Translated by Collin Radford
Okayama University: Japanese Craftsmanship As Seen By A Foreign Student
Written by Ito Kentaro
Okayama University has a series of unique programs introducing Japan's crafts to foreign students. This article features a tour of workshops making Bizen porcelan, Bicchu paper, and Japanese swords! Join us in this amazing tour!
In Japan, there are countless types of traditional crafts, such as pottery and the art of making Japanese swords; in Okayama, there are numerous places where you can "experience" Japan's craftsmanship. A foreign student from Germany studying at Okayama University took a tour of this area which is abundant in art. How does Okayama look from a European's perspective?
The Tour Begins from Okayama University!
Okayama University (known as Oka-dai) is a top class institution of its kind, with eleven departments and seven graduate schools. It is not only an excellent learning environment, but also a very inspiring place. If you set foot outside, there are countless places, people, and things that offer you new viewpoints and discoveries.
Beautiful Crafts Made Before Your eyes
”Bicchu Paper" is made using Oriental paperbush (also known as mitsumata), and is a representative type of paper made in Okayama. The process of making it is very painstaking and requires close care. When you see the craftsmen drying each page of freshly manufactured paper by hand, you become amazed at the beauty of their craftsmanship. The work of the artisans is best seen in the final product; the feel of this paper retains a certain warmth that cannot be attained through mass production.
The Japanese Sword
There are many Japanese sword enthusiasts around the world. These swords are made in the Osafune area of Setouchi city, Okayama prefecture. Osafune has prospered for around 800 years as one of Japan's few swordsmith villages. In recent times, the number of places you can go to see Japanese sword making in practice is limited. However, at "Osafune, the home of swords", you can see the craftsmen actually work on them, from the act of forging them down to the final ornamentation.
"Bizen porcelain" is a famous Okayama product passed down for over 1000 years. The patterns on the surface change depending on the position they're cooked at in the kiln, which makes each design completely unique. They are made without using glaze (the product that creates the glass-like surface of porcelain), so the texture of the earth used can be readily felt. This porcelain is also said to improve the flavor of beer and coffee poured in it.
Check Out The Sights Around the City alongside the Crafts!
Okayama Kourakuen is an area renowned for its picturesque scenery. The beauty of its garden is such that it's said to be among the top three in Japan. At the teahouse in the garden, you can enjoy your matcha in a Bizen porcelain cup.
The Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter
When you think about unique Japanese clothing, most people probably imagine the "kimono." Here at Kurashiki, you can find kimonos made from denim, which are an original product of Okayama, where Japanese denim-ware came to be.
We visited the Kurashiki Bikan historical quarter wearing kimonos. This area boasts a cityscape of rare beauty. The beauty of the kimono stands out all the more among the white walls of the city. Not only can you stroll through the wonderful cityscape, but you can also gaze at it from the boats, or look down upon it from the elevations, and take in the various faces of the Bikan historical quarter.
See Images of Craftsmanship in Okayama!
If you would like to see more of the abundant crafts and landscape of Okayama, have a glance at our videos!