In general, 'traditional crafts' are those that have developed over long periods of time and have been handed down over multiple generations. This term covers a multitude of different artisanal products, from lacquerware to ceramics, silks to paper, and even items for religious rituals. All in all, there are around 1300 different types of Japanese traditional crafts in existence today. With so many products across so many fields, it is little wonder that Japanese crafts represent a perfect confluence of the country's unique culture and history.
Indeed, the importance of these crafts in Japan is reflected in the government's recognition for 236 specific production methods. The designation of 'Traditional Japanese Craft' is aimed at both protecting and promoting the country's cultural heritage, and sets these products apart from those simply 'Made in Japan'. However, there are strict criteria to be met:
Key Elements of the Manufacturing Process Must Be Done By Hand
While these allow some stages to be undertaken by machine, the most important parts of the crafting process - those that give the final product its particular and distinctive character - must be carried out manually. This allows an attention to detail and quality that you do not get with entirely machine-made products. It also results in a final piece that has been shaped by human hands for human use and comfort.
Techniques Must Be Over a Century Old
In Japan, the reliability of a craft process is something that can only come after at least a century of trial and error, improvements and adjustments. It takes this amount of time to demonstrate the success and quality of a particular craft.
All crafts are an amalgamation of both skills and technique. But, while skills are related to an individual craftsperson and their specific abilities, techniques represent an historical accumulation of knowledge; technique entails everything from the specifics of a particular process to knowing the best source for raw materials. This is something handed down from one generation to another over hundreds of years, in some cases.
What makes many Japanese traditional crafts unique is the way that the skills of each generation interact with the time-honored techniques of their particular craft. Modern craftspeople are not simply repeating, unaltered, the ways of the past. In fact, they are continually adapting and improving their products to fit with changing lifestyles and needs.