Japanese crafts often use materials common to other cultures, but in their own unique way. Simple crafts include origami, calligraphy, bonsai and ikebana. More complicated crafts include woodwork such as kokeshi dolls, embroidery such as temari balls and Japanese pottery.
In the late 19th and then again in the late 20th century, Japanese popular and traditional culture found a receptive Western audience. Its arts, such as tanka and haiku poetry, Bunraku puppetry and Noh theatre, grew in popularity. Like any other culture in the world, Japan's has a wide number of influences as well as homegrown traditions. Its pottery owes a lot to Korea and its calligraphy and temari to China.
Origami began during Japan’s self-imposed isolation in the 17th century; known as the Edo Period. Like many Japanese names, the term is a combination of two words: fold, or ori, and paper, or kami/gami. There are a diverse range of shapes and techniques involved in origami, ranging from the humble swan to paper cranes in tribute to atomic bomb victim Sasaki Sadako. Origami is linked to other Japanese crafts such as paper-making.
Shodo, or Japanese calligraphy, is more of an art form than a craft, but traditional Japanese crafts are employed at its every level. First, a paper called washi, made from mulberry plants, is hand-pressed. From there, the calligrapher wets the ink stone and rubs it with the ink stick to produce ink. The calligrapher then dips the brush into the ink and writes.
Ikebana and bonsai are traditional Japanese crafts concerning nature. Ikebana is the creation of something artificial using natural materials, though during the 20th century, more artificial supplements like paper and plastic found their way into the art. While modern techniques have increased the number of rules, it remains a craft of expression. Bonsai is about shaping a living and growing plant or tree into a preconceived shape.
Silk and cloth-based crafts have a long history in Japan. The Yuzen method involves stenciling patterns and designs onto a silk garment before dyeing. The patterns are preserved using rice paste. The Yuzen method is a common one for expensive kimono in Japan. Old or discarded cloth is used to embroider balls called temari.
Traditional wooden Japanese crafts include the kokeshi doll and the puzzle box. The kokeshi doll is a two-piece children’s toy featuring a large round head and a dowel-shaped torso. While there are guidelines for decorating such wooden dolls to keep them traditional, the possibilities are limitless.
Pottery remains one of the most expensive Japanese crafts to buy. Bizen pottery, for all its simplicity, is expensive. It owes its origin to Korean immigrants in the fourth century AD and maintains a simple quality. Many traditional Japanese pots contain a single flaw, such as a thumb-print, in order to display their beauty through imperfection.