Experience the Skills of Japanese Artisans Up Close at These 4 Traditional Crafts Spots in Nihonbashi, Tokyo
Traditional crafts made by skilled artisans are an extremely popular choice for souvenirs from Japan. This article will introduce some places in the traditional neighborhood of Nihonbashi where you can take part in workshops to make some traditional Japanese crafts of your own. Rather than just shopping, why not try out a whole new kind of experience?
Nihonbashi is a popular area of Tokyo that is packed with long-established stores as well as many stores that retain a traditional Japanese atmosphere despite being in the middle of an international metropolis. Before you head to Nihonbashi for your traditional crafts experience, perhaps you'll want to know why there are so many old established stores gathered in Nihonbashi in the first place.
The development of the Nihonbashi area is closely related to its history as the starting point of an important highway in Edo (former name of Tokyo) that was constructed by the Tokugawa Shogunate (feudal regime of Japan that ruled from 1603 - 1868). Many merchants and artisans set up shop in the area to cater to the large number of potential clients that were gathered in the busy thoroughfare of Nihonbashi, and before long it became the center of commerce in Edo.
Many of the shops to be introduced in this article are historical ones that were originally constructed during this time, between 1603 - 1868! You'll definitely want to try your hand at these traditional craft techniques that have been handed down over generations.
1. Handmade Washi Paper Workshop (Ozu Washi)
Washi (Japanese paper) is a versatile craft that can be used to make everything from lampshades to luncheon mats, and is very popular as a souvenir. At Ozu Washi, visitors can take part in a workshop to witness the washi-making process first-hand.
In this hands-on workshop, participants create their own washi masterpieces by carefully shaking tiny fibers suspended in water. It's so easy, even children can take part! It's fascinating to see the fibers gradually clump together in intricate patterns, eventually gaining in thickness and forming a sheet of washi paper.
The shop has prepared colored paper, pressed flowers, and other things that you can add to the washi paper to make it your own. You can even stick in leaves that you found on the street if you want to! There are many workshops held per day, so it is easy to stick it into your sightseeing schedule whenever is most convenient for you.
Workshop length: Around 1 hour
Price: 500 JPY (incl. tax) for 1 A4-size piece of handmade washi paper
2. Japanese Knife-Polishing Experience with Nihonbashi Kiya (Nihonbashi Information Center)
As part of the "Culture Experience Tour," in which you walk around Nihonbashi while listening to an English-speaking guide (tours in other languages may be available upon request), you can take part in a number of unique experiences, such as knife-polishing at a store called "Nihonbashi Kiya" and katsuobushi-shaving at a store called "Ninben."
While there are certainly many tourists in Japan who buy Japanese knives as a souvenir and taste dashi (broth) made with katsuobushi (bonito), it is relatively rare for visitors to get to take part in the actual knife-polishing and katsuobushi-shaving processes. Also, once you understand the process by which these products are made, it will make shopping for them even more fun!
This roughly 60-minute tour also includes a visit to Fukutoku Shrine to learn about shrine etiquette, Nihonbashi Hakuza to learn about gold leaf, Yamada Heiando to learn about lacquer ware, and SUSgullary to learn about products made with titanium.
Tour length: Around 60 minutes
Price: 1,000 JPY per person
3. Edo Kiriko Workshop (Hanashyo)
Edo kiriko is a traditional Japanese glass-cutting technique in which traditional patterns are cut into bowls, cups, and other vessels made from colored glass. Hanashyo is a famous Edo kiriko artisan shop that made the Edo Kiriko gifts given to state guests at the 34th G8 Summit held in Toyako, Hokkaido, in 2008.
The shop interiors are full of delicately cut Edo kiriko products that are so beautiful, they will take your breath away. Here, even total beginners are able to take part in a workshop where they can cut their own guinomi (small cup for drinking sake). After a thorough lecture on the process, participants get to cut their own glass product while concentrating and feeling like a pro. This is a great chance to create your own Edo kiriko product to take back home with you!
Workshop length: Around 60 minutes
Price: 5,000 JPY (incl. tax) *includes guinomi
4. Admire Ukiyo-e at a Well-Established Folding Fan Shop (Ibasen)
Amazingly, the folding fan shop Ibasen has over 400 years of history, as it was established in the year 1590. The interiors are filled to the brim with a large number of beautiful spread-out fans, and this is the perfect place to shop for some souvenirs.
Once you are finished shopping, head over to the Ibasen Ukiyo-e Museum next door. Once you leave the shop and enter the main building to the right side, you will walk past a long show window on the way to the elevator that showcases a collection of Ukiyo-e and contemporary art that fits monthly themes such as "Harmony," "Traditional Culture," "Classical Theater," "Edo," etc. In addition to Ukiyo-e, they will occasionally display other art forms such as woodcuts as well.
There is also a workshop (held at irregular intervals) for groups of around 10 people in which you can create your own sensu (folding fan) and decorate it with paint and ink. Those who are interested should call ahead to see if a workshop is possible while they are in the area.
Museum hours: Ibasen Ukiyo-e Museum 8:00 am - 8:00 pm (Museum shop 10:00 am - 6:00 pm, Monday - Friday)
Workshop length: Around 3 hours (offered irregularly)
Price: Museum entry - free; Workshop - 5,000 JPY (incl. tax*)
*Postage charged separately
You really get a higher sense of appreciation for the skill of artisans when you try out their traditional crafts for yourself. Using this article as a reference, why not venture to Nihonbashi to have a traditional craft experience you won't soon forget!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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