Arts and Crafts
Japan’s relationship with arts and crafts is linked to an awareness and deep appreciation of the environment, with the island nation boasting some of the most stunning scenery from subtropical paradises to winter wonderlands, all bordered by the sea. As a result, the arts and crafts of Japan have reflected this natural beauty for centuries in woodblock prints, paintings, ceramics, and textiles.
At the heart of much Japanese arts and crafts is the aesthetic of wabi-sabi, the idea that beauty sits within imperfections. As in nature, imperfections add to the character of wabi-sabi arts and crafts, making the objects both beautiful and one-of-a-kind.
Ukiyo-e are iconic woodblock prints featuring scenes from nature and traditional Japanese life and culture. Their extreme popularity is easily understood given their graphic beauty, which started out as disposable items of pop culture in the 17th and 18th centuries. Ukiyo-e were sold on the street by vendors, more street poster than Picasso.
Over time, ukiyo-e came to be revered as works of art in their own right, with none more famous than Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa. The artwork has come to symbolise Japan itself, and versions are held in the biggest museums and galleries around the world.
Today, you can get up close to many examples of famous ukiyo-e in galleries across Japan, or grab a copy of your own to take home – just like they did in the 1600s!
It’s no surprise that a nation famous for its tea ceremony would devote centuries to perfecting the art of ceramics. Ceramic arts began developing rapidly in the 16th century with the rise in popularity of tea ceremony, quickly establishing a unique style of subtlety and refinement that brought a sense of naturalism to the man-made.
The art form is alive and well in Japan today, with many kilns across Japan that open to visitors. Lovers of the art form might consider visiting the six oldest kilns: Shigaraki, Bizen, Tanba, Echizen, Seto, and Tokoname. All six can be found on Honshu, stretching between Tokyo and Okayama.
Other arts and crafts
Japan is known for its attention to detail and creativity, so it’s no surprise that even Japanese plants and paper become works of art. The tiny bonsai tree is a well-known symbol of Japanese ingenuity and precision, and can be found in special bonsai villages around the country.
Visitors with a green thumb may also enjoy displays of ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging which preaches minimalism and meditation as part of its process. You can even take English-language ikebana classes in Tokyo to experience it for yourself!
Finally, the Japanese art of folding paper, or origami, creates pieces that are beautiful to behold and a marvel to see take shape. The basic aspects of origami can be taught to the entire family, which is exactly how more than 10 million origami cranes, a symbol of peace, are sent each year to the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima.