From online tutorials accessible from anywhere in the world to in-person workshops across the length and breadth of Japan, there’s a fabulous range of learning experiences to be had for anyone interested in Japanese arts and crafts.
When I visited Japan I found an unrivalled wealth of varied arts and crafts practised by skilled artisans. I was lucky enough to make paper in Obara, weave cloth in Okada, and make my own zori sandals in Ena. In Mino, I discovered elaborate lanterns made of paper and candle-making in Fujukawa Juku. And I watched parasols being made in the Korankei Gorge. All this and more during a fabulous one week tour of Gifu and Aichi Prefectures. One of my favourite experiences was making replica food in Gujo Hachiman. It looked so edible but it’s made of wax!
Back home in England, I’ve since discovered more wonderful workshops and tutorials that you can enjoy right here, both in-person and online. I’ll be adding more when as I find them. Now you’ve no excuse not to learn a traditional craft from Japan!
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Table of Contents
Traditional arts and crafts workshops in Japan
Here’s a round-up of some of the best traditional Japanese arts and crafts workshops and tutorials from myself and my fellow bloggers.
by Lena Yamaguchi, Nagoya Foodie
Tokoname is a city not far from Nagoya. It would be almost unknown by travellers was it not for the Central Japan International Airport that happens to be located there.
However, Tokoname has a long and important history in Japan. It used to be one of only 6 ancient kilns of Japan operating since sometime in the Heian Period (794-115) and it makes a fascinating day trip from Nagoya.
Tokoname Yaki or Tokoname Ware is famous for its teapots, bottles, and jars used for the carrying and storage of water, sake, and Buddhist sutras. They also specialized in roof tiles, bricks, and sewage pipes, of which you can see many when you stroll along the Pottery Path in Tokoname. Characteristic of Tokoname Yaki is the red clay to make the different products.
Many shops are selling the different Tokoname Yaki items along the Pottery Path and you can even make your own at one of the different workshops in town. One of them is the Seiko Pottery Workshop. For a roughly 40 minute session, you pay 3300 yen and get 1 kilogram of clay. From this, you can either from one big item or two smaller ones. Once you are finished you choose the colour it will be painted in and the finished product will be sent to you after roughly one month. If you don’t have that much time in Japan, you have the option of picking out an item made by someone else in the past, and the next traveller will have the chance to pick out your item.
How to get to Tokoname
Getting to Tokoname is easy. From Nagoya take the Meitetsu Line bound for Central Japan International Airport and you will arrive at Tokoname Station in 30 minutes. The one-way train ticket costs 680 yen.
Lantern-making Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture
by Jessica Korteman, Notes of Nomads
Lanterns may be quintessentially Japanese, but traditional methods of producing Japanese lanterns, or chochin, are being kept alive by only a handful of manufacturers in modern-day Japan. That’s why the opportunity to make one by hand with a local artisan is a real privilege, and that’s exactly what you can do at Suzuki Mohei Shōten in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture.
Suzuki Mohei Shōten began making “Suifu” chochin, the old name for the area around present-day Mito, in 1865. This was around the same time that it became a popular means of income generation for lower-ranking samurai in the Mito clan when the amount of rice produced in the area decreased dramatically. The lanterns featured a durable paper known as nishi-no-uchi that was also produced in Mito and they soon gained a reputation for their quality.
Lantern-making workshop in Japan
During Suzuki Mohei Shōten’s lantern-making workshop, you’ll create your lantern shape by wrapping twine around a wooden cylinder and then adhering paper to the twine. The wooden cylinder can then be removed, leaving just the collapsible paper lantern with its ribbed twine structure and a one-of-a-kind souvenir behind. Workshops are by prior reservation.
How to get to Mito
Mito is accessible from Tokyo in around 2 hours or less by train.
Daruma dolls, | Takasaki, in Gunma Prefecture
by Alyse, The Invisible Tourist
You may have seen these odd-looking lucky charms before, but did you know Daruma dolls are one of the most popular Japanese souvenirs? In Japan, Daruma dolls are a symbol of perseverance and resilience and make perfect gifts to encourage the recipient to achieve their goals.
Daruma dolls are modelled off the founder of Zen Buddhism from the 6th century, Bodhidharma. This bearded monk was renown for his intense dedication to meditation practice. Created by hand from papier-mâché, a Daruma doll’s base is weighted so they can’t be knocked over, no matter how many times you try! They’re affectionally known as Daruma-san to locals.
Daruma dolls workshop
You can find hand-crafted Daruma dolls in many locations throughout Japan but over 80% of these dolls are made in the city of Takasaki, in Gunma Prefecture (north of Tokyo). But if you’re feeling creative, you’re able to make your own from scratch at a Daruma doll workshop in Kurashiki, Okayama (2 hours west of Kyoto by train) or decorate a pre-made one at Edo Wonderland in Nikko (2 hours north of Tokyo by train).
