Traditional Crafts of Kumamoto
Yatsushiro City in Kumamoto Prefecture is a major producer of rushes, the grass used to make Japanese tatami mats. Hanagoza are mats of various sizes woven from these rushes and have been produced since the Meiji Period. In addition to rug-like mats, kitchen table placemats and coasters are also made.
Vine crafts include baskets, sieves, and other items used in everyday life made by weaving together naturally growing vines.
These sorts of crafts were abundantly produced in the Aso region from the mid-1800s to about 1945.
More recently, vines are used to make wall décor and flower baskets.
Lacquered sharkskin is a type of lacquer art from the Yatsushiro area used to produce jewelry and other accessories. The production of these accessories started about 40 years ago and draws on the techniques used in making lacquer ware for Buddhist religious articles as well as the sharkskin scabbards for Japanese swords. Layers of lacquer are applied to shark or ray skin and then polished. A pattern is produced by polishing down the uneven texture of the skin.
Decorative Roof Tiles
Decorative roof tiles are found on the roofs of Japanese houses. Roof ornaments are made in the shapes of ogres and “shachi,” a mythical creature with the head of a dragon and the body of a carp. High quality clay from the Ogawa area in Uki City is used and shaped with aspatula, dried, and thenfired to give it a glossy finish.
In addition to these roof tiles and ornaments, there is an increasing demand for similar ornaments that can be placed in other areas than the roof.
Drums have been used since long ago in the religious rites of shrines and temples as well as by farmers to summon rain. The Uto people at one point used very large drums when summoning rain. These drums are made by hollowing out a piece of elm or other wood and then stretching cowhide across the frame. The drum is hollowed out by hand leaving a wavy texture on the inside walls, which creates a unique resonance when the drum is beaten.
Sangen are a type of “shamisen,” a three-stringed instrument used in Japanese folk music.
During the Meiji Period 150 years ago, there was a famous sangen musician in Kumamoto and folk music was very popular at the time. The plectrums and bridges used to play the sangen are made in Uki City.
The bridge, which supports the instrument’s strings, is made from water buffalo horn with inlaid gold, silver, and lead. The base of the plectrum is made from water buffalo horn or ivory while the tip is made from tortoise shell. Alternative materials for ivory and tortoise shell are currently being sought.