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Former Japanese soccer player Hidetoshi Nakata has participated in a number of different projects since retiring from the sport. One such project is the Revalue Nippon Project, through which Nakata creates opportunities for the general public to rediscover the value, potential, and delight of KOGEI (Japanese craft arts)—as well as the traditional Japanese cultures and techniques associated with them—that have been practiced for centuries. By creating this reconnection, Nakata hopes to ensure that these traditions not only survive, but that they can be developed even further.
Every year, the project selects one medium—from ceramics to washi paper, bamboo, katagami stencils, and urushi lacquerware—with which to produce a series of works. An advisory board made up of art critics and other experts handpicks artisans who work in that medium and places them on a team with artists and other collaborators. Each team is free to apply its own unique approach to the medium. Once they are completed, Nakata personally promotes these works to the general public, in hopes that people who encounter them will be inspired to define a new, distinctively Japanese concept of luxury.
KOGEI are, perhaps, so ingrained in the lives of the Japanese that most people are unable to recognize their value and charms. Despite the deep link between these arts and the craftsmanship and aesthetic beauty found in Japan’s industrial products, very few people could name one artisan practicing these traditions, let alone be able to identify their work. There is a very real danger that these traditions could die out, as today’s artisans have difficulty finding successors. This exhibition, displaying works created through Nakata’s project, is designed to counter this trend by conveying the joys of craftsmanship to future generations. Visitors will discover the technical and aesthetic heights that these traditional artisans can reach when inspired by collaborators working outside of their own field.
(Please note that exhibited pieces may change without notice)
Ceramics include earthenware, which is unglazed and made by shaping clay into an object that is fired at low temperatures; stoneware, which comes either glazed or unglazed and is fired at high temperatures; refined earthenware, which is glazed and hardened at low heat; and porcelain, a hard ceramic material that is made from a white substance fired at high temperatures. The first Japanese earthenware items were created during the Jomon and Yayoi periods. Influences from China and the Korean Peninsula subsequently led to the development of regional ceramic styles that utilized local clay and glaze materials. These include Arita ware in Saga Prefecture, Bizen ware in Okayama Prefecture, Kyoto ware, Kutani ware in Ishikawa Prefecture, Mino ware in Gifu Prefecture, Kasama ware in Ibaraki Prefecture, and Mashiko ware in Tochigi Prefecture.
Washi paper is made by boiling, stretching, and then drying the fibers of various plants. It was first produced during the rule of Prince Shotoku, and has since diversified into numerous regional styles. These styles include Igasaki washi in Aichi Prefecture, Echizen washi in Fukui Prefecture, Yoshino washi in Nara Prefecture, Tosa washi in Kochi Prefecture, and Awa washi in Tokushima Prefecture, among others.
Western paper was first imported into Japan during the Meiji period, after which it began to replace washi in everyday use. However, a reevaluation of the feel, aesthetic beauty, and durability of washi led to its use in other fields, such as art.
Sekishu-banshi (Shimane Prefecture), Hon-minoshi (Gifu Prefecture), and Hosokawa-shi (Saitama Prefecture)—which, together, were registered in 2014 as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Property of Humanity—are all handmade washi that are produced from the same, single material: the kozo plant.
Bamboo can be found throughout Asia east of India, and also in Africa. It should come as no surprise that East Asia, with its long-standing craft art traditions, gave birth to a rich culture of bamboo craft arts. Bamboo of all kinds—from the more common Japanese timber bamboo to large, thick tortoise-shell bamboo and smoked bamboo—are cut up and fastened together to create a variety of structures. Common items such as cages and even instruments (the shakuhachi being the most well known) have, for ages, been made in Japan using bamboo. The emergence of tea culture in Japan led to the production of bamboo tea scoops, tea whisks, lid rests, vases, and other items featured in tea ceremonies. This was due to bamboo’s perceived serenity—an intrinsic quality associated with tea ceremonies. From the Meiji period onwards, bamboo began to be increasingly used to create works of art that were displayed at competitions and solo exhibitions.
Katagami are stencils used to print patterns on kimono. Ise katagami, which is said to have developed during the Muromachi period, received a dramatic boost in popularity during the Edo period when it came under the protection of the Kishu Domain—one of the three most powerful forces in Japan after the shogunate. One reason for this was the increased demand for print-adorned kimono during this time.
Four of the most famous Ise katagami styles are Kiribori, Tsukibori, Dogubori, and Shimabori. Kiribori involves creating a series of circular holes by rotating a semicircular blade. For Tsukibori, a pattern is cut into a paper stencil by tracing the gaps in a wooden pattern. Dogubori utilizes chisels shaped like flowers, paper fans, and other shapes to create a pattern, and Shimabori involves etching parallel lines along a ruler.
In the art of urushi lacquerware, either varnish is applied to or patterns are drawn on wood, bamboo, or cloth with the sap of a Japanese lacquer tree. Bowls and other urushi items have been around in Japan since the Jomon period. Urushi serves as both a varnish and an adhesive, and it is this latter quality that makes it a versatile decorative medium. In maki-e, one style of urushi, gold dust is sprinkled on designs drawn with urushi. Raden is a style in which the shells of green turban snails and other mollusks are cut into decorative patterns and pasted onto urushi items. Another variation, chinkin, involves cutting grooves into a layer of urushi and filling them with gold dust.