Craft

Senshu Artisanship Creates World-Class Products

Among Senshu’s famed brands is Sakai cutlery, mainly kitchen knives and gardening tools. Kitchen knives, typically with single bevel blades tapering only to one side, are made from a combination of steel and soft iron for sharpness and durability. All blades are hand-forged and then polished to make the final product. These knives are essential for Japanese cuisine, which calls for slicing through even soft ingredients cleanly. Special care is needed to maintain their sharp edges for maximum effectiveness. Japanese knives are used by professional chefs around the world, some of whom sense in them a mystique akin to that surrounding the Japanese sword.

Quality Cutlery

<p>Sasuke proprietor Hirakawa Yasuhiro at work forging a knife. All-purpose kitchen knife and paring knife.</p>

Sasuke proprietor Hirakawa Yasuhiro at work forging a knife. All-purpose kitchen knife and paring knife.

Sasuke produces knives and shears (for gardeners and florists). Fifth-generation proprietor Hirakawa Yasuhiro, working at his forge, handles all aspects of his products, from forging and polishing to selling, unusual in Sakai where the norm would be for collaboration among different craftsmen. Hirakawa believes it is his responsibility to see every product through to completion with his own hands. To improve his skills, he also welcomes feedback from the chefs who use his knives.

 

In his younger days, Hirakawa traveled all over the world demonstrating Japanese knives, so he has attracted a loyal overseas following. It takes him one week to 10 days to complete a pair of gardening shears and orders for shears are backlogged for at least a year. He was awarded the title “Contemporary Master Craftsman” (Gendai no Meiko).

Bicycle Components

<p>The Bicycle Museum has a large collection of vintage cycles in storage.</p>

The Bicycle Museum has a large collection of vintage cycles in storage.

Shimano bicycle parts are also known around the world. Sakai, in the sixteenth century a major producer of muskets, turned its metallurgy skills to making other products as the country modernized in the late nineteenth century. The bicycle industry took root, and Shimano, known for its distinctive technology for gears and other components, became a world-famous brand.

 

The Shimano Cycle Development Center operates the Bicycle Museum Cycle Center in Sakai, which traces the history of the bicycle from its creation to the present day. Cyclists will find much to enjoy in the museum’s excellent exhibits.

Blankets

<p>(Left) Napping done by experienced workers ensures that Imashin Keori’s blankets will feel soft. (Right) A cashmere blanket with attractive napping and a woolen blanket.</p>
<p> </p>

(Left) Napping done by experienced workers ensures that Imashin Keori’s blankets will feel soft. (Right) A cashmere blanket with attractive napping and a woolen blanket.  

At one time, Senshu was a major production center for blankets, with 1,000 manufacturers in the area. Today their numbers have declined but their skills remain vigorous. In particular, Senshu blanket makers are known for their superior napping technology.

 

Speaking from his old-fashioned factory building, Imashin Keori president Imai Motoki explains that napping is the process of raising the fibers in fabric. If the nap is too long, the fabric will be too soft; conversely, if the nap is too short, the fabric will feel stiff. Determining exactly how much nap to raise depends on skill and experience. Japanese consumers prefer blankets that feel soft, so makers here are experts at producing blankets with a pleasantly soft texture. Imashin’s wool and cashmere blankets are sold in department stores and other high-end outlets.

Senshu Towels

<p>(Left) Vegetable-dyed “Shizuku” series towels. (Right) Fukuroya Kenji operates machinery at his plant.</p>
<p> </p>

(Left) Vegetable-dyed “Shizuku” series towels. (Right) Fukuroya Kenji operates machinery at his plant.  

Senshu is one of Japan’s major towel-producing areas, marketing various towel products as made-in-Senshu brands. Whereas towel makers in other regions of the country bleach their yarn before weaving to remove starch and impurities, Senshu towel makers do so once the towels are woven.

 

According to Fukuroya Kenji, fifth-generation owner of Fukuroya Towel, “Production of tenugui was originally a thriving business in Senshu. Tenugui are rectangular cotton towels, which are well-regarded for their absorbency despite the fabric being quite thin.” Fukuroya has also developed a new product, “Shizuku,” a line of vegetable-dyed towels produced according to a technique that uses cabbage scraps or carrot lees. These nature-friendly towels were provided at the 2019 Osaka summit of the G20, a leading forum of the world’s major economies.

