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The Japanese take pride in their monozukuri: a gift for making things. Well they might, with traditions of craftsmanship centuries old to draw on: an itch for perfection, a loving respect for materials, and a profound aesthetic sense of what can be done with them. Each region has its own traditional crafts, but you can find exquisite pieces from all over the country with some focused shopping in Tokyo.
Most Japanese pottery, apart from some porcelain and earthenware, is stoneware—formed into a wonderful variety of vases, cups, bowls and platters and fired in climbing kilns on the slopes of hills. At first glance, Japanese ceramics seem priced for a prince's table, but keep an eye out for seasonal sales; you can often find affordable pieces. Department stores and Tokyo specialty shops like Kuroda Toen (7-8-6 Ginza 03/3571–3223 1-16-14 Shibuya 03/3499–3225) have extensive selections of these and other wares.
Traditional dolls, meant primarily for display and not as playthings, come in many different styles: the long, cylindrical Kokeshi; red, round papier-mâché Daruma; and ceramic figurines in the traditional costumes of geisha, samurai, and festival dancers, called Hakata. The best area to shop for dolls in Tokyo is Asakusa-bashi, by the Sumida River.
Stencil-dyed fabrics date to the Edo period and survive in a range of motifs and intricate geometric designs—especially for light summer kimonos, room dividers, and cushion covers. Furoshiki—large cotton squares for wrapping, storing, and carrying things—make great wall hangings, as do the smaller cotton hand towels called tenugui. Look for the latter at Fujiya, in Asakusa (2-2-15 Asakusa 03/3841–2283).
A new kimono, in brocaded silk, can cost ¥1 million or more. Consider a secondhand version—about ¥10,000 in a flea market, for one in decent condition—or look instead for cotton summer kimonos, called yukata, in a wide variety of colorful designs, you can buy new for ¥7,000–¥10,000. In Tokyo browse the Oriental Bazaar (5-9-13 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku 03/3400–3933).
For its history, diversity, and fine workmanship, lacquerware rivals ceramics as the traditional Japanese craft nonpareil. Cheaper pieces usually have plastic rather than wood underneath, and because these won't shrink and crack in dry climates, they make safer—but no less attractive—buys.
The Japanese make washi (handmade paper, usually of mulberry fibers) in a myriad of colors, textures, and designs and fashion it into an astonishing number of useful and decorative objects. Look for stationery, greeting cards, single sheets for gift wrapping and origami, and washi-covered jewelry boxes, at Kyukyodo (5-7-4 Ginza 03/3571-4429 www.kyukyodo.co.jp).
Find it All
The Japan Traditional Craft Center (Metropolitan Plaza 1-3F, 1-11-1 Nishi-Ikebukuro 03/5954-6066 www.kougei.or.jp Daily 11-7, closed Dec. 19-Jan. 4) sells the best of the craft work from all over the country, in most of the important categories from paper to tools to pottery.
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