What are "traditional" crafts?
This is an important symbol which is often overlooked. This symbol is a mark for traditional crafts known as 伝統的工芸品 dentouteki kougeihin designated by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). The adjective “traditional” is used very selectively when categorizing Japanese crafts. To be recognized as traditional, these crafts need to fulfil the 5 standards defined by METI.
1. Enrich people's lives
First, the crafts need to enrich people's daily lives. They can be used over the course of time such as during ceremonies and festivals which Japanese consider as "#ailylife" events, even if they may occur only several time a year or several times over the span of one's life. Over time, the crafts do not fade, instead they increase in beauty and perfection over time even after being touched and used by hands many times. Not only that, the colors, patterns, and shapes of the craft deeply relate to the culture and lifestyle of Japanese people.
2. Machines were not used to mass produce these crafts
Machines are permitted however, not for the entire process. The important characteristic features must be handmade by the craftsman and safe for use.
3. Crafts are made with techniques and technologies more than 100 years old
The crafts must be made with traditional techniques and technologies which are more than 100 years old, created by craftsman over years through trial and error. Technology here is defined as the “skill” of how each craftsman polishes his skill to obtain highest precision. Techniques then spans across the craftsman’s “knowledge” selecting raw materials to creating the entire production process, all of which have been accumulated over years of experience. Both technology and technique are inseparable, but has to be honed and improved over time without changing the fundamentals and features of the crafts.
4. Same materials used over 100 years ago
The main part of the craft still must be made of the same materials that have been traditionally used over 100 years ago to maintain the quality of the crafts. To ensure continuity after 100 years, environmentally friendly raw materials have been used. However, in cases where the raw material has been depleted or are extremely difficult to obtain, substitute raw material is permitted if the integral characteristics of the crafts are preserved.
5. Crafts are made on a certain scale in the local area/region
Lastly, the crafts are made on a certain scale in a specific local area or region and established as a local industry with the support of the local government. For that, there must be at least 10 companies or 30 or more people making the same crafts.
The next time you shop for a craft in Japan, do look out for this symbol!
Photo source: https://kougeihin.jp/en/