Not everyone has the years to dedicate to learn how to take care of bonsai trees (that sometimes live for centuries and are passed on from generation to generation), but there are other Japanese arts and crafts that you can try at home. Simple, cheap materials and very often you can improvise. There are tons of online tutorials too. After all, if you learn the basics at home, you can level up when going to a workshop in Japan!
Origami, literally meaning ‘paper bending/folding’, is probably one of the most widely known and practised Japanese crafts internationally. It’s great for children, but it also has complex geometric forms aimed at only the craftiest most dexterous adults.
Origami paper is usually very colourful, with both traditional and whimsical prints, but if you don’t have the proper origami supplies you can use anything – plain white paper, neswpapers, magazines, thin carton, pliable plastic sheets, napkins and so on.
You can also change the size – one can make mini origami cranes the size of a thumbnail, or a big one you need to hands to hold. Mini ones require a lot of precision, possibly pincers and tweezers, while mega sized origami requires collaboration and a lot of space.
Furoshiki is a very useful skill, garnering ever more attention due to the fact that it’s so versatile, sustainable and eco-friendly. Furoshiki is the skill of creating different things just by wrapping and tying a cloth. The same cloth can be untied and made into something else.
The first use of this skill was to wrap one’s bath supplies for going to the public bathhouse, hence the ‘furo’ (meaning ‘bath’) in the name. Furoshiki is also traditionally used for wrapping bento lunch boxes and bottles, and it’s a stylish way to wrap gifts to this day.
Kumi (braiding) and himo (string/thread) creates beautiful braided obi ties for kimono, as well as bracelets, phone charms and so on. The craft is done on a special small loom that resembles a bar stool with thread on bobbins hanging from all sides. Several people can braid together, flipping the bobbins, created multicoloured braids. One can also incorporate beads in the design.
If you don’t have the kumihimo braiding disk/stool or cannot buy it, there are easy ways to make something like it. Here is one https://fallfordiy.com/blog/2014/07/06/how-to-make-a-kumihimo-disk/
This traditional Japanese skill is gaining popularity because it’s artsy and poetic. ‘Kin’ (gold) and ‘tsugi’ (joining/putting together) is a technique of repairing broken pottery by gluing it together with gold. Kintsugi is a perfect example of wabi sabi – imperfection, incompleteness, the beauty of found in everything. A piece repaired with kintsugi has the fractures highlighted, not hidden, and in the process making the piece even more beautiful than it originally was.
There are kintsugi sets you can buy Japan to try it out, but there are other ways of replicating this craft too.
Here’s a charming video trying out several methods, until reaching one that is food-safe.
Calligraphy is art art of beautiful writing, existing in written language, and Japanese calligraphy or ‘shodo’ is the artistic writing of kanji, hiragana and katakana. It is often said that calligraphy is a zen or meditative practice and has a calming effect.
All you need is ink, a brush, and paper and the patience to practice it to perfection. There are cheap calligraphy sets, but if you cannot get your hands on one, you can always try it with any ink, any painting brush and on any paper. In fact, in calligraphy workshops in Japan they teach beginners to practice their strokes on newspapers or any other absorbent paper, before giving them calligraphy paper. You can even practice writing kanji with an ink pen or a felt tip marker. In Japan, children practice calligraphy since early age, starting with simpler characters with positive meaning like 月(moon), 桜(sakura), 水(water), to more complex like 書(write), 夢(dream), and 愛(love).
In addition, the art of painting with ink is called ‘sumi-e’ and it is often combined with calligraphy. It usually features motifs like bamboo, birds, koi fish, cherry blossoms, but anything can be painted in sumi-e style.
Japanese flower arrangement is much more than just putting together a bouquet in a vase. The flower craft is more than a millennium old and it follows artistic principles, plays with symmetry and asymmetry, balance and dis-balance. There are many schools and variants of ikebana, but beginners can start with the basic principles of Japanese flower arrangement.
Don’t worry if you don’t have special ikebana tools and bowls, just follow your creativity and improvise. You can also use any vase, bowl, bottle or jar, as well as porous stones or a chunk of wood that can hold a flower or a plant in.
Any branch or stalk of grass can be a decorative element in an ikebana. You can also gather stones from the garden. In 20th century modern ikebana style, also called ‘free style’, one can incorporate anything in their flower arrangement, any material, not just flowers and plants.
Try out these crafts and don’t be afraid to improvise, make mistakes and come up with your own ways to do them. That is how all arts and crafts develop into something new!
Featured Photo by Soroush Zargar on Unsplash