34th All-Japan Daily Commodity Crafts Exhibition 第34回伝統的工芸品 月間国民会議 全国大会 東京大会 "Craft Crossings in Tokyo" Marunouchi, Tokyo 丸の内 東京
Traveling through traditional rural Japan with its rugged small towns and villages, discoveries line the way. The landscape might be amazing, the onsen hot springs relaxing, the temples and shrines tell of long histories. Every so often, you also stumble upon the workshops of masters of a particular local craft. Sometimes they are advertised as local attractions, at other times, they work in semi-obscurity.
Whatever the particular craft might be, it is based on the local availability of raw materials, historical circumstances most likely have shaped it. In all cases, over the course of many generations, craftsmanship has been perfected.
On closer inspection, you will find a great number of traditional craft workshops also in the back streets of urban centers like Tokyo and Osaka and even in the metropolitan commuter suburbs at first glance inhospitable to any traditional craft.
Much, though certainly not all ancient craftsmanship survived the introduction of modern industrial facilities from the Meiji Period on (1868-1912). In some cases, newly introduced industrial production methods actually helped traditional craftsmen vastly expand their business.
Take the Tomioka Silk Mill as an example of an early Meiji era industrial silk production plant that allowed traditional high-quality kimono makers to considerably widen their customer base.
Modernity and tradition are certainly not mutually exclusive, they have often converged and brought about many high-quality modern Japanese products deeply rooted in ancient workmanship.
All-Japan Daily Commodity Crafts Exhibition
It is exactly that convergence between traditional crafts and modernity that the All-Japan Daily Commodity Crafts Exhibition has been focusing on with its trade fairs held at various locations across Japan. The exhibitions combine a great variety of vastly different traditional crafts under one umbrella, they promote each single craft and foster collaborations with modern designers and industries.
The All-Japan Daily Commodity Crafts Exhibition is not just an exhibition, however, it is also trade fair where craft products are sold directly to customers, where contracts on larger-scale business interactions are signed.
Typically, the All-Japan Daily Commodity Crafts Exhibition has two major sections. One being reserved for craftsmen from the respective area where the exhibition is held, the other open to craft workshops from across Japan.
Craft Crossings in Tokyo
In 2016, the All-Japan Daily Commodity Crafts Exhibition was held in Fukui Prefecture, one of the most traditional areas of Japan. In November 2017, however, it went right into the decidedly modern and very central steel-and-glass Tokyo neighborhood of Marunouchi, between Tokyo Station and Yurakucho.
This was the first time the All-Japan Daily Commodity Crafts Exhibition has been held in Tokyo.
Dubbed "Craft Crossings in Tokyo", the Tokyo edition held from November 3rd to November 6th, 2017, was by far the largest edition of the All-Japan Daily Commodity Crafts Exhibition so far. Its opening ceremony was attended by the Governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike.
The main presentation area for the traditional craft workshops was at the Tokyo International Forum. About half of the exhibition area was reserved for craftsmen from Tokyo and the Kanto area, the other half open to exhibitors from other parts of the country.
The variety of crafts on display was much too vast to be described in detail here (the website of the event has a complete listing in English), so let's just say that it ranged from high-quality Japanese knives to porcelain to calligraphy brushes to bamboo archery bows to traditional lacquer ware to silk kimonos and much more.
Many of the workshops joining the exhibition presented not only their products but also demonstrated how they are made, live, in front of the on-looking visitors. Amazing craftsmanship at work.
The atmosphere was generally very relaxed and it was easy to have a chat with any of the master crafts people, talking about the peculiarities of their craft, its history or current situation.
Edo Era Crafts Presentation
Under the name "Craft Walk", craft products from the Edo Period (1603-1868) were presented on the ground floor of the Tokia Building, a short walk from the Tokyo International Forum.
In fact, many of the crafts practiced during the Edo Era are still very much alive in Tokyo today as masterful live presentations of the complicated making of kumihimo (braided cords) and Edo Bekko (combs and other products made of turtle shells) proved.
The Edo exhibition was also marked by a number of Edo Era style events. At one point an oiran (in Edo Times a very top-class geisha) paraded through the hall with her entourage. Oiran walk on very high heels and they developed a very refined way on how to set their feet. The modern oiran moved ahead flawlessly in style just as her sisters did in Edo times.
The Craft Lab on the ground floor of the nearby Kitte Tower on the other hand focused on the interaction between traditional crafts and modern industrial design.
How traditional techniques of designing a calligraphy brush can be used in the production of modern toothbrushes was a question raised here.
Traditional Japanese washi paper is already in the service of the modern automotive industry. The fibers of washi paper work better than any other material when used for certain automobile engine components, it was demonstrated.
Kumihimo cords can contain electronic sensors constantly checking on the pulse and other health features of hospital patients.
In short, that part of the exhibition tried to explore the role of traditional crafts in future technologies.
Back at the Tokyo International Forum, a number of workshops took place, teaching interested amateurs the ways of traditional crafts. There people could make their own wooden hashi (chopsticks), create glass-melt amulets and artistically dye cloths under the supervision of masters of the trade. In total, 35 different workshops on different crafts were on offer.
Oedo Antique Market
It might have been a coincidence but right outside the Tokyo International Forum, the Oedo Antique Market was going on at the same time as the Craft Crossings Exhibition.
The Oedo Antique Market is Japan's largest antique market and you will find many traditional craft products there for very reasonable prices.
The bustling crowds at the market exactly proved the point made by the exhibition: traditional Japanese crafts are as popular as ever.
Next Year: Fukuoka
The decision on the location of the 2018 All-Japan Daily Commodity Crafts Exhibition has already been made. It will take place in Fukuoka from November 1st to November 4th at a not yet specified but certainly central location.
Craft Crossings in Tokyo Website in English:
Oedo Antique Market Schedule
Every first and third Sunday of the month outside of Tokyo International Forum, Marunouchi, Tokyo.
Opening times: 9am to 4 pm.
At irregular dates, the market is also held at Tokyo's Yoyogi Park. Check website for details.
Website in English www.antique-market.jp/english