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Okazaki City Guide
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Although the economy of Okazaki is modern, many traditional arts and crafts continue to play an important role in maintaining the traditions of the city. Here we outline a few of the more significant. The best way to arrange a visit to a craftsman's workshop is through the offices of the Okazaki Chamber of Commerce and Industry at http://www.okazakicci.or.jp.

Mikawa Butsudan (Mikawa Family Altar)

Buddhist altars involve the fine art of wood sculpture. A single Buddhist altar involves 8 different skillful craftsmen: wood craftsman, palace carver, sculptor, painter, decoration metal worker, lacquer painter, gold foil worker and assembler. In traditional Japanese houses, the altar is always an important part of daily and family life. Buddhist altars produced in Okazaki are amongst the finest in Japan. One characteristic of the local altars are the lower height, making it easier to pray, and the dynamic "Unerinageshi" carvings. The history of altar making in Okazaki stretches back more than 700 years, and the prosperity of the Butsudan industry reflects in part the popularity of Buddhism in the Mikawa region, and in part the patronage of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The skills were traditionally passed on from father to son, and in recent years the shortage of successors is becoming a serious problem. More than 500 people work in just over 100 workshops registered with the local "Mikawa Butsudan Promotion Cooperative".
Akebono-cho 2-1, Tel: 24-7766, Fax: 24-7766

Stone Masons

Okazaki is said to be the capital of Japan's stone craft. The reason why the cluster of stoneworkers emerged appears to be due to the construction of the donjon of Okazaki castle from 1617 by Honda Yasunori. A large number of stoneworkers moved from Osaka to Okazaki at that time, and settled in the area to make use of the Okazaki granite. Garden lanterns, tombstones, and wide variety of other products are the mainstay. The cluster of workshops is concentrated on the western side of the Yahagi river on the road to Anjo. Most craftsmen work alone, and about 230 people work in just over 160 workshops registered with the Okazaki Stone Products Cooperatives Association
Mikage-cho 5, Tel: 22-0455 Fax: 25-2451

Arrows

About 30% of the arrows sold in Japan are made in Okazaki. The arrows are made for decoration (you will see a lot for sale in shrines around New Year), as well as for archery. The arrows are made using bamboo from the Yahagi river, and only around 10 craftsmen in Japan use the traditional methods of handmaking an arrow. The process takes 70 steps and is fascinating to watch.

Mikawa cotton (and recycling)

Okazaki has long been famous for the quality of its cotton. After 1868 as Japan entered the Meiji era, modern weaving machines were imported from Europe and North America and Okazaki quickly adapted to become the most productive region for textile manufacture. In recent years competition from lower cost imports has reduced the number of textile firms, and the region has concentrated instead of textile machinery and used fiber recycling. In the niche for recycled fibers, Okazaki firms were the first in the world and remain the best in Japan. For example the 100% recycled gloves are made from plastic bottles and fibers.

Hanabi (Fire works)

One of the reasons Tokugawa Ieyasu was able to complete the unification of the country in 1603 was through extensive use of guns. The Portuguese introduced western style firearms from 1543, and domestic production of both weapons and gunpowder proceeded apace. After unifying the country, Tokugawa Ieyasu introduced stringent gun controls, and the production of gunpowder was limited to just a handful of licensed areas in Japan - as Okazaki was the Tokugawa's ancestral home, the Mikawa province was one of the areas trusted with the production.
Fireworks became a major industry in Okazaki, and the fireworks festival on the first Saturday in August is as much a trade show as a festival. Unlike the small plastic bags of fireworks imported from China that you can purchase in shops, the massive fireworks used in the festival are all handmade, with the craftsman using fine silk to separate the layers and mixes. While fireworks displays are popular throughout Japan, the designs originate largely in Okazaki.

Candles

The craft of making Japanese style candles was established in Okazaki about 500 years ago. The craft continues to flourish in Okazaki because there are many temples, even though there are now only about 30 Japanese style candle manufacturers left in this country. They make a nice local souvenir!

©Declan Murphy / Frontia Corporation - All rights reserved
1-2-1 Hanehigashi-machi, Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture, JAPAN 444-0832
Tel: +81 (0)564 55 8112 Fax: +81 (0)564 55 8174 Email: info [at] mikawa [dot] cc