Washi paper | Gokayama, Toyama Prefecture
by Rhonda Krause, Travel Yes Please
Washi (wa meaning ‘Japanese’ and shi meaning ‘paper’) is a traditional Japanese paper that has been handmade for over 1,300 years, ever since Buddhist monks from China introduced the technique to Japan.
Washi paper is made from the fibres of kozo bushes (a variety of mulberry), or mitsumata and gampi shrubs. The branches are steamed, the bark is removed and dried, then the bark is boiled and any remaining impurities are removed. To loosen the fibres, the material is then beaten by hand on a rock or board. Once a pulp is formed, it’s mixed with water and spread out onto a framed screen that is shaken until the water is drained and fibres are evenly spread. It is then left to dry overnight.
Washi is used in many other Japanese art forms and is so important to the culture that it has been designated a national important traditional craft of Japan.
Washi making workshops
How to get there
You can get to Gokayama by car or bus from Kanazawa, Takayama, or Toyama. You can find more details here.
Sampuru | Replica food, Gujo-Hachiman, Gifu Prefecture
by Kathryn Burrington, Mandala Meadow
While this may not be as old an craft form as the others listed here, making life-like replica food from wax and plastic dates back many decades. It has to be seen to be believed as the pieces ranging from segments of satsuma, to pints of beer to whole plates of food, really do look like real food and drink. The most famous makers of Sampuru, as it is known, are found in the beautiful town of Gujo-Hachiman.
I joined a workshop there and filmed this video for my personal travel blog, Travel With Kat, where you can read more about my travels in Gujo-Hachiman and Japan. The oldest replica workshop is the Sample Village Iwasaki between the town centre and the railway station, but there are a number of workshops that are more centrally located including Sample Kobo, where we took this class. We all loved it and were delighted with our fake food!
How to get to Gujo-Hachiman
There are various trains and buses serving the area from Nagoya which is less than two hours away. Gujo-Hachiman railway station is a little out of town as are the main bus stops, Gujo-Hachiman Inter bus stop and Shimo-Osakicho bus stop. You can find more details on the website, Japan Guide.
Origami | Hiroshima and Nara Prefectures
Another world-renowned Japanese craft, origami, simply means “paper folding” in Japanese and is the art of making small sculptures by folding a piece of paper. It began sometime during the Edo period, probably in the 17th century, for ceremonial purposes. The most popular origami design is the paper crane, made internationally famous by the tragic story of Sadako Sasaki, a young victim of the Hiroshima atomic bombing who folded paper cranes in the hope that she would get better if she completed 1,000 of them.
Sadako died at the age of 12, and many schoolchildren continue to fold paper cranes in her honour and offer them at Sadako’s monument in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Sadako’s own paper cranes are on display in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
Origami workshop in Narashi
A good place to try your hand at origami is the Nara Visitor Center and Inn, in Narashi, Nara Prefectures. They offer a variety of free cultural experiences for foreign tourists, including origami. When I visited, a volunteer instructor taught me how to make an origami deer. Which was only fitting, since Nara is famous for the deer who run freely in the park. Next, we made an origami butterfly. And finally, when we placed the butterfly on the deer’s back, it suddenly looked like a pair of wings, and our deer became a pegasus.
How to book an origami workshop
You can find more information about the cultural activities on offer by visiting their website.
How to get there
The Nara Visitor Center is located next to the famous Nara Park, just south of Kofuku-ji Temple. It’s a 10-minute walk from Kintetsu-Nara Station and about a 15-minute walk from the JR Nara Station.
Lacquerware | Takayama, Gifu Prefecture and Kyoto
by Noel Morata, Travel Photo Discovery
If you are looking for something unique and craft inspired visit Takayama, a small city north of Nagoya, that’s the perfect place to experience local crafts, artisanal foods and small-town lifestyle in Japan. There is an abundance of crafts and design in the Gifu region including woodwork, porcelain and lacquerware. The workmanship is flawless and highly detailed.
I visited a few lacquerware shops to see the beautiful products and at the smaller family-run shops, you can see them working on the various stages of production. Japanese craftsmanship to lacquerware is precise and very meticulous. Buying directly from the artist or even in a shop that represents local artisans is a unique experience especially in Takayama where the craftsmanship is well respected and admired.
The perfect time to visit Takayama, it’s in the spring or autumn during the biannual festivals. They’re a mesmerising spectacle and the ideal time to visit this unique and wonderful part of Japan.
