One of the main attractions for many visitors to Japan, are the numerous beautiful crafts that play such an important role in traditional and contemporary culture. Although one of the world’s most modern and developed countries, Japan has retained much of its traditional arts and crafts – practices that continue to define the culture and provoke national pride.
Crafts range from the simple to highly complex with a shared devotion to meditative practice and aesthetic beauty. Over generations the many traditional crafts of Japan have been refined to the point of mastery but most have their origins in very practical if not simple applications.
Trying your hand at traditional Japanese crafts is a great way to spend a couple hours while in Nagano. From September onward, Nagano’s picturesque and historic Monzen/Patio Daimon precinct – nearby Zenko-ji Temple – will host a series of craft experiences and workshops each week. All activities are conducted in English and suitable for guests of all ages:
‘Shodo’ / Calligraphy Experience
The practice of calligraphy in Japan has its origins in China. First practiced among the aristocracy and later becoming popular across all social classes, ‘shodo’ was introduced to Japan around the 8th century and continues to be play a critical role in Japanese society to this day.
By controlling your posture, breathing and brush strokes and focusing on the line, shape and spacing of the character on the paper, the practitioner enters a meditative state and a simple written character takes on beauty and transcends its functionality to become art.
For full details please refer to the ‘shodo’ activity page.
‘Origami’ / Paper Folding Experience
The humble art of ‘origami’ is perhaps the best known of all Japanese crafts. Developed in the 6th century, paper folding has a rich and meaningful history and continues to embody the Japanese talent of revealing the exceptionally beautiful from seemingly simple movements and techniques.
International visitors are often amazed by the ability of Japanese children to fold cranes, frogs, and even hats to wear at school. Great fun for guests of all ages, joining an origami workshop makes for an enjoyable and addictive morning or afternoon activity while in Nagano.
For full details please refer to the ‘origami’ activity page.
‘Washi’ / Japanese Paper Making Experience
Much like calligraphy, the traditional practice of paper-making has its origins in China but has been refined over centuries to constitute another uniquely Japanese craft. Derived from the words ‘wa’ (Japanese) and ‘shi’ (paper), ‘washi’ has been essential to daily life. Stronger, lighter, and longer lasting than Western methods of paper-making, washi continues to be used for everything from the production of books, umbrellas, packaging and wrapping, lanterns, sliding doors and everything in between!
Made from ‘kozo’ (mulberry plants), the paper is known for its strength, translucency and irregular texture which feels pleasant to touch. With this in mind it is no surprise that washi is used for both origami and shodo/calligraphy, acting as the perfect durable and amenable surfaces for these precise and fine crafts.
For full details please refer to the ‘washi’-making activity page.
‘Mizuhiki’ / Paper Cord Making Experience
Spend anytime in Japan and you will quickly be aware that gift-giving plays a vital role in the culture. Often wrapped in ‘washi’, the presentation of gifts is often complemented by the tying of ‘mizuhiki’ (paper cord), in-keeping with a tradition which dates back centuries and originally made popular by the samurai-class.
Mizuhiki designs range for the simple to highly complex with colors carrying their own meaning and symbolism. Tying one for yourself is highly enjoyable and makes for a great keepsake, gift decoration or gift in itself.
For full details please refer to the ‘mizuhiki’ activity page.
‘Cha-ado’ / Tea Ceremony Experience
Perhaps the quintessential Japanese experience, tea ceremonies play an important roe in Japanese society in which the ‘teishu’ (master/host) and guest honor each other in their consider preparation, serving, and enjoyment of all aspects of this ritual.
Performed in a ‘chashitu’ (tearoom) – considered an enclave from daily life – every aspect of the ceremony is designed elicit praise and appreciation from the guest. From the utensils used in the ceremony, to the surroundings including wall hanging or other decorations, and the tea itself, this ceremony is overflowing in symbolism and a uniquely Japanese expression of quiet beauty.
For full details please refer to the ‘sado’ activity page.
Why not try your hand at these traditional crafts?
For guests visiting Nagano City, all of the activities listed above are on offer at the historic Patio Daimon precinct, nearby Zenko-ji Temple. As Nagano’s historical and spiritual heart, it’s the perfect location to experience some of Japan’s defining crafts.
Further details including dates of operation, cost, and location are available up clicking on the links included with each activity descriptions above. Activities are suitable for guests of all ages and take between 30 minutes to 2 hours (depending on the craft), making each a great morning or afternoon option to combine with your visit to the city’s near-1400 year old temple.
How do I get to Monzen/Patio Daimon/the Zenko-ji Temple area?
From JR Nagano Station, both Monzen/Patio Daimon and Zenko-ji Temple are easily accessible on foot or by public bus.
Walking takes approximately 20 minutes and is easy to navigate. Simply exit the station via the Zenko-ji Exit and you’ll see major road and traffic lights around 100 meters in front of you. Cross over the road and go to your right, where shortly after the road will split in two. The road that leads to the left – which will have a Starbucks on your right and 7/11 on your left as your walk along it – leads you past shops and restaurants to another major road. Once there, turn right and you are now on the road leading straight to the temple. Simply follow it up the hill and within 15 to 20 minutes you’ll see Monzen/Patio Daimon on your right, at the last major intersection before you reach the temple.
If you prefer to use the public bus, you also need to exit the station via the Zenko-ji Exit and wait at bus stop No.1. Buses run frequently and will have you up to Patio Daimon and the temple quickly.