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  • More than hot water: The onsen story

    When you conjure up an image of Japan, it is hard not to think of the icons (cherry blossom, neon lights, Geisha, Sumo, Mt. Fuji etc) and the ‘oh-so-different’ culture found all over. Located along the ‘Ring of Fire’ and with 10% of the world’s active volcano, Japan is blessed with geothermal-activity. As a result, and perhaps one of the biggest but lesser-known aspects of Japanese culture is the ‘onsen’ or ‘hot spring’ and the bathing culture that accompanies it. Although naked communal bathing is not everyone’s cup of tea, the onsen is one of the most authentic ways to experience the country’s culture. Much more than a dip in a bath, the ‘onsen’ culture stretches way back. One of Japan’s oldest books, the Nihon Shoki written in 720, documents onsen including Arima, Shirahama and D ...

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  • Shokunin kishitsu: The Craftsman’s Spirit

    The meticulousness that drives the craftsman’s spirit, or shokunin kishitsu, has made the arts and crafts of Japan famous worldwide. In this blog, I would like to focus on a few examples of Japanese craftsmanship techniques that epitomise this spirit, along with a few of my favourite Japanese artists whose techniques are also informed by these ideals. I also want to look at how this traditional spirit of perfectionism, or kodawari, may also have wide-ranging influences on everyday life in contemporary Japan than might be expected. Lacquerware, gold leaf production and application, silk dying, sword making, and woodblock printing. What unites all of these crafts and their associated techniques? For me, it’s the meticulousness of the artist or craftsman, the shokunin. All of these crafts ...

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  • Paper screens – Jiro Dreams of Sushi 

    In a slight departure from the world of literature, we’d like to bring you some inspiration from the screen that provides a humbling insight into the life of a true Japanese artisan, and the shokunin kishitsu, the dedicated spirit of the craftsman, that he embodies.  Jiro Dreams of Sushi - A film by David Gelb Cinema often depicts Japan’s devotion to craft, dedication to detail and craftspeople's single-minded pursuit of being the best at what they do. The samurai does more than swing a sword, he is a master of his field. They drink green tea that has been offered via an elaborate tea ceremony with every move deep in meaning. It’s safe to say that Japan doesn’t just throw things together.   The acclaimed film ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ (2012) showed the world what it was like to d ...

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  • Edo kiriko and the Kobayashi family

    The term for an artisan in Japan is ‘shokunin’; it is heard regularly but never used lightly. At its best, shokuninsan is a title bestowed on those who evidence a complete devotion to their craft. Artisans who make their work the focus of their waking hours. It can indeed mean devoting one’s life to something but as this interview with two Edo kiriko (cut glass) masters confirms, in the more refined spheres of Japanese craftsmanship, some crafts are polished over the course of multiple lifetimes. Expertise born across generations. Today we speak with the 3rd and 4th generations of the Kobayashi family. A father-and-son who create a style of cut glass synonymous with the refinement that came out of Edo (now Tokyo) approximately 200 years ago. Can you briefly describe what Edo kiri ...

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  • Exploring Japanese wine in the Kōfu Basin

    The origin of Japanese wine is still open for debate...   Recently, evidence of ancient grape fermentation has been used by those who support an early origin story. The Jōmon people who inhabited the Japanese archipelago from 14,000 BCE to 1000 BCE are said to have used fermentation for essential food preservation, and the presence of wild grape seeds found inside excavated Jōmon earthenware vessels is recognised by some as evidence of prehistoric winemaking. The generally accepted story originating from the premier winery region of Japan, Yamanashi Prefecture, tells that Gyōki (668 CE‒749 CE), a renowned priest of the Nara period (710 CE‒794 CE), cultivated the land in the eastern region of the Kōfu Basin for vineyards and taught the locals how to grow grapes for medicinal purposes. ...

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