Japan is a country most people know for its fish markets, temples, and technology, but have you ever explored Japanese artisan crafts? Japan has a rich history of craft making that dates back centuries and changes from region to region. While one prefecture may specialize in lacquerware another may specialize in intricate wood carving. So while exploring Japan these past few weeks I was inspired to bring the marvels of Japan back to you!

During a brief stay in the lovely town of Takayama in the northern region of Gifu, I stumbled upon these charming stuffed animals. Little did I know that these woodblock printed, hand-dyed animals are a traditional craft of the region. Fish, birds, snakes, mice, and other furry friends lined shops with their vibrant colors. Each stuffed animal features patterns (often floral and vegetal motifs) that relate to a folk tale regarding the animal. In modern days animals have been made for the Chinese zodiac and as children's toys. These little stuffed critters can serve many different functions! We love them on a shelf, adding charm to anyone’s home. 

Miyajima is an island located off the coast of Hiroshima, a twenty minute ride by ferry. People often recognize the island for its famous torii gate that stands tall in the ocean. While this is quite the site to see, there are also many amazing artisans located on the island. When I was there I was fascinated to learn the story of the daruma doll. These hollow, papier-mâchÊ dolls are modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. Bodhidarma was a master meditator, and the legend goes that he cut his eyelids off so he would never fall asleep while praying. Hence, the little dolls feature two wide, white eyes. Daruma dolls, while decorative, are also used to make wishes. When you purchase one, make a wish and color in its left eye. When the wish comes true color in the right eye!

Japanese prints, especially woodblock prints, have become widely recognized as a distinctive form of Japanese art. Coming in a million forms from calligraphy, scenes of nature, and historic battles from warring periods, they can traditionally be found in most households in Japan. Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa is an iconic example with its undulating and menacing blue and white waters. While exploring Tokyo I was delighted to come across prints in the style of these iconic Japanese pieces. Featuring vibrant colors and scenes of everyday life, they give a peek into Japanese lifestyle and culture. Frame one and hang it anywhere in your house and be transported to Edo Japan.

To say that Japan is every shopper’s dream would be an understatement. The open air markets, small artisan shops, and massive malls provide an exciting abundance of treasures! I am excited to share with my customers the beauty that Japanese crafts have to offer. Who knows, maybe it will even inspire your own trip to the land of the rising sun!

June 18, 2023 — Jennifer Frehling

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