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JAPANESE CRAFTSMANSHIP

An insight into the enriching world of traditional Japanese arts and crafts

At CHARMANT, we are proud of our Japanese roots and the culture with which our homeland has enriched the world for centuries.

Filigree ceramics, high-quality knives and tools, impressive bamboo and woodwork and so many other things that originate in Japan are held in high regard around the world for the perfection and dedication with which they are made. The centuries-old tradition that lies behind most Japanese arts and crafts still exists in our high-tech world of today.

 

     

    To counteract the extinction of valuable craftsmanship due to increasing industrialisation, various movements arose in Japan as early as the middle of the last century, which helped handcrafted objects to gain new appreciation. Since the 1950s, numerous government initiatives have also contributed to preserving this unique artisan heritage, in which regional raw materials are used almost exclusively.

    In this article, we're going to take a closer look at a few of these skills.

    KINTSUGI - THE ART OF REPAIRING BROKEN JAPANESE CERAMICS

     

    Japanese ceramics are beloved worldwide. Kintsugi, the time-honoured way of repairing cracked ceramics not only demonstrates great craftsmanship, it also provides a deep insight into the appreciation of objects in Japan.

    Kintsugi does not try to hide the obvious flaws of the repair; rather it brings them to the fore by using gold or silver pigments in the paint - thus creating a completely new beauty and appreciation of the original object.

    Broken or cracked ceramics are restored in a multi-stage and long-lasting process. For this purpose, the Japanese lacquer urushi is applied in several layers, optionally dusted with golden or silver pigments and then polished.

     

     

    The once broken pieces are put together smoothly and complement each other in a new form, which in most cases is in no way inferior to the beauty of the original.

    The aesthetic behind Kintsugi is wabi-sabi. Roughly, it means understanding beauty in the ephemeral, old or flawed. A once broken tea bowl is no less valuable than a flawless, new bowl. In fact, the complex restoration gives the bowl a unique status, the value of which can hardly be assessed.

    It’s an old way that couldn't be more contemporary, because Kintsugi perfectly characterises modern themes such as sustainability and the art of upcycling.

     

    SHODO - THE ART OF JAPANESE CALLIGRAPHY

     

    First off, the Japanese syllable “do” stands for a “path” that someone treads in life. Shodo stands for the “path of writing”.

    You’ve probably come across the typical Japanese Kanji characters at some stage. For the Japanese, these are much more than just simple letters, because writing the Kanji characters is considered a true art of writing in Japan. In Shodo, it isn’t just the shape and design that determine the meaning of the Kanji characters, but also the colour intensity that is achieved depending on the variation in the ink consistency.

    There are even precise guidelines for posture while writing. Here, for example, the height of the table in relation to the chair is important and how the brush is held. Just as for a swordsman, his sword represents the extension of his body, in calligraphy the brush is considered an extension of the hand. The writer becomes one with the brush, so to speak.

    And individual feelings also plays an essential role in Shodo, because even if the sequence of movements for each Kanji character is exactly specified, each work differs in detail through the mental attitude of the Shodo master at the time when he drew the Kanji signs.

     

     

    Not infrequently, the art of writing even serves meditation. The traditional hand-made mixing of the so-called Sumi ink on the special ink rubbing stone is said to prepare the mind for the task ahead, that is, creating a unique character on the blank paper. In addition, the breathing rhythm becomes one with the respective activity: inhalation accompanies the absorption of the ink and the application of the brush, while the execution of the brushstroke occurs with exhalation.

    Once on paper, a movement cannot be undone, because corrections are neither possible nor intended. Thus, every stroke and every swing of a Kanji character receives special and singular notes from the respective Shodo master.

    In Japanese calligraphy, the ink is preferably applied to so-called washi paper.

     

    WASHI - THE TRADITION OF JAPANESE PAPER

     

    Washi is hand-made paper from Japan, which, despite its thin nature, is very tear-resistant and durable. The idea of ​​sustainability has always been in the foreground in the manufacture of Washi: durability instead of disposability is the motto here. The washi paper owes its lengthy durability to its fibres, which are longer than the ones in printing paper. There are some ancient writings on Washi today that were done in the 8th century and are still in good condition!

    This Japanese paper is not only used in Japanese calligraphy, but in producing lampshades, sliding doors (Shoji) and even curtains. Designers have revisited these traditional uses and adapted them to modern aesthetics.

    Japan adopted paper manufacturing from China 1,400 years ago. Then, in the 8th century, the washi-making process was developed as a new paper-making method.

    Washi manufacturing is time-consuming and complex. Roughly, it can be divided into 3 work steps: harvesting Kozo, making Kamiso and scooping the paper.

     

     

    1. Harvesting and drying Kozo

    The source of the material used to make paper is the mulberry tree, which is called Kozo in Japanese. Once harvested, the plant is soaked in steam for a few hours. After the bark has been peeled from the tree and dried in the sun, it is bleached for a whole day in clear spring or river water to remove tannic acid. Then the black outer bark is removed so that only the light inner bark remains.

    2. Cooking Kozo and creating Kamiso

    In the next step, the mass is cooked in a large kettle, which softens and unravels the tangled fibres. They turn grey during this process and now have to be cleaned in clear water. Next, the fibres are processed for several hours using a wooden stick. The fabric obtained from this is soft like cotton and is called Kamiso.

    3. Hand scooping paper

    After Kamiso, water and the natural binding agent manioc muskrat are mixed in a large basin and the mass is  rhythmically shaken with a ladle frame to the desired paper thickness. The now almost finished paper is pressed with a heavy weight and dried in the sun. And the washi paper is ready!

     

    VALUES

     

    Much can be learned from the people behind Japanese handicrafts. The time-consuming creation process tells us a lot about outlook on life and values ​​such as patience, care, devotion and an uncompromising approach to in one’s own actions.

    Despite often decades of experience, the artisans are all united by the will for lifelong learning and continuous improvement, perhaps because perfection also means standing still.

    Moreover, these skilled craftsmen also show us how to use resources respectfully and they remind us to make more conscious decisions about the things we want to surround ourselves with on a daily basis.

     

    By the way...

     

    The manufacturing process of our CHARMANT glasses is also largely done by hand. We work with great passion on every detail, channelling specialised knowledge and craftsmanship into each individual part.

     

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