Nara Traditional Crafts (Part 2)
Nara Traditional Crafts (Part 2)
As I mentioned in the first blog, Nara was the first place in Japan to receive new ideas from overseas countries as it was in the centre of trade between Japan and the Silk Road. Some of the best craftsmen came to Nara from China’s Tang Dynasty and Korea’s Baekje Kingdom. And with the spread of Buddhism there were many different innovations that spurred from there like the cloth that the priests’ used as garments to the brushes used for calligraphy and also the paper and ink that were used for copying the sutras
Narazarashi which are woven hemp cloth were used as robes for monks’ and as an under layer for a soldiers’ armour during the Nara period. They are smooth and absorbent but are still a breathable cloth which was perfect for people during the hot summer days.
The production of narazarashi boomed during the Edo period and many fabric mills were built in Nara during this time. Yu Nakagawa was one of these fabric mills that was built during this time. At the Naramachi store, you can actually see the old spinning wheels and looms. And if you make a reservation at Yu Nakagawa prior to when you arrive you can even experience making some fabric.
Akahada pottery is a distinctive pottery and it is named after the clay of Mount Akahada. The clay from Mount Akahada is filled with iron which is where it gets its colour from. This pottery is a key fold art in this area and it has been documented since 1573. The pottery itself has a very simple style with just a cream glaze painted on top and a red slip. This Akahada pottery is used in traditional tea ceremonies and is also used in fashionable restaurants. If you go to the Nara Craft Museum you can get some of these pieces at the souvenir shop.
Monks who used to practice Shugendo up in the mountains often used sword. And the family that supplied them with these swords is the Gassan family. The monks often used these swords to protect themselves from wild animals and sometimes bandits as well.
The Gassan family started out making swords in the Yamagata prefecture but they eventually moved to Sakurai in Nara. Sadatoshi Gassan is the current master and he gives the blades of the sword a pattern called ayasugi. This pattern gives the sword a fine texture much like woodgrain.
Chasen, also known as Tea whisks, are made from one piece of bamboo and it is finely cut into a whisk. It is an absolute essential in the tea making process as it is the chasen that makes the tea light and frothy. The Takayama bamboo has been supplying the chasen industry all throughout Japan for over 500 years. This area also has lots of traditional workshops that are open to the public so if you are interested you can definitely look more into this.
Tanimura san is the 20th generation chasen maker and he supplies tea masters from all over the country with some of his finely handmade tea whisks. Tanimura san has his own studio where he teaches about chasen. And if you would like to have an English speaking person at the workshop if you give prior notice a translator will be there.
If you go to the Nara Craft Museum you can learn all about the traditional crafts from the area. A lot of these crafts displayed here date back all the way to the Nara period.