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Monozukuri in Japan

The art of making things and keeping the craft alive

Monozukuri is a Japanese term which simply means making things. However, the nuance of this term includes the skill and tradition of artisans who have honed their skills over the years. The idea of monozukuri was to make something that can be repurposed or repaired or simply last for a very long time. Another form of monozukuri is fixing items, like kintsugi - mending broken ceramics or lacquerware with gold - which is an art form in itself. In the most general sense, car manufacturing is also considered to be monozukuri.

For a large part of Japanese history, there were craftsmen for each minute and specific task akin to a production line. However, skills and techniques were gradually lost over time, and the number of craftsmen also fell as the younger generation typically left to pursue desk jobs. Today, the remaining artisans have to learn all aspects of their craft, which makes them more well-rounded. Purely handmade monozukuri crafts number a few, and many artisans have embraced and incorporated technology into their processes.

There are a number of traditional crafts that have endured the test of time in Japan. Lacquer work, pottery, blade forging, woodworking and paper making are some of the more well-known ones, while glass making, embroidery, dyeing, weaving and metal works like bronze and gold leaf hammering come close. Echizen in Fukui is one of a few places which is known for their variety of traditional crafts, while it is more common for cities to be known for a specific craft, e.g. Tsubame and Sanjo in Niigata are known for their metal works, and Kiryu in Gunma is known for its embroidery.

In an effort to promote the monozukuri culture and products, many studios and factories can be visited to get a firsthand look at the processes that go into making a product. Hands on experiences of these crafts are available as paid activities, which are typically popular with both domestic and international visitors.

Home Delivery by japan-guide.com is a series of articles on Japanese culture, life and travel for all of us who are currently staying home to flatten the curve. Many travel plans, including our own, have been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. While we aren't able to share new content from the road, we hope this collection from our travel archive helps you explore a bit of Japan from your own home.