FUKUI, EAST LAKE BIWA & MIE
Regions of Japanese Traditional Craftsmenship

Samurai, ninja, bushido. This is an field where many remains and cultures related to the Warring States period remain. The area has a long history of exchange with the capital, and many traditional crafts have been handed down from generation to generation.

Overview

This area is rich with traces of warring states' era culture, as well as of samurai and ninja from that time. There is a long history of trade and exchange with the ancient capital of Kyoto, and many craft traditions continue to be passed down. The area boasts many onsen (hot springs), countless waterfalls, multiple rivers. These abundant water resources encouraged the development of a rich variety of traditional crafts. The wisdom of master craftspeople continues to be passed down here, in this region of water, warriors, and tradition, including: armor-making, pottery, Shigaraki ware, Echizen washi paper, Echizen knives, Echizen lacquerware, and Sabae eyeglasses.

Many castles and remains are dotted around Lake Biwa. Among them are the remains of Hikone Castle. The culture and the moral choices of ninja, samurai, and of Bushido (the way of the warrior) continue to be learned about and passed down here. While samurais were warriors who followed Bushido, dedicating themselves to serving a single lord, ninjas were more akin to mercenaries, willing and able to work as spies. In Koka and Iga, both formerly home to ninja clans, you can discover ninja culture through museums, traditional houses fitted with typical ninja booby-traps, and live-actions performances.

Recommended Spots

  • For over 100 years Sabae City in Fukui Prefecture has been one of the world's leading eyeglass production centers, passing down traditional manufacturing methods to future generations. Over 200 processes are carried out by artisans and specialized factories to produce high-quality eyeglasses with high precision and long-lasting use.
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  • Echizen lacquerware has a history of more than 1,500 years, and has been designated as a traditional craft product by the Japanese government. Echizen lacquerware is characterized by the subtle sheen of its lacquer and the use of deep, rich tones. It has long been prized by Japanese people as ideal for use at weddings and celebrations. Visitors to the Echizen Lacquerware Cooperative can learn about the history of lacquerware in the area, watch the production process, and browse through more than 1,000 superlative lacquerware items on sale.
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  • Echizen boasts the biggest share of the luxury handmade washi (Japanese paper) market of any city of Japan. In particular, the Goka area of Echizen is home to many traditional paper-makers. The Echizen Washi Village is a 15 minutes walk from Goka and has much to offer: the Paper and Culture Museum, where visitors can learn about the history and significance of Echizen washi; the Udatsu Paper and Craft Museum, where visitors can watch craftspeople making washi; and Papyrus House, where visitors can try making traditional washi.
  • Tonda Ningyo is a traditional form of "Ningyo Joruri" (puppet theatre), some 180 years old and particular to the Kita-tonda area of Nagahama City. The tradition is said to have started when a troupe of Ningyo Joruri players, who had come from Awa (present-day Tokushima Prefecture) to put on some performances, left puppets and equipment behind in lieu of repaying travel expenses. Here you can discover the ensuing tradition of village locals performing Ningyo Joruri. You can also "meet" the puppets and see the stage equipment.
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  • The Hikiyama Museum introduces the unique Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri (festival). This traditional float festival, held on 9-17 April every year, is held to honor the Nagahama Hatimangu. In 2016, the festival was inscribed on the UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage List, as part of the "Yama, Hoko, Yatai, float festivals in Japan" listing. The so-called "hikiyama" are floats, crafted thanks to a coming together of traditional craft skills. The floats are called “moving art galleries” thanks to their extensive and colorful decoration, featuring metal fixings, carvings, and paint. The museum features authentic hikiyama from days gone by. You can also learn about the history and festivals of the village.
  • National Treasure listed Hikone Castle was built over 400 years ago. General Ii Naomasa the first lord of Hikone domain, was considered the "right arm" of the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and one of the "Four Heavenly Kings of the Tokugawa". The castle tower features a tsuke-yagura, extended turret, and the roofing gables are rich in variety. In the early Edo period (1603-1868), nearby Nagahama Castle, the first castle built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was abandoned and most of the materials were recycled in the construction of Hikone Castle. As one of the traditional Eight Views of Lake Biwa, the beauty of Hikone Castle in the moonlight is a must-see.
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  • Hikone City was famed for the production of red armor worn by the ruling Ii clan, Lords of Hikone domain. As such, traditional techniques such as lacquering, wood carving, gold leaf and metal work were perfected here. As times changed, the demand for armor decreased, and so the advanced armory techniques were applied to the production of Buddhist altars, and many stores selling family altars now line the streets.
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  • The canal lined township of Omi Hachiman developed economically when Toyotomi Hideyoshi built Hachimanyama Castle, and cargo ships from Lake Biwa were brought into the castle's inner moats leading to the formation of the Omi merchants.
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  • In the 8th century, Emperor Shomu fired roof tiles here to build the Shigaraki Palace. This production area is counted as one of the six oldest kilns in Japan. A wide variety of household utensils were made, including water jars, tea utensils, and tea pots. Today, products such as tableware, flower vases, and ornaments are produced making full use of the characteristic clay.
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  • The Iga region of Mie Prefecture and Shiga Prefectures' Koka region are the birthplaces of the ninja. The mountains surrounding Iga and Koka are sacred places of mountain Buddhism, and the chanting of sutras by mountain priests can still be heard today. In the Satoyama region are the remains of earthen castles where descendants of the ninja still live. Iga's gunpowder technology can be enjoyed at the Tejikara Shrine's fireworks displays, while Koka's traditional medicines have been industrialized forming a medicine producing town.
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