Artistic Skill from Miyajima
Crafts were created with love in Miyajima. Why not take home some souvenirs made with the warmth of the craftsmen for their handmade products?
Miyajima Rokuro Zaiku
This skill is said to have been introduced in Miyajima during the period 1848 to 1858. A manual turner was then used, but in the early-mid Meiji period, a foot step was developed, and the skill of Rokuro Zaiku rapidly developed as other technology evolved.
During the end of the Meiji and Taisho periods, nearly 300 turnery craftsmen moved to Miyajima in order to refine their skills. This skill is passed down even now, and there are a wide range of daily use products such as round trays, sweet containers, tea powder containers, tea cup trays, incense containers, and other artistic pieces of work.
Every product has the warmth of a handmade craft, and this is because people in Miyajima also passed down the feeling of care and love in their preservation of nature and trees. It is not brightly lacquered, nor colored, yet it has a unique depth. The natural grain is the most enduring feature of Miyajima Rokuro Zaiku.
The quality of Miyajima Bori comes from the way the chisel is used to carve the wood. The skill when using the chisel either delicately and/or with strength makes all the difference. The craftsmen place the edge of the chisel against the surface of the wood and move it through rapidly to carve without a rough sketch, gradually revealing the shape of the beautiful Otorii.
There are traditional ways of carving to make the work appear three dimensional, and to make the background subtle, yet effective.
It was created by the woodworkers and cabinet makers who visited Miyajima for the construction of shrines and temples. Miyajima Bori started at the end of the Edo period. The wisdom of the ancestors was substantial, and these tips were passed down. The trays with many carvings are practical for daily use and the cups never fail. They are not colored, but they do not get stained by the tea because the craftmen wipe the material with tea in advance.
Miyajima Rice Scoop (Shakushi)
Some time between 1789 to 1880, the priest Seishin dreamed of Benzaiten one night. He was sympathic toward the difficult lives of the islanders. He then imaged the musical instrument, the Biwa, and decided to make the rice scoop. He also taught the islanders how to make the scoop. It was the beginning of the Miyajima rice scoop. Because there were not many souvenirs for visitors who came to Itsukushima Shrine, it became very popular, and soon spread across Japan.
Now rice scoops are mass produced and they are mostly made of plastic. However, the old style still remains, and each scoop is manually planed one by one in Miyajima. The grain with its superb style and smooth texture and the beauty of the shape are amazing. Rice does not stick as much to hand made scoops, and the smell does not spoil the food. The materials are selected carefully, and polishing is repeated once before they are soaked to make the wood fibers stand out for the second polishing.
The Giant Miyajima Rice Scoop (O-shakushi)
You will find that the rice scoops in the souvenir shops are very big. Some are bigger than 2 meters. These are used as talismans for good luck, victory, business prosperity, and a safe household.
The first rice scoop in Miyajima was made more than 200 years ago in the Kansei period.
The soldiers were called up for service around Japan to be dispatched from Ujina port in Hiroshima. They wrote their names on the scoops and dedicated them to Itsukushima Shrine. When they came back from the battle, they picked up their own rice scoop as a souvenir to take home in commemoration of their victory.
It literally meant to ‘scoop up the enemy’. Now it also means ‘scoop up fortune’ and is popular as a lucky charm.
No matter how big the scoops are, there is little difference in the procedure to make the scoops. A special plane is used to make every curve gentle. A warmly shaped scoop as big as a palm is filled with the craftsmen’s passion for their work.
Miyajima has long been connected with pottery. People in the vicinity of Aki used to be given some underfloor sand of the main hall of Itsukushima shrine in order to have a safe journey. At the end of the Edo period, equipment for rituals was made from this sand and it is said to have been the beginning of Miyajima pottery. Furthermore, after the war, Miyajima Dorei was manufactured as a light souvenir for the tourists to take home.
Even now, the old style continues to be used and each item is made one by one. Miyajima Dorei are as small as one can put in a palm. There are about 100 kinds of Dorei from the Itsukushima Shrine Otorii including guardian dogs, masks of kings, seasonal features, and 12 animals. They echo the cool sound “karan, karan”. If the Dorei is round, it creates a better sound. Gently shake the Dorei when you see one at a souvenir shop.
The sculptors of Miyajima Bori were interested in making souvenirs of various colors, and were also tyring to learn Hariko works. Their ideas became a reality around 1970.
It is documented in Miyajima’s history that decorative Hariko masks were made for the Inoko Festival in Miyajima. Miyajima Hariko is different from other types of Hariko in such a way that Japanese paper is pasted inside the mold before completion.
This makes the figure beautiful. All are handmade and total production is only around 600 per month. Such bright colors as vermillion, yellow, blue, and green are extensively used.