okinawa. "Bin" refers to the colors, and "Gata" refers to the various patterns. During the Edo period, Bingata fabric was used to craft bags and other small items and was incorporated into Kimono during the Meiji period.

◆Edo Bingata

The Bingata dyeing technique was imported from Okinawa and became a popular technique throughout Japan. Edo Bingata is a type of Bingata that evolved in Edo.

Kazari Kanagu (Decorative Metal Fixtures)

◆Tagane (Chisel)

These tools are used to carve patterns into metal. There are hundreds of dozens of different types of chisels and some are even made out of wood.

◆Carving Technique: Nanakowomaku (Sprinkling Fish Eggs)

This pattern is called Nanako (fish eggs) because of the pattern's resemblance to fish eggs. Some craftsmen specialize in sprinkling Nanako patterns—"sprinkling" is the craft's jargon for carving—because it is extremely difficult to carve this micrometer pattern accurately.

Kumihimo (Braided Thread)


Netsuke is a miniature sculpture at the end of a string that men attached to their bags and seals when wearing a Kimono. The string is passed under the Obi so that the Netsuke is hooked on top of the Obi, which prevents the bag or seal from falling out of their Kimono.


Obijime is a string used to hold an Obi in place and is essential when wearing a Kimono. Used to tie an Obi in the Otaiko-musubi style, the decorative string is used to hold together the shape.
Obijime can be made from Kumihimo or plain fabric.

Kumiko Fixtures

◆Kumiko Tategu (Fixtures)

Kumiko Tategu refers to fixtures that incorporate Kumiko woodcraft, such as Ranma (transom), Tsuiate (partition), Majikiri (partition between rooms), Shoji (sliding paper door facing a window), and Fusuma (sliding paper door inside a house).

◆History of Tategu

Tategu was used in the main residence of nobilities' homes towards the end of the Heian period (12th century). When Shoinzukuri architecture was invented in the 15th century, these decorative fixtures developed greatly and were even used to decorate the Shoji frames.

Kumiko Woodwork

◆Kumiko Woodwork

This traditional handcraft joins thin pieces of wood to create intricate patterns. Instead of using nails to hold the Kumiko together, the wooden pieces are carved with incisions and nubs that fit perfectly with one another. Kumiko woodwork dates back to the 1700s, when three wooden boards were joined perfectly to create an equilateral triangle in a technique called Sankumite.

◆Asanoha (Hemp Leaves)

This is the most iconic pattern used for Japanese woodwork. The wooden pieces are joined to create a pattern of a hemp leaf inside a hexagon. Hemp leaf patterns were believed to ward off evil spirits and misfortune.
Even today, hemp leaf patterns are commonly used on Kimono and Geta (wooden sandals).

Mizuhiki Craft


Koyori is a string made by twisting thinly ripped paper together.

◆Various Types of Mizuhiki

Red and white ribbons with hanging, loose ends are referred to as Kaeshimusubi or Chomusubi and are used at celebrations in hopes that such happy events reoccur. At weddings, funerals, and hospital visits, the ends of the ribbons are tied in knots to hope that such events never happen again. This type of ribbon is called Musubikiri.

Senshoku (Dyeing)

◆Irotomesode (Colored Sleeves)

Irotomesode is a type of formal Kimono that is any color other than black. Both married and unmarried women wear Irotomesode for celebratory occasions.


This cloth is applied over the hem of a Kimono. It is also referred to as Susomawashi.


This is the line made of adhesive when drawing patterns on the cloth. The name Itome, which literally means thread eye, is derived from the thin, thread-like line.

◆Senshoku Katagami (Dye Stencil)

This stencil is used to dye Yukata, Tenugui (hand towel), and Hanten (Kimono overcoat). The stencil is placed on the cloth before introducing the colors. The cloth depicts the shape of the stencil and creates a beautiful pattern. You can dye multiple cloths with the stencil.


Tan is a measurement specifically for narrow textiles. Although the length depends on the fabric, one Tan is typically 11 meters long and 35 centimeters wide.

Shitsugei (Lacquer Crafts)


Urushi is a natural paint made from urushiol extracted from sumac tree sap. Urushi lacquer is known for its strong adherence, durability, and glossy finish.

◆Makie (Sprinkled Paint)

Using this technique, craftsmen draw pictures or letters on the surface of the lacquer ware and sprinkle gold or silver powder before the lacquer dries.

