With our recent Nenohi knives from dentoukougeishi, I had to wonder who these people are and what they do. This is what I found out. Sorry it's a little delayed, I know the Nenohi information was posted here a while ago. It was a lot of content to translate and take in.
Who are dentoukougeishi?
伝統工芸氏 [Dentoukougeishi] are traditional craftsmen acknowledged by the Japanese government. These craftsmen are recognized for their commitment of protecting traditional Japanese art and practices. Required features of a dentoukougeishi are those who are highly skilled in their chosen craft, handcrafted, and has generations of history behind the craft and the crafter.
What other types of traditional Japanese goods are made by dentoukougeishi?
There are a variety of traditional Japanese products created by dentoukougeishi. Although one may think that one craftsman is solely responsible for the finished product, there are actually several and processes involved in creating one piece. For example, as many knife enthusiasts know, traditional Japanese knives are not entirely crafted by one person. Forgers, blade makers, and handle makers are all a part of creating each beautiful masterpiece.
To name a few types of traditional crafts...
Printing and hand dyeing
Screen printing and dyeing
The precision required to do this kind of screen printing is ridiculous.
5. bamboo crafts
Video of artisans cutting glass to create designs.
We actually sell these...
Bamboo Onyx and Gold Cut Crystal Rocks Glass
9. Porcelain, chinaware, pottery
10. Buddha alter
11. Materials and tools for making traditional crafts
Painting on lacquer
They paint a faint design on the product, harden the gold/silver powder with lacquer varnish, then polish. When the product is polished, the brilliance of the gold and silver paint shows through.
How they put the gold in lacquerware.
They carefully carve the designs into the product, filly the carved space with a very thin layer of glue, then push in gold foil or powder into it.
13. Japanese paper
and many others
The conditions of a dentoukougeishi:
Dentoukougeishi work under the protection of Japan and the local governments. In 1974, a law stating the conditions of the traditional Japanese products were defined by the minister of economy. The law states that traditional Japanese crafts must be a product used in daily life, must be handmade, the raw material must be the same material used for over hundreds of years, and must remain a regional craft. The law aimed to protect and preserve tradition, but also discouraged craftsmen’s willingness to take upon challenges and new innovations. Despite art being something that evolves and changes throughout the generations, craftsmen do not want to create a piece that deviates from established practices, and risk rejection. Raw material in Japan is also very expensive, therefore craftsmen must import material from other countries. Not only are the raw materials costly, but Japanese wages are considered amongst the highest in the world, which in turn makes each pieces even more expensive.
In the past finding a successor was a very serious issue, because it requires full dedication and years to learn. Recently, there is a trend for young adults to find a job that gives them purpose, regardless of the small wages. Thankfully this trend has helped craftsmen find successors, however it is important to keep in mind that these traditional crafts have been on the brink of extinction before. One must consider how long this trend will last, what the next trend will be, and how these master craftsmen will continue protect the tradition while maintaining their livelihood.
What does Mari think?
In my honest opinion, although most people would never tell you such a thing, it really depends on each product. I think you should always determine the level of work by examining each piece no matter how it is labeled. Trusting something by label is dangerous. It's like finding a natural stone, not every stone is going to be of quality and you're never going to run into the same stone twice. As soon as Korin received the dentoukougeishi knives (the ones that clearly for use, not collecting), I asked Mr. Sugai, "so what makes these different from the other ones? What makes these special?"
So... What was different?
Upon inspection of the two knives we received, the dentoukougeishi knives are made thinner, the kireha (the cutting blade) is wider, the back is made with more details and care (to look like a katana). It was very clear once it was pointed out to me that more time was spent making these knives.
It's really hard to tell by looking at photos and I wish I could just show them to you, but... The one of the left are the special hongasumi knives by Nenohi's trusted dentoukougeishi.
Note how the kireha is wider.
You REALLY can't tell by this picture, but it is indeed thinner.
The design on the back on the left are there on purpose. This wouldn't mean too much, but if you consider how the craftsman had to intentionally put this katana like design on the back by hand, you can't deny that more care was put into it.
Although Korin is thousands of miles away from Japan, we are so very proud to represent a part of Japanese traditions in the US. We are also extremely grateful for the support we get from customers and Japanese tradition loving people around the world, as well as the vendors who entrust us with these magnificent pieces of work. We only hope we can reciprocate this support by never failing to get the information you need, or deliver nothing but the best customer service.
Thank you so much for reading. I hope this was as informative for you as it was for me.