KCP students learning shodo, Japanese calligraphy.

Learn Japanese Crafts During “Shelter in Place”

As the world grapples with COVID-19  pandemic and people are asked to stay home to stop the spread, learning different Japanese crafts would be a productive way to while away the time.

Gyotaku print.

Gyotaku, Japanese fish printing. | raymond chorneau

Japanese craft (工芸 kōgei) has a long and proud tradition that dates back to the time humans settled on the Japanese islands. Handcrafting had roots in the rural crafts (traditional crafts production that is carried on, simply for everyday practical use, in the agricultural countryside). Traditionally, handcrafters made use of natural, indigenous materials, even today. Traditional Japanese craft distinguishes itself from decorative arts and fine arts, as being created to be used. Crafts were needed by all levels of Japanese society. The execution and design of each type became increasingly sophisticated over time.

Some Japanese crafts to try out

Gyotaku – the word gyo, meaning “fish” and tako meaning “stone impression”, is the traditional Japanese art of fish printing that can be traced back to the mid-1800’s.

Gyotaku is a form of nature printing, a printing process that uses plants, animals, rocks and other natural subjects such as fish, to produce an image. Fish printing has been used initially by fishermen to record their catches and has since become an art form. Gyotaku uses fish or sea creatures as “printing plates” using sumi ink or ink cakes which are a type of solid ink usually used for calligraphy and brush painting.

KCP students learning shodo, Japanese calligraphy.

KCP students learning shodo, Japanese calligraphy.

Shôdo – or ‘the way of writing’ is a form of artistic writing, or calligraphy of the Japanese language. A after the invention of the Japanese unique syllabaries, Hiragana and Katakana, the distinctive Japanese writing system was further developed, and calligraphers produced styles unique to Japan.  Shôdo was inherited from China.

The process of traditional Japanese calligraphy involves the making of your own black ink by rubbing sumi, a black block, on small rocks called suzuri, to produce fine powder that is then mixed with water. There are ink bottles also available for people who want to dispense of the traditional process. Special  paraphernalia for the craft can be bought as part of a set such as paper (washi), brushes (fuudo), paper weight (bunchin) and the like.

Origami, Japanese paper folding.

Origami, Japanese paper folding. | Rocky Sun

Origami (折り紙) –  is the Japanese art of folding paper. It is one of the purest and simplest art forms–it requires only a piece of paper and folding techniques. Origami became hugely popular as knowledge of it spread around the world.

Folding methods were handed down from one generation to the next, and this then represented a cultural heritage for many Japanese families. The first known book that gave detailed instructions on origami was published in 1797, titled “The Secret of One Thousand Cranes Origami” or Hiden Senbazuru Orikata in Japanese. Today there are numerous paper folding techniques to create the most beautiful things imaginable.