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Tradition Meets Innovation: Rediscovering the Possibilities of Japanese Artisanship

2017.11.27

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From Friday November 3 to Monday November 6, Tokyo’s Marunouchi district hosted the 34th Traditional Crafts Month National Assembly, this year dubbed Craft Crossings in Tokyo.

This was the first Traditional Crafts Month National Assembly to be held in Tokyo. The official opening ceremony on Saturday November 4 was attended by Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, who also made time to visit the event itself.

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The opening ceremony

The traditional crafts recognized by this event are actually defined by law. The requirements are strict: among other rules, crafts must use only colors, patterns, and shapes derived from Japanese culture or daily life; they must be rooted in the regions in which they are produced; and they must be produced using techniques or technology that has existed for more than a century.

The number of craft products recognized across Japan by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry under these regulations was 225 as of January 26, 2017. Once these products are investigated and confirmed to use the specified construction methods, materials, and so on, they are granted the right to use the “tradition stamp.”

The Traditional Crafts Month National Assembly is held every November, Traditional Crafts Month, in order to spread knowledge of these traditional crafts more widely. In addition to displays and sales of traditional crafts from around Japan, the event features artisanal demonstrations, hands-on workshops, and other opportunities to get closer to the fascinating world of traditional crafts.

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Traditional craft products from across Japan fill the exhibition space

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There were even musical performances livening up the event

Craft Crossings in Tokyo was spread across four venues this year: the Tokyo International Forum, Tokyo Building TOKIA, KITTE in JP Tower, and the Marunouchi Building. Each one offered visitors a different theme and atmosphere, and there were also musical performances, stamps to collect, and raffles. Governor Koike had said that she hoped Craft Crossings in Tokyo would “reflect the unique charms of Tokyo,” and indeed the event was notable for its many exhibitions and attractions with “Tokyo” or “Edo” as their theme.

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From left: French patissier Pierre Hermé; Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike; Mitsuharu Kurokawa, Executive Director of Toraya; and Kimio Nonaga, Master Chef at Nihonbashi Yukari

But Craft Crossings in Tokyo wasn’t the only event to be held in the Marunouchi Building that weekend—The Edo-Tokyo Kirari Project also put on a show.

The Edo-Tokyo Kirari Project is designed to highlight artisanship and products rooted in the traditions of Edo-Tokyo as representative Tokyo brands, showcasing their value and appeal to the rest of Japan. Divided into the three fields of clothing, food, and living, for this event the project had an exhibition for each field as well as a panel discussion on cuisine entitled “Edo-Tokyo ingredients and techniques.”

Governor Koike, originator of The Edo-Tokyo Kirari Project, hosted the panel, with the other two participants being Pierre Hermé—of Pierre Hermé Paris, a tremendously popular confectioner in Japan as well—and Mitsuharu Kurokawa of the well-known wagashi company Toraya.

After discussion on the themes of “tradition and innovation,” “the appeal and possibilities of Tokyo cuisine,” and “ingredients made in Tokyo,” Hermé and Kurokawa both introduced sweets they had made using Tokyo ingredients.

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Hermé’s choux à la crème as they appeared on the monitors

First were Hermé’s choux à la crème made using passionfruit from the Ogasawara Islands (which are administratively part of Tokyo).

Next came Kurokawa’s hanabiramochi, which use burdock root grown in Takinogawa, Kita Ward.

Kimio Nonaga, member of the Japanese Culinary Academy and third in the line of master chefs at the Japanese restaurant Nihonbashi Yukari, also made an appearance to display his “Edokko pudding,” made with eggs, milk, and rice from Tokyo.

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Governor Koike is all smiles at the tasting

After trying the three sweets together, Governor Koike, Hermé, and Kurokawa could proudly report that Tokyo cuisine was as delicious as expected.

Even as the event closed its doors, enthusiasm for Japanese monozukuri (artisanship or manufacturing) and the charms of Edo-Tokyo remained at its height. By interpreting the notion of tradition through monozukuri, food, and other fields, Craft Crossing in Tokyo offered an opportunity to see its appeal with new eyes. We look forward to the emergence of new and innovative products and services that respect and build on the traditions of Japan.