Revitalizing Traditional Japanese Craft for the 21st Century
Our Mission: To identify vulnerable but viable traditional Japanese crafts and assist in their revitalization through clear strategy and effective action.
JapanCraft21 has been created to reverse the rapid decline of traditional Japanese crafts. In order to expediently leverage our resources, we are taking bold and audacious action by launching a series of Japan Traditional Craft Revitalization Contests, each designed to revive a traditional Japanese craft so that it flourishes in the 21st century. Each contest will select an exceptional individual with an outstanding idea, talent, track record and passion, and provide him/her with a broad and significant support package.
Our first contest is taking place in the spring of 2021 and will provide the winner with both ¥5,000,000 ($50,000) of targeted funding toward achieving his/her vision as well as the active support of a mentor group of experts in fields such as business, design, product development, and marketing. We are greatly honored that the Asia Society (Japan Center), a highly respected international cultural institution, will join us as co-sponsors of the contest.
Japan’s craft culture is based on knowledge and precision skills honed over centuries, earning it a reputation for producing artisanal works and goods which rank among the world’s finest. In recent years, however, the craft world here has been deteriorating at an alarming rate. For example, very inexpensive, simple versions of kimono requiring minimal skill level are flooding in from offshore so that true masterworks by local weavers, dyers and embroiderers are struggling to compete; sales of lacquerware are plummeting; very few young people are capable of replacing the scores of now-retiring Japanese bamboo basket artists; wood joinery is no longer taught to young carpenters. The list goes on and on. Though tens of thousands of master crafts people still function, most are at or past retirement age and young people are not taking over. Also disappearing are a large number of craft support specialists such as unique tool makers, dye blenders, brush makers, stencil cutters, etc., who form a highly interdependent network in the craft community.
During this critical time, JapanCraft21 first chose to focus on high-level wood joinery. Eighty years ago, there were 100,000 exquisite wooden machiya townhouses in Kyoto. Today, only 40,000 remain, with more disappearing every year. In 2019 we helped establish a small school to train working carpenters while providing them with scholarships. We recently graduated our first class of 6—the first generation of young carpenters in decades, who are capable of building a wooden house entirely without nails. This year, our graduates will help construct the first wooden machiya in Kyoto in 85 years built with joinery and no nails. This spring we will enroll 10 new students in a wood joinery course as well as 5 young plasterers in a Japanese bamboo mud wall construction course.
The crafts of Japan are an international treasure that have enriched and inspired people around the world for hundreds of years. This heritage belongs to all of us. If being a pro-active part of the Japanese Craft Community appeals to you, then please join us. Together we can take meaningful, important, immediate action to help preserve these beautiful crafts before they disappear from our global culture.
Director – Steve Beimel,
Contest Coordinator – Keiko Kamei,
Associate Director – Kathy Krauth,
Web Developer – Tetsuya Matsuda (fe8works),