Challenges faced by the Japanese traditional crafts industry

The effort to preserve traditional crafts in Japan⛩ has met with increasing challenges due to the changing socio-economic landscape. Looking back historically, this change was due to the rebuilding of the Japanese economy that was devastated during World War 2. Japan slowly rebuilt itself into a highly industrialised 🏭 society after the Korean War. And this has brought about high economic growth starting from 1955 that has led to changes in lifestyle and employment environment.

The onset of technological innovation, the industrial materials revolution, and the development of mass media established an economic structure catering for mass production due to increasing consumption. Standardised and cheap daily necessities were supplied and consumed in large quantities due to the rise in income level. As a result, traditional crafts gradually lost their market share to these new 'competitors' in the market.

And this is the reason why we strive to promote awareness towards these beautiful 🌈traditional Japanese crafts that are facing extinction because of the mounting challenges in finding successors and securing raw materials for the preservation of these artisanal crafts.

Similar to other countries, industrialization led to a shift in labor from traditional agriculture and forestry to mining and chemicals because of the increase in employment #opportunities. This changed the perspective of youths towards labor which inadvertently affected the traditional crafts industry because it relied heavily on cheap labor from rural areas. Furthermore, the “apprentice system” practiced by craftsmen which required long-term training from a young age was also difficult to uphold with increasing youth having postwar democratic education. The modest work that centered around these handicrafts by small establishments coupled with under-developed welfare benefits and salaries, made it even more difficult to attract, let alone retain the younger generation to this crafts industry.

Furthermore, the construction of roads 🛤, bays, residential land and more, made it increasingly difficult for craftsmen to collect the raw materials that they required such as wood, bamboo, stone and clay. Areas around kiln to make ceramics for instance, soon became residential land and kilns were forced to close due to the production of smoke that was damaging residential properties.

Lifestyle changes have also impacted the industry. Japan’s traditional #lifestyle used to be a reflection of social conditions that were mainly agricultural and forestry related, with respect to the changing seasons. This can be seen from celebratory events such as New Year, summer and autumn festivals during which the people would pray for a good harvest. However, such traditional events and lifestyles have declined as lifestyles have become more westernised and urbanised.

In addition, the introduction of homeware and appliances such as decorative plywood, steel furniture and washing machines through mass media has also made their lives more “homogenized” regardless of the seasons and changed the people’s perception towards daily necessities. Before the war, the predominant mentality was to respect frugality and use things carefully for a long time. However, after the war, disposable products were introduced and the reasons governing one’s purchase changed, focusing on product price, novelty and current trends instead. Traditional crafts on the other hand, which had seemingly duller designs but much longer periods of use, were no longer as attractive. As a result, interest in them decreased overtime. The lifestyle of passing customs from parents to children to grandchildren eventually also collapsed with the increase in nuclear families post war. This made it extremely difficult for traditional craft making skill sets to be passed on to the next generation.

The is why we do what we do. We love these Japanese crafts and we want more people to know about the stories behind them. Each craft has its unique history, tears and sweat of the craftsman. We want to bring these stories to you. 

✅Follow our blog and help create awareness towards the preservation of Japanese traditional crafts.

🎥Video & photo credits to Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyoma Square

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