Hida Shunkei Lacquerware in Takayama
Hida Shunkei lacquerware uses clear lacquer to show the natural beauty of the wood grain. This production method dates back to the 17th Century and is particularly beautiful. The colour of the lacquerware changes over time and maybe yellow or red. The street Sakuramachi in Takayama has two excellent shops selling this lacquerware, Fukudaya and Tozawa Shikki at 72 and 115 Sakuramachi respectively.
How to get to Takayama
Lacquerware painting workshops in Kyoto
The Kyoto Artisan Workshop teaches a variety of traditional crafts including painting on lacquerware. First, you choose what you would like to paint. There’s a great variety of pre-made boxes, mirrors, trays and more to choose from. You can then choose from six different traditional techniques to decorate your piece with paints and inlays. The hardest thing is deciding which one to pick! Workshops last between one and two hours.
How to book a lacquerware painting workshop
Their website is in Japanese, however, this PDF is in English with all the details about the different workshops and how to contact them.
How to get there
The Kyoto Artisan Workshop is a 15 minutes bus ride from JR Kyoto Railway Station. The above PDF also contains further information about how to get there as well as a detailed map.
Aizome | Indigo dying in Shikoku, Tokushima Prefecture
by Robert Schrader, Japan Starts Here
Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, shatters travellers’ expectations in many ways. However, most visitors to its eastern hub of Tokushima don’t realize they’re just a short bus or taxi ride from one of the last traditional indigo farms and workshops in Japan. Aizome (藍染め),the practice of harvesting and dyeing indigo, gained popularity in the 17th century, during the Edo period, when shoguns ordered that common people could only wear so-called “Japan blue.”
When you visit Aizumicho Historical Museum, which is set in a traditional dyer’s home, you’ll not only learn more about this back story. While not a full-blown workshop you will you’ll be able to dye a cloth yourself. Please note, you need to take something with you to dye.
How to get to Aizumicho
To reach Aizumicho, catch the #29 bus from JR Tokushima Station, then get off at Higashinakatomi.
Gold leaf embossing | Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture
by Shobha George, Just Go Places
Embellishing with gold leaf is a traditional Japanese craft. In the 17th century, the powerful Maeda family that controlled Kanazawa encouraged its goldsmiths to perfect this craft. Gold and silver were hammered down into wisps of gold that could be applied to other objects. The gold leaf that covers the famous golden temple in Kyoto, Kinkakuji, is covered in gold leaf made in Kanazawa.
Even today, Kanazawa is known for its gold leaf work. Kanazawa makes nearly 100% of the gold and silver leaf used in Japan.
There is a gold leaf museum dedicated to this traditional art in Kanazawa. You can see how gold leaf was applied to many different decorative objects from screens to lacquerware. There is also a famous ice cream store in Kanazawa that sells ice-cream with bits of edible gold leaf in it. Of course, we had to try the gold leaf ice cream!
Gold leaf workshop
We took a workshop on working with gold leaf at Gold Leaf Sakuda, a fabulous shop in Kanazawa. First, we selected an item and then applied gold leaf in whatever pattern we wanted to. The easiest thing to do was apply gold leaf to a pair of chopsticks which is what my husband and son did. My daughter was more artistic and created a pattern on a lacquer box. We did not speak Japanese but had no problems understanding what to do. The workshop only lasted for about an hour. By the end, we all had a cool souvenir to take home that we had created ourselves!
How to book a gold leaf embossing workshop
How to get to Kanazawa
Details about how to get to Kanazawa Rail Station from various cities in Japan, as well as information about how to get from the station to the workshop, can be found on Gold Leaf Sakuda’s website.
Ikebana | Flowering arranging in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture
by Lena Yamaguchi, Nagoya Foodie
Like exquisite sculptures, the art of Japanese flowering arranging, known as Ikebana takes great care of the placement of each flower, branch, or leaf. Be it a single flower or an arrangement of several elements, each item is placed carefully with consideration for colour, line, form and function. Deeper meaning can also be found in the symbolic meanings of arrangements. The art of Ikebana in Japan dates back thousands of years.
Ikebana workshop in Zengo, Nagoya
Classes teaching the basic Moribana Style of Ikebana are held twice a month in a local Japanese house lead by an experienced teacher in English.
How to book an Ikebana workshop
Workshops can be booked through the website Nagoya is Not Boring.
How to get to Zengo
Your host will meet you at Meitetsu Zengo Station which is about a 20-minute train ride from Meitetsu Nagoya Station. From the station, she will take you to her house by car, a 10-minute drive away. For more details visit Nagoya is Not Boring.
Review of this workshop coming soon on Mandala Meadow.