Sosaku Ningyo (Original Dolls)

◆Mokushin Toso (Clay Over Wood)

Toso, which is a type of clay made from mixing adhesive into Empress tree sawdust, is applied and shaped over Empress tree wood. Although it requires patience and dedication to ascertain skills needed to craft Mokushin Toso, the completed work of art is detailed with subtle expressions.

◆Kimekomi Ningyo

Creases for the doll's clothing and patterns are drawn onto Toso and other wooden dolls and clothes are applied by pushing the edge of the cloth into the creases. This act of pressing cloth into the doll is called Kimekomi, which is why the dolls are called Kimekomi Ningyo.

Togei (Pottery)

◆Rokuro (Potter's Wheel)

This piece of equipment is used for pottery and woodwork. To craft circular pottery, clay should be placed on top of the upper disk. Spin the potter's wheel while placing your fingers on the clay to create a beautiful circle from the center of the rotation to where you placed your fingers.

◆Uwagusuri (Glaze)

Uwagusuri (glaze) coats the surface of the pottery after the initial firing to decorate and strengthen the pottery. After the second baking, the pottery will have a glassy finish. The main ingredients of the glaze are powdered stones (feldspar, silica stone, etc.), wood ashes, and straw ashes. Oxidized metal, such as iron, copper, and cobalt, are used to add color. The color and texture varies according to how the pottery is baked and the ingredients used, which creates a variety of unique pottery.

Tsumami Zaiku (Pinching Craft)

◆Pinching Craft

The two basic techniques are Kentsumami and Marutsumami. Kentsumami has pointy edges and Marutsumami makes rounded edges. Various arts are crafted with these techniques, such as pictures and hair ornaments.

◆Tsumami Kanzashi (Hair Ornament with pinching craft.)

The pinching craft was invented around the mid-Edo period (18th century) and was popular with women in the Imperial Palace and the wives and children of feudal lords. Pinching craft became popular among non-nobilities towards the end of the Edo period (late 19th century). At the time, Kushi (comb) and Kanzashi (hair ornaments) were popular among women and pinching craft was incorporated into Kanzashi. Even today, women use Tsumami Kanzashi for special occasions, such as New Years, Coming of Age Ceremony, Shichigosan (traditional rite of passage and festival for children) and Japanese dancing.

Tsurishinobu (Hanging Fern)

◆Shinobu (Fern)

Shinobu is a species of fern and Shinobudama are balled-up roots of the fern. During the Edo period, people hung Shinobudama under their eaves to feel refreshed amidst the summer heat.

◆Role of Koke (Moss)

Moss used to craft Tsurishinobu is called Haigoke (Springy Turf-Moss ) and grows in sunny spots along the road, on top of rocks, and towards the bottom of the tree trunk. The moss acts like a sponge and retains water in Shinobudama.

Wooden Stick

◆Karaki (Imported Wood)

Karaki are rare and expensive tropical trees, such as red sandalwood, ebony, Cassia tree, and Chinese quince. The word "Karaki", which literally means Chinese wood, was derived from wood being imported from Tang China when Japanese diplomatic missions visited China during the Nara period (8th century).

◆Length of Walking Stick

If a walking stick is too short, the person using it will bend over and have bad posture. If the walking stick is too long, the person using it won't be able to lean on it. For most people, the ideal stick length is your height (in centimeters) divided by two plus three centimeters.

Zashikiboki (Indoor Broom)

◆Hoki (Broom)

In ancient Japan, brooms were more than just a mere cleaning tool. Rather, they were a mythical item that was used in religious rituals. A broom that Empress Koken used to sweep a room that housed silkworms is stored at the Shosoin Treasure House in Nara Prefecture. Her sweeping of the silkworm room was a ritual to pray for a good harvest. Gently rubbing a pregnant woman's belly with a broom to pray for a safe delivery is an oldwives tale that was likely derived from this ancient belief that brooms had mythical powers.

◆Hoki Morokoshi (Great Millet)

This annual grass is in the sorghum genus, poaceae family. Craftsmen in the Edo period commonly used great millet to craft brooms because the oil in the grass polished Tatami mats. During the Edo period, brooms in the Kansai region were made out of palm trees because the region's residences often had wooden floors. Brooms in the Kanto region were made out of great millet because the large population of non-nobility had Tatami floored rooms.