Financially, Aichi Prefecture has long been Japan’s leading prefecture, its economic clout is by far stronger than that of perceived powerhouse Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima or any other region. One of the reasons is that Aichi Prefecture has long been one of Japan’s leading manufacturing areas. In Aichi, manufacturing is an art, and the art of manufacturing traditional textiles, ceramics, arts and crafts, and the innovative processes required remains an integral part of Aichi’s soul. These treasures are the roots of Aichi’s manufacturing culture and success, and you can enjoy them on your trip to Aichi Prefecture, in the heart of Japan.
The following are just a few places you can see Aichi’s traditional arts and crafts, meet the artisans involved and gain an understanding and appreciation for the art of manufacturing.
Arimatsu, located in the south-eastern suburbs of Nagoya is a small town that seems to have been caught in a time slip. Antique houses, shops, and warehouses from the samurai period line the original route of the narrow Tokaido, the ancient highway linking the Imperial Capital, Kyoto, and Edo (Tokyo), seat of the Shogun’s power. Not only has the atmosphere of the old town been preserved, but so too have the traditional dyeing techniques known as Arimatsu Shibori.
Shibori tie dyeing techniques are created by forming intricate patterns from closely knotted thread-tied cloth, repeatedly dyed in rich, dark indigo. The art was originally brought to the region by textile workers from Kyushu during the construction of Nagoya Castle in 1609, and further developed and perfected in Arimatsu. The work was so fine, the first lord of Nagoya Castle and the Owari Tokugawa clan, Tokugawa Yoshinao, requested master craftsman Takeda Shokuro establish his workshop there, and so Arimatsu Shibori became a famed specialty item along the Tokaido Highway.
Samurai, merchants, pilgrims and all manner of travelers along the Tokaido would stop by the many shops selling the prized wares, further enhancing and spreading its reputation across Japan. Its prosperity was later recorded in the woodblock prints by the artists Hokusai and Hiroshige. Four Hundred years later, the township of Arimatsu remains mostly as it was during the Edo period, and so too do the special tie dyeing techniques. Although the art form is enjoying a renaissance, the numbers of artisans able to replicate the sophisticated and time-consuming thread winding processes are dwindling, and so the art form is currently at a premium. Enjoy it while you can, in Aichi.
Upon first glance, Japanese Shippo-yaki appears to be intricately hand painted porcelain, but in reality, these exquisite pieces are richly decorated metalwork objects covered in kiln-fired cloisonné enamel. Cloisonné enamelware is a technique where fine, flat wires of copper, silver or gold are carefully bent into shape and soldered or glued to the metal base item, before being filled with finely ground colored glass paste and fired at high temperatures to produce a glossy pattern or design. The wires keep the molten enamel in place during firing and become part of the artwork, framing the design elements. Each piece is fired four to eight times, resulting in a deeper, richer glaze. The works are then highly polished bringing out the smooth, glassy surface features of Japanese Shippo-yaki.
From around 1833, Aichi Prefecture became one of the foremost production centers of Japanese cloisonné, known as Shippo-yaki after the area in which it was first produced. Shippo means “Seven Treasures” and is taken from Buddhist scriptures regarding the beauty of seven kinds of treasure. Yaki refers to being kiln fired.
Despite the high value and reputation of Japanese cloisonné, the prestigious Ando Cloisonné Company of Nagoya is one of the very few traditional cloisonné manufacturers still operating in Japan. The Ando Cloisonné Company were recognized as masters of the art, having been displayed at the 1893 Exposition in Chicago, the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900, and the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1901. Large quantities of technically superior quality Ando produced Shippo-yaki cloisonné pieces soon became prized treasures of the rich and affluent. Awarded a national Royal Warrant of Appointment and presented as state gifts, Ando Cloisonné Company’s fine works are much sought after by collectors even today. Items from the Ando Cloisonné selection can be found on display in the famed Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, USA, as well as the esteemed Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the world’s largest museum of applied decorative arts and design.
The Ando Cloisonné Company headquarters shop and museum, located in Sakae, central Nagoya City, invites you to enjoy the beauty of this fine art on display in their museum featuring one of the finest selections of antique and modern works, along with a range of items for sale.
Shippo-yaki can be also seen and experienced in the Shippo Art Village in Ama City, just west of Nagoya. The Fureai Museum displays masterpiece works and also explains the enamelware and its history. You can watch a Shippo artisan at work, and even try making your own accessories and items in the workshop area.
