New Designation of Tokyo Shamisen, Tokyo Koto, and Edo Hyogu as Traditional Crafts under the Act on the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries
November 16, 2022
On November 16, 2022, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) newly designated the following crafts as traditional crafts as defined in the Act on the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries (hereinafter called the Act"): Tokyo Shamisen (three-stringed musical instrument,) Tokyo Koto (Japanese harp,) and Edo Hyogu (scroll mounting.)
1. New designation of a traditional craft
Concerning the new designation of the Tokyo Shamisen and Tokyo Koto—from Tokyo Metropolis and Saitama Prefecture—and the Edo Hyogu—from Tokyo Metropolis and Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa Prefectures—on September 16, 2022, the Traditional Craft Designation Subcommittee of the Manufacturing Industry Committee under the Industrial Structure Council held discussions on the crafts and decided to newly designate them as traditional crafts. On November 16, 2022, this designation was announced by a public notice and the crafts have been listed accordingly as items designated by METI. The number of designated traditional crafts now comes to 240.
By becoming designated items, these crafts can use the name "traditional craft." In addition, producers' associations are able to receive Subsidies to Support Traditional Craft Industries by forming promotion plans and having them authorized. It is expected that efforts such as brand creation through support measures will promote the development of production areas as well as the traditional craft industries in their entirety.
Reference: Details of the Act on the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries
The Act aims to provide rich and affluent lives to the public and contribute to the succession of traditional technologies and techniques to the next generation, as well as to the economic development and creation of employment in various regions across Japan, through the promotion of traditional craft industries. Traditional crafts that are designated* under the Act are subject to various types of promotion policies under it.
Note: Five requirements must be satisfied for designation: the craft should be: (1) a daily commodity, (2) handmade, (3) made using traditional technologies or techniques continued for the last 100 years or more, (4) made of raw materials which have been used traditionally, and (5) created in a particular area.
2. Outline of the newly designated crafts
Tokyo Shamisen Three-Stringed Musical Instrument
The ancestors of the shamisen are the sanxian, the Chinese three-stringed instrument, and the sanshin, the snake-skin shamisen from the Ryukyu Kingdom. In western Japan, cat or dog skin was used for its leather covering, and a biwa pick was used to play the instrument. Hence, the shamisen went through a unique transformation after being brought to Edo in the 17th century, when its production began. In the beginning of the 20th century, craftsmen established the technologies, techniques, and main raw materials for making shamisen that are still used today.
The Edo period saw the birth of many master craftsmen and the spread of the Tokyo shamisen among the general public. Today, it is a traditional Japanese instrument used by a wide range of players from professional musicians to students.
Unlike similar traditional Japanese instruments, it has grooves that create distinct overtones called sawari, which is a key characteristic of the instrument.
There are 39 craftsmen in 22 workplaces as of September 2022.
(2) Tokyo Koto Japanese Harp
Originally introduced from China, the koto was loved by the Imperial Court and aristocratic society, mainly in Tokyo, from the Heian period to the beginning of the Edo period. It later spread among the general public and made its way to Edo in the mid-Edo period. Production of the Tokyo koto flourished along with Yamada Style koto music, and in the mid-19th century, craftsmen established the technologies, techniques, and main raw materials for making it that are still used today.
The koto was originally played in gagaku (ancient court music) or to accompany the shamisen, but the late Edo period saw the spread of music that used the koto as the focus. It went through improvements to produce a louder volume and clearer sound, and eventually became a traditional Japanese instrument used by a wide variety of performers, from professional musicians to students.
Among its characteristics, it is played with a maruzume (round pick) with the performer facing the front of the instrument, its horizontal and vertical curves are at acute angles, and it has a rich, loud, and clear sound.
There are 34 craftsmen in 11 workplaces as of September 2022.
(3) Edo Hyogu Scroll Mounting
The history of the Hyogu dates back to the Nara period, but production of the Edo Hyogu was formed around the time when the Tokugawa shogunate was established in Edo in the beginning of the 17th century, when Hyogu-shi (picture framers) who made Hyogu for daimyo (feudal lords), shrines, and temples in Kyoto moved and spread it to the capital of Edo. In the 18th century, they established the technologies and skills for making Hyogu that are still used today. The main raw materials were established later in the 19th century.
Hyogu are made using technologies for pasting together paper or cloth with adhesive—ura-uchi, shita-bari, and uwa-bari—and kiritsugi, the technology for joining the Honshi (main part of Hyogu) with the paper and cloth that frames it. They are used for various applications including hanging and non-hanging scrolls, fusuma (sliding doors), folding screens, picture frames, partitioning screens, wall decorations, room or closet partitions, interior decorations, or for preservation of books or paintings.
Among the Hyogu's characteristics is the density of paste which is adjusted to withstand the windy climate of the Kanto region.
There are 193 craftsmen in 103 workplaces as of September 2022.
- References 1 and 2: The latest newly designated crafts and excerpts of the related provisions of the Act (in Japanese)(PDF:99KB)
- Reference 3: List of designated crafts (in Japanese)(PDF:266KB)