Kintsugi | Gold cermaic repairs, Tokyo, Tokyo Prefecture
By Amanda O’Brien, The Boutique Adventurer
The word Kintsugi literally means golden joinery. This Japanese pottery method repairs broken ceramics by mending them with powdered gold. The intention is that once repaired the pottery is even more beautiful than it was originally – thus giving it a second chance at life.
This Japanese art is very relevant in the modern world as it is very environmentally friendly as it is essentially recycling what was broken.
The process of Kintsugi consists of six stages. These are break, assemble, wait, repair, reveal and sublimez. Each stage is not just manual. The philosophy of Kintsugi has the artist observe, admire, contemplate, feel assume and expose something different at each stage.
This concept of highlight imperfections is taught throughout Japan today. Modern artists have embraced this ancient technique and made it relevant in today’s world. Indeed, pieces of Kintsugi pottery are often far more valuable than the original piece may have been.
Amanda joined a workshop at the Saideigama Pottery School where you can learn how to retire broken ceramics. YO can also book classes through Viator such as this two and half hour workshop in Suginami City, Tokyo.
Japanese arts & crafts workshops in the UK
Japanese arts & crafts classes in Surrey
With classes in calligraphy, sumi painting and seal making, Koshu Japanese Art offers classes in Camberley and Caterham in Surrey. Tutor, Akemi Lucas, was born in Mito in Yamaguchi Prefecture and started learning calligraphy at the age of eight. Akemi qualified as a calligraphy teacher At the age of twenty-four, and was given the name “Koshu” by her master Seizan. Find out more about Koshu’s artwork and classes for adults, children and online on her website, Koshu Japanese Art.
above: Sumi painting workshop with Koshu, below: Koshu’s own art work
Japanese arts & crafts at West Dean College, West Sussex
West Dean College near Chichester in West Sussex holds numerous arts and crafts courses throughout the year including one-day classes, residential courses as well as degrees and diplomas covering a wide range of disciplines. I’ve never studied here but I’d dearly love to. It’s a place that’s close to my heart with beautiful gardens, an annual arts & crafts festival and fascinating history.
Sign up for their newsletter to be kept up to date. Japanese art classes coming up in 2020 include a week-long course in Japanese ink painting in November and a one day class in Kintsugi (gold-leaf repair) in October.
Kintsugi | Gold ceramic repair workshop at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire
Join a one day course and learn the art of Kintsugi in the beautiful setting of Chatsworth House. For more information visit Craft Courses.
Shibori | Indigo dying, near Windermere, Lake District
Discover Shibori, the Japanese art of indigo resist dyeing in the Lake District! In this hands-on one day workshop you will learn the basics of folding, binding, clamping and stitching techniques before dying your fabric to create stunning patterns. For more information visit Craft Courses.
Orizome & Suminagashi | Japanese Paper Dyeing and Bookbinding, West Sussex
Using Orizome and Suminagashi Japanese dyeing techniques, this two-day workshop is on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st February 2021. It offers the chance to explore the effects of Orizomi geometric folding forms using mulberry paper to create endless colour combinations and patterns, as well as Suminagashi, a Japanese water-based marbling technique that produces stunning results. The course is being held at Hand Printed, a wonderful studio where I have taken a few courses and I would highly recommend.
Online Japanese arts & crafts workshops & tutorials
While there is nothing like learning about a traditional Japanese craft in the country of its origin, for most of us travelling there isn’t possible. However, there are some great online resources that you can access from anywhere in the world as long as you have an internet connection.
Kirie | Paper cutting online tutorial
Look no further than this website if you would like to try your hand at kirie, the art of Japanese paper cutting, an art form brought to Japan from China some 1400 years ago.
I recently featured a guest post from the Japanese artist Nozomi who writes the inspiring creative blog, Nozomi Design. She walks us through the process of making paper cuts step by step with recommendations for all the equipment you’ll need. I gave it a go myself and was delighted with the result shown below. Find out more here, Japanese paper cutting tutorial.
Japanese calligraphy online tutorial
Nohoh, a Japanese calligrapher and graphic designer, now living in Europe has been teaching Shodo (Japanese calligraphy for over 10 years. She offers an online course, in the form of a series of videos, which you can take entirely at your own pace, designed for beginners with no prior knowledge of the Japanese language. And Level 1 is completely FREE! Find out more here, Mindful Japanese Calligraphy for Beginners.
Japanese watercolours online course
I’ve recently started an online course from Domestika called ‘Watercolor Illustration with Japanese Influence‘ and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. If you’re not familiar with Domestika, they host a huge range of arts and craft online courses in the form of a series of video tutorials. The videos are all in Spanish but with English subtitles and while I found another Domestika course I tried difficult to follow, this one is excellent. I would highly recommend it, although, I’ve not had a chance to finish the course as yet. I’ll update this when I do.