Two of Japan’s six celebrated traditional pottery production areas are located within Aichi Prefecture. Seto and Tokoname. Pottery and ceramics from Seto became so famous during Japan’s feudal period that even now modern tableware is referred to in Japanese as Seto-mono. Not just the traditional, but one of the world’s most prestigious tableware brands, Noritake, originated in Aichi Prefecture’s capital, Nagoya.
Established in 1904, Noritake combined the quality of traditional Japanese craftsmanship with western aesthetics to produce a wide range of elegant formal and casual dinnerware aimed primarily at the European market. Indeed, there was a time when the set of Noritake china was reserved for special occasions and the arrival of guests. The traditions continue in the Noritake Garden, an urban oasis just 15 minutes’ walk north of Nagoya Station.
Noritake’s original 100-year-old red-brick production workshops have been preserved and the award-winning grounds sculptured into a fine garden setting. Noritake’s facilities include the Welcome Center featuring a section dedicated to the history of Noritake, and an introduction to Noritake’s technologies. Discover how fine bone china is hand-crafted and view the various processes in the Craft Center and compare them with the latest advanced technologies also on display.
The fascinating Noritake Museum featuring classical Noritake ware dating from the late 1800’s on, and showcases a wide variety of eye-catching designs and styles created through the years. The creativity, the colors and the concepts will delight you, particularly when looking at pieces from the early 1900’s, many of which seem as though they had been designed only recently to suit modern-day trends and sensibilities, but realizing they were available in our grandparents’ day.
You can even try your hand at creating original tableware in the workshop. A visit to the Noritake complex will remind you why Noritake remains one of the more famous and treasured names in the ceramics industry.
One of Japan’s most symbolic images are the cherry blossom, however catching the cherry blossom season can prove difficult. It could come early, mid, or late spring, and unless you time your travels perfectly, you might miss it altogether. The same with the iconic autumn leaves. It all depends on each year’s varying climates and conditions. Visit the Obara region, now a part of Aichi Prefecture’s Toyota City and you have the chance to see the cherry blossoms twice a year! Obara’s rare Shikizakura cherry trees bloom once in the springtime, and again in autumn, giving you the chance to see the autumn colors AND cherry blossom at the same time. Over 10,000 trees can be found across the Obara area, while the popular Senmi Shikizakura-no-Sato has over 1,200 of the magical Shikizakura cherry trees.
Washi is recognized as the world’s strongest paper, and the Obara district has been famous for its traditional Japanese washi paper manufacturing since the 15th century. The strong, versatile, high-quality, hand-made papers were used not just for writing on, but for umbrellas, folding fans, and the unique sliding doors and panels peculiar to traditional Japanese homes. The manufacture of the washi was a long and labor-intensive process often carried out in the cold winter months during the farming off-season, and as cold, fresh water was essential for the making of washi. Mulberry trees grow particularly well in the Obara region and have long been the source of the particularly strong and functional handcrafted washi paper produced here.
Obara’s Washi-no-Furusato (Paper Art Museum) still makes a wide range of this much sought after, high quality paper in the traditional way. Here you can learn the special techniques from the masters of paper crafting in the hands-on workshop area. Make your own original sheets of prized Obara washi paper or purchase your choice of professionally made sheets of washi in the adjoining washi specialty shop. The nearby museum gallery also displays various creative works made using Obara Washi.
Aichi Prefecture is rightfully proud of its art of manufacturing culture, a culture that has been cultivated from the days of old. Its’ many innovative technologies have been merely developed, strengthened, enhanced, and enlarged over the years to make it the manufacturing and financial powerhouse that drives much of Japan. Despite its great success, Aichi fondly remembers and preserves its traditional roots, a legacy that you can see, feel and enjoy to this day.
Chris Glenn is a bilingual radio DJ, TV presenter, producer, narrator, MC, copywriter, author and columnist, and Japanese historian, specializing in samurai castles, battles, armor and weapons. He is an inbound tourism advisor, and is often called upon as a lecturer and speaker on Japanese history and topics. He was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1968, and has spent over half his life in Japan, most of that time in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. Chris is dedicated to promoting and preserving Japans’ long history, deep culture, traditions, arts and crafts.