These are hard times for Japanese craftsmen and women. With cheap mass-produced products coming from abroad, it’s hard to sell traditional crafts and even harder to find successors.
But Tokyo is trying to change that.
The project aims for a contemporary take on traditional handicrafts, or teshigoto, by combining the skills of the takumi, a master of a craft, that have been handed down over generations with the innovation of designers. The products have been developed for the modern consumer in hopes of being incorporated into their daily lives.
There are two stages to the project – product development and product promotion.
During product development, designers and craftsmen work together for a period of approximately six months to create an artistic handicraft, 10 of which are chosen to be showcased and continue further in the project in the promotional stage.
In addition to the products that were crafted in the development stage, the government also opens applications to already existing handicrafts that would like to be promoted in the Tokyo Teshigoto project. Out of the numerous applications they receive, only a third of them make the cut to the promotional stage.
A bread knife that can slice bread fresh from the oven, a wooden card holder made only by wood joinery, a brush made out of horsehair that can also be used as home decor. These are just a few of the existing products that made it through the rigorous application process.
This year, the chosen products were exhibited at Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall on May 29 where Governor Yuriko Koike herself awarded three of the new project products. The Tokyo Governor Award went to Edo wooden doll craftsman Yuji Okada and designers Kotoko Hirata and Mami Takemoto who assembled a bonsai mobile decoration to integrate Japanese nature in your living space.
The Tokyo 150th Anniversary Award went to forged knife craftsmen Yoichiro Ishizuka and Shojiro Ishizuka along with designer Kunio Sugimoto who produced a hand-forged kitchen knife with black rust that guards the knife.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Small and Medium Enterprise Support Center Chief Director Award went to Tokyo honzome (a dyeing method) craftsman Ichiro Takizawa and designers Kotoko Hirata and Mami Takemoto who created baby wrappers that you can remake into a stuffed animal once the baby outgrows it.
Hoping to appeal to the public through their simplicity and functionality, these aesthetic teshigoto are anticipated to open up a new future for the traditional craft industry.
If you’re hoping to see what kind of products there are on offer or more information on the products, drop by the 5th floor of Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi where the new handicrafts will be on display and on sale until June 12.
You can also check the Tokyo Teshigoto website for more information as well. If you’re looking to own one of these crafts but can’t make it to the sale and exhibition at Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi, you can always go to Suntory Museum of Art, Kabukiza Theatre, Edo-Tokyo Museum or online on the Mitsukoshi Store or Gallery Nippon no Waza.