There are many examples of Japanese crafts that have been designated by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry as "traditional Japanese crafts." Some examples include kimono cloth, Imari and Arita pottery, Japanese kitchen knives and other types of metalwork, lacquerware, "washi" (Japanese paper), and traditional dolls such as the popular Kokeshi dolls. In this article, we’ll introduce examples of traditional Japanese crafts that have garnered the most praise from around the world, starting with Edo-Kiriko and Satsuma Kiriko glassworks.
Edo-Kiriko Glass (Tokyo)
Edo-Kiriko glassworks are one of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s designated traditional Japanese crafts. They can be traced back to the first half of the 17th century, when glasses with etched designs were first imported to Nagasaki from the Netherlands. The “kiriko” was Japan’s attempt at copying them. Craftsmen in Tokyo first started manufacturing kiriko on a substantial scale in the first half of the 19th century using emery (a powdered abrasive mineral used as a polishing agent) to cut intricate designs into the glasses. Those were the direct predecessors of present-day Edo-Kiriko.
To make an Edo-Kiriko glass, a craftsperson uses a grinder to etch beautiful, intricate patterns into the glass by hand. Even today, glasses need to be made using traditional techniques and pass a rigorous inspection to be sold as a genuine “Edo-Kiriko.”
For more details about Edo-Kiriko glasswork and how it is made: ▶ A Guide to the Traditional Japanese Craft: Edo-Kiriko Glass
Hoshikenbishi Old Pair | Edo Cut Glass
These are true Edo-Kiriko glasses, designated as both a national and Tokyo traditional craft. "Hoshikenbishi" refers to the diamond pattern called "kenbishi” compromised of sharp lines that resemble a sword (ken). This original design also has an additional star pattern, making it even more vibrant.
Star Anise Roe Tumbler Pair | Edo Cut Glass
The design seen on this pair of tumbler glasses is masterfully intricate even by Edo-Kiriko standards. The octagonal, woven-bamboo “kagome” pattern can only be achieved by highly-skilled craftspeople. Kagome-patterned products are considered to be good luck charms and therefore make great gifts.
Tokoba Pyramid Earrings Mini Akagiku Tsunagi (K18) | Edo Cut Glass
These mini earrings are made from crystal, which requires much more delicate cutting techniques than glass. If you’re looking for beautiful ear accessories that glimmer differently depending on how the light hits them, then these are just for you.
Related article: ▶ 7 Japanese Accessories for Any Outfit and Occasion
Satsuma Kiriko Glass (Kagoshima)
Satsuma Kiriko glassware was first produced in the Satsuma domain (modern-day Kagoshima Prefecture) in the 1840s. For a time, its production ceased completely, but in 1985, the Satsuma Kiriko Reproduction Project was launched, which faithfully reproduced the glasses’ historical manufacturing and coloring methods. Thanks to this project's success, Satsuma Kiriko glasses made a full comeback. Compared to Edo-Kiriko, these glasses are a little thicker and famously can feature a range of colors based on how deeply the glass is cut.
For more details about Satsuma Kiriko glassware and how it is made: ▶ A Guide to the Traditional Japanese Craft: Satsuma Kiriko Glass
Double-Covered Lattice Old Glass 2 Pieces (Green-Lapis Lazuli, Gold Red, Lapis Lazuli) In A Paulownia Box | Satsuma Cut Glass
Enjoy the dual-color, latticed gradation against clear glass that can only be achieved using Satsuma Kiriko techniques with this lovely pair of drinking glasses. Thanks to their perfect shape and size, they are easy to use and work for any occasion.
Black Kiriko Old Glass In A Paulownia Box | Satsuma Cut Glass
Overflowing with modern beauty, this Satsuma Black Kiriko glass is the result of the first successful attempt in 2006 to color a kiriko glass black. Because the dark color doesn’t allow light to pass through it, the craftsperson can only rely on their skill and intuition developed over many years to cut patterns into the glass. It’s what makes it such an exquisite gift.
Double-Covered Tokkuri & Ochoko 2 Pieces (Green-Lapis Lazuli) In A Paulownia Box | Satsuma Cut Glass
This beautiful drinking set features a green and sky-blue latticed gradation against clear glass. Because of its refreshing look, it can be used for any occasion, not just during a Japanese-style meal.
Sensu (Folding Fans)
Kyo-Sensu Fans (Kyoto)
Another officially-designated traditional Japanese craft, Kyo-Sensu fans have more than 1,200 years of history and are still made by hand in the traditional way by experienced craftspeople. As the exquisite fans have a long history, each must meet the following three criteria to be officially considered a Kyo-Sensu: 1. The materials used to make the fan should be produced in Kyoto (the fan face) and neighboring Shiga Prefecture (the bamboo); 2. The crafting must be done within Kyoto; and 3. The maker must be a member of Kyoto’s folding fan association.
To learn about Kyo-Sensu fans, see: ▶ A Guide to the Traditional Japanese Craft: Kyo-Sensu Fans
Women's Silk Fan Unryu Paper Butterfly Blue | Kyoto Folding Fans
This elegant and cute Kyo-Sensu fan features a lively scene of dancing blue butterflies. This fine fan has a face that is made of silk and polyester, and its size is fairly small, making it suitable for a lady’s hand.
Women's Silk Fan Chaji Nadeshiko Daishokuchi | Kyoto Folding Fans
This is a smaller ladies’ fan with cute little flowers carved delicately into the fan’s frame.
Men's Silk Fan Gourd Tea Bone Large Short Ground | Kyoto Folding Fans
This Kyo-Sensu fan features drawings of gourds that are visible on the frame when the fan is spread open, representing good fortune. This fan is designed for men and could go well with a sharp business suit.
Edo-Sensu Fans (Tokyo)
Edo-Sensu fans have a history that goes back about 300 years. In contrast to the elegance of Kyo-Sensu fans, many Edo-Sensu fans tend to feature simpler designs that reflect the strong influence of Edo's (the former name of Tokyo) fashionable culture. Also, the frames of Edo-Sensu fans tend to feature fewer ribs which are slightly heftier than those of a Kyo-Sensu fan, and when the fans are closed, they make a satisfying snapping sound.
Another characteristic of Edo-Sensu fans is that—whereas each part of a Kyo-Sensu fan is made by a different specialist—all of the 30+ steps involved with making a Edo-Sensu fan are performed by a single craftsperson, meaning many fans feature one-of-a-kind designs.
For more detailed information about Edo-Sensu fans: ▶ A Guide to the Traditional Japanese Craft: Edo-Sensu Fans
Woman's Zodiac Folding Fan | Edo Folding Fans
This Edo-Sensu fan features a horse painted in "sumi" (black ink). The simple design can be easily matched to many different outfits.
Woman'S Astringent Fan | Edo Folding Fans
This simple and polished design is very typical of the Edo-Sensu style. The paper has been treated with a traditional technique: painted with countless layers of juice from a "shibu-gaki" (astringent persimmon) to give it a rich tone and luxurious touch that can't be replicated with artificial products.
Folding Fan Tea Rack Set Cloud | Edo Folding Fans
This is a decorative fan that features a different design on the front and back. Slightly different from a handheld fan, this fan is inlaid with gold and can instantly add an air of elegance to a room.
If you want to give feedback on any of our articles, you have an idea that you'd really like to see come to life, or you just have a question on Japan, hit us up on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!
*These products may not be able to be shipped to certain countries. Please see the retailer's website for more information.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.