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2008 Tiffany Foundation Award

Congratulations to the 2008 recipients of the Tiffany Foundation Award for the Preservation of Japanese Traditional Arts and Culture in Contemporary Society for their exemplary work preserving Japanese traditional arts at the national and regional community levels.

Mino Washi Akari Art Contest & Exhibition Organizing Committee

Mino Image 1For 1300 years, the Mino region has specialized in the production of washi, a traditional handmade paper, and it is now one of the three remaining major centers of papermaking in Japan. “Mino washi” is made from the bark of mulberry trees, and it is known for its durability and smoothness as well as its high quality. During the Edo Period (1603-1868), Mino became prosperous through the production of washi, which is used for a wide range of traditional objects such as lanterns, fans, scrolls, umbrellas, and shoji doors. At the time, there were about 5,000 washi production houses in Mino, however, they began to face competition from machine-made Western paper in the 19th Century, and today only 30 workshops remain. With population of only 25,000, Mino gives some the impression of a small rural city that has been left behind by the modern era but in recent years, the city’s residents have sought to revitalize the mino washi tradition.

One activity that is carried out in order to promote the use of mino washi is the Mino Paper “Akari Art” Exhibition (Akari means “light”). Mino washi has long been utilized to make traditional paper lanterns because of the distinctive soft glow that it allows to emanate through, and it was used to create the paper lanterns that inspired Isamu Noguchi’s famous “Akari” light sculptures when he visited the region in the 1950s.

Mino Image 2 During the Akari Art Exhibition, the town invites artisans from around the country to create light sculptures with mino washi, and these delicate creations are then judged on their artistic beauty. Mino boasts several streets lined with the traditional “udatsu style” homes that were common in the Edo Period, and the exhibition entries are lined up along these picturesque streets and illuminated for night-time viewing. The exhibition, which is held every year in mid-October, has gained a nationwide reputation and it attracts crowds of visitors from around the country.

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Nishi-shiogo Revolving Theater Preservation Committee

Nishishiogo Image2Kabuki, one of Japan’s most famous and distinctive traditional forms of theater, originated in the early 17th Century, and quickly spread through out the country. Village style kabuki theaters were built in the countryside, and while many of these were permanent constructions, some were temporarily built on farmland when local people invited performers from other towns and were dismantled after several performances. Nishi-shiogo’s mawari butai, or “revolving theater,” is said to be one of the oldest theaters of this type.

Nishishiogo Image1 The majority of these theaters were destroyed or disappeared during and after World War II but, in 1997, after a half-century of no performances, the tradition of temporarily building a village style kabuki theater, was revived in Nishi-shiogo and a company specializing in the local form of kabuki was formed. Local craftsmen and volunteers constructed a large theater using traditional techniques and materials, and utilizing specialized stage parts that had been stored away since the last temporary theater was dismantled decades earlier. The theater, which measures 20 meters wide and stands 7 meters tall, was constructed out of lumber with 300 bamboo poles for the arched roof, following the techniques that have been used in Nishi-shiogo for the past two centuries.

Nishishiogo Image3 Every three years since, more than 100 local residents have taken part in the month long process of rebuilding the theater for a series of performances. This is done according to the historic specifications and using traditional techniques. (An 1820 book has been discovered with records of the tools used for the construction of this theater.) It is built with a revolving stage, which can be set for several scenes and rotates to allow the scenes to change in the view of the audience. Portions of the stage have been preserved over the years and are used each time the stage is built, including impressive traditional carvings on the platform for the musicians, decorated sliding doors or fusuma, and large ornate stage curtain. The way in which local residents replaced the elaborate curtain that had been used since the 1820s with a new one in 2006 demonstrates the meticulous care and attention to detail that goes into this. They began by growing cotton for the curtain, then they weaved this by hand using traditional techniques and arranging for it to be dyed and decorated in the traditional manner, a process that took five years.

Nishishiogo Image4 In addition to staging performances, the committee works to preserve the tradition of local kabuki by teaching local school children kabuki, and by involving large number of volunteers from the town’s high school as well as area college students in the process of building the theater and staging the performances.


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