Saori Weave

<p>(Left) Saori no Mori’s Jo Kenzo is an enthusiastic promoter of Saori weave. (Bottom) Looms developed by Saori no Mori are popular around the world. (Right) No two products are alike.</p>

(Left) Saori no Mori’s Jo Kenzo is an enthusiastic promoter of Saori weave. (Bottom) Looms developed by Saori no Mori are popular around the world. (Right) No two products are alike.

Saori no Mori weaving studio head Jo Kenzo is proud of his craft, boasting that “there’s nothing like it anywhere else.” Unlike regular weaving where the warp and weft threads cross at regular intervals, Saori weave incorporates random textures and combinations of weft to create a distinctive product. Jo actively promotes Saori weave, in accordance with the wishes of his late mother Jo Misao, who developed the technique.

 

Saori weave is Senshu’s little-known but world-famous brand. People flock to Jo’s studio from all over the world, spending two to three months learning the technique, then returning to their home countries to practice the craft. The United States alone has 26 Saori weaving studios, and Jo receives numerous orders for his looms from abroad.

 

Visitors to Saori no Mori are welcome to try their hand at weaving.

Incense

<p>Coloring agents and hot water are added to the ingredients, which are mixed and extruded through a machine to create sticks. Kunmeido’s premium “Reiryoko” incense (Right).</p>

Coloring agents and hot water are added to the ingredients, which are mixed and extruded through a machine to create sticks. Kunmeido’s premium “Reiryoko” incense (Right).

Traditional incense used in Buddhist rituals and ceremonies is made from agar wood and other imported aromatic woods. With household altars in many homes where people remember their ancestors and recently deceased family members, incense is still widely used today.

 

In the sixteenth century when Sakai was a center of international trade, importation of these aromatic woods flourished, and the incense industry was born. Otsuka Ichio, president of Kunmeido, an incense maker in business for 210 years, says that “Initially, kanpo Chinese medicine came into the country via Portuguese traders, and they later brought in aromatic woods. These woods were used to make incense in Sakai, which temples in Kyoto then began to use.”

 

Unlike the fruity notes of aromatherapy fragrances, Japanese incense is associated with the sacred atmosphere of temples.

Tatami

<p>Fujiwara Hiromasa, a tatami-maker. Materials and tools used to create mini tatami mats (Right).</p>

Fujiwara Hiromasa, a tatami-maker. Materials and tools used to create mini tatami mats (Right).

Tatami, an essential element of traditional residential interiors, are produced by tatami artisans throughout the country. Lifestyles have been rapidly changing in recent decades, however, leading to the sharp decline in demand for tatami flooring. But tatami maker Fujise may be unique in its endeavors to spread the culture of tatami throughout the world. Third-generation owner Fujiwara Issei operates the Guest House Fuji Tatami lodgings where guests, who range from backpackers to businesspeople, can sleep on tatami. He relates that visitors from abroad are sometimes puzzled at the lack of beds in the rooms, but that after sleeping in futon on tatami, they report having had a sound night’s sleep. People interested in crafts can try their hand at weaving a miniature tatami mat, and they can also watch tatami weavers at work making full-size mats.

Danjiri Festival Floats

<p>Sculpted detail of the float owned by the Kita-machi neighborhood. (Right) Workers carving at the Oshita Komuten workshop. The scent of freshly-shaved wood fills the air.</p>

Sculpted detail of the float owned by the Kita-machi neighborhood. (Right) Workers carving at the Oshita Komuten workshop. The scent of freshly-shaved wood fills the air.

Jiguruma (wheeled) floats are the stars of the Kishiwada Danjiri Festival. In there gracefully curved roofs and elaborately carved woodwork artisans’ skills, too, are on parade. The floats are commissioned by individual neighborhoods and considered local treasures, and can cost up to 100 million yen each to make. Donations large and small by residents of each neighborhood cover the cost of each float.

 

Oshita Komuten, which specializes in building festival floats, is also frequently called upon to repair danjiri floats after they have been through the customary rough handling in the festival. Company president Oshita Takaharu recalls that after one particularly energetic trial run, a float had crashed into a steel barrier and come away with three broken posts. His workers toiled until late at night repairing the damage before the main event the next day.

 

For Senshu tourist information inquiries, please contact the Senshu Japan Concierge Team.

Back to top