From the Northeast

In northern Japan, the winters are harsh and many areas are covered with deep snow all winter long. Most of the homeware here was traditionally produced by people for their own use during the long winter months, when farm work was on hold.

Even in this harsh environment, techniques and expertise have been handed down from generation to generation, and young craftspeople are eagerly keeping these traditions alive today.

Rooted in life in northern Japan, the region’s traditionally simple, natural tableware and tools are made from local wood, clay, and straw. They have become an integral part of everyday life, not only for the people here, but for people all around Japan.

Found MUJI—From the Northeast introduces tableware, implements woven from vines and straw, and wooden boxes from three prefectures around the Tohoku region: Iwate, Akita, and Yamagata.

Kuji City, Iwate Prefecture

The Kokuji-yaki kilns in Kuji City , the northern part of Iwate Prefecture, are said to have originated 200 years ago with pottery made from local clay and glaze. Kokuji-yaki ceramics owe their simple, refined look to the deep brown ameyu glaze and white ash glaze made from rice husks. The temperature can drop so low that the clay freezes, so potters keep their clay warm under electric blankets.

Akita Cedar Boxes
Akita City, Akita Prefecture

Akita prefecture is an extremely mountainous part of Japan, where more than 70% of it is covered by the forest. The prefecture’s Akita cedar forest has been deemed one of the three most beautiful forests in the country. The Ugo Dentou Kougei workshop in Akita City has for over 30 years manufactured gift boxes from Akita cedar and thinned cedar wood. Stacked boxes are used to hold confectionary and traditional New Year dishes, while other boxes are used to package Akita specialties such as local sake and udon noodles. Each box is handcrafted.

Straw Weaving
Mamurogawa-machi, Mogami-gun, Yamagata Prefecture

The fifth generation in a farming family that works at the rice paddies and fields of Mamurogawa-machi in Yamagata, Mr. Takahashi also creates basket-weaves from straw.  He says he learned to make the traditional New Year’s straw decorations by watching his grandfather as a child. Although straw weaving is prominent wherever rice is farmed, different regions use their very own traditional techniques to make different products.

Vine Weaving
Funagata-machi, Mogami-gun, Yamagata Prefecture

In a Yamagata farming village in snowy Mogami, people traditionally crafted their everyday items from bark, vines, and other materials from the mountains gathered during the cold winter months when farming was on hiatus. Ms. Ito begins by gathering her materials, and each year in early spring. The drying process takes a year. She transforms these materials into an array of beautifully woven pieces.

Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture

Hirashimizu-yaki ceramics are produced in the Hirashimizu district of Yamagata City at the southern foot of Mt. Chitose. Famous for its pottery since the 19th century, with more than 30 kilns active at its peak, Hirashimizu has only two kilns still in operation today. One of these, the Seiryu-gama kiln dates back four generations of ceramics masters. This pottery draws its distinctive look from the iron-rich soil around Mt. Chitose and the white zansetsu glaze that evokes the image of the snowy Yamagata landscape.

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