Japan’s Nationally Designated Traditional Craft Products

Japan’s Law Regarding the Promotion of Traditional Craft Product Industries (Traditional Industries Law) sets out various requirements that must be met for artisanal products to be designated by the national government as “Traditional Craft Products.” Categories include traditional skills, techniques, raw materials and production regions.
Japan has developed many fine artisanal traditions that employ skills and techniques handed down over the centuries. After strict evaluations, only crafts that meet the requirements specified in the Traditional Industries Law by demonstrating a heritage of skills, techniques, local resources, artisanship and cultural attributes, are designated as Traditional Craft Products. Since the law came into force in 1974, a total of 230 products have been so designated.
Moving beyond the realm of pure tradition, in recent years the creators of Japan’s traditional craft products have ventured out to develop a wide range of innovative products that make the most of their skills and techniques. Their efforts include collaborating with designers and well-known fashion brands in Japan and abroad.


Purpose of the Traditional Industries Law

According to Article 1 of the Traditional Industries Law, the law’s purpose is as follows:“In recognition of the fact that traditional craft products are made using traditional techniques or skills specific to their own locales, have been fostered and handed down over the years as part of the social lives of the people, and are now established on a foundation permitting their continued existence into the future, this law aims to promote such traditional craft industries as a way to provide extra diversity and charm to the social fabric, to contribute to the development of local economies, and to contribute also to the healthy development of the economy of Japan.”

伝産法の第1 条にはその目的が次のように掲げられています。

01 02 03 04 05 06

 01 The item must be a craft product

The term “craft product” is widely used for items ranging from rice bowls and chopsticks to kimono, furniture and tea ceremony utensils. Some people may think of them as encompassing a wide sphere that includes even industrial products and toys, while others may think only of craft products having high artistic value. The Traditional Industries Law defines “craft products” as products which have been produced consistently over a long period in given areas as local industries that contribute to the development of their regional economies.


 02 The craft product must serve a purpose in everyday life

Another requirement for an article to be classified as a traditional craft product is that it be a craft product designed to be used in the everyday lives of everyday people. It could be, for example, an object that plays an intrinsic role in the lives of the Japanese, being used only once in a person’s lifetime or several times a year for a formal ceremony, seasonal observance or similar event. Or it could be a doll, ornament or other such article having some connection with the everyday lives of ordinary families. An “object used in everyday life” does not have to be something that is cheap to buy or easy to obtain. But craft products admired for artistic value alone are different from the products promoted by the law, so they are not included among the objects that “serve a purpose in everyday life.”


 03 The main production process must be done by hand

The “main production process” refers to the process, among all processes employed in the manufacture of the product, that has a major effect on the product’s natural appeal (its quality, form, design, etc.). The natural appeal of a traditional craft product is inseparably related to the hand-made process. When mechanization takes on greater importance and the hand-made effect is lost, the original natural appeal of a traditional craft product may also be lost. Therefore, “done by hand” implies that the main production process is manual, with any secondary processes that are performed not negatively affecting the natural appeal.


 04 The production must be done using traditional techniques or methods

As a general rule, the techniques or methods used to make a designated craft product must have been in use for at least 100 years, and have been used consistently up to the present day. If a technique or method has been improved during the period it was handed down, if it has not been fundamentally modified and if the product’s heritage value has not changed, it may still be included within the realm of a traditional technique or method.

原則として当該工芸品を製造する技術または技法が100 年以上の歴史を有し、今日まで継続していることが必要です。この場合でも、その技術や技法が受け継がれてきた間に改善発展があったとしても、それが根本的な変化や、製品の特質を変えるまでにいたらなければ、伝統的技術又は技法に含まれます。

 05 Traditional raw materials must be the main source of materials for production

Similar to the case of production technique, the raw materials that are used can also greatly affect the natural appeal of a traditional craft product. The term “traditional” used here has the same implication as for Requirement No. 4: as a general rule, the type of raw materials must have been in use for at least 100 years, and used consistently to the present day. However, it is permitted to change to a similar raw material if the raw material originally used have become depleted or is now very difficult to obtain, provided that the extent of the change does not alter the natural appeal. For example, a switch to a different type of wood within the same tree species would be considered “consistent use,” provided that the extent of the change does not negatively affect the resulting quality or other attributes.

製造技術とともに原材料も伝統的工芸品の持ち味に大きな影響をあたえます。ここでいう「伝統的」も4と同じく原則として100 年以上の歴史を有し、今日まで継続していることが必要です。しかしながら、現実にはすでに枯こかつ渇したものや入手困難なものがあり、その際には持ち味を変えない範囲で同種材料へ転換することは可能です。たとえば、木材の樹種間の転換のように品質等に影響をあたえない範囲での同種の原材料への変化の場合は、継続性があると考えます。

 06 Artisans conducting production or involved in that production must not be negligible in number in the given area

This means that more than a certain number of workers must be performing the article’s production in the given area, and the enterprise must be established as a local industry. In the given area” means the region where the craft product is made, and “artisans … not negligible in number” means, as a general rule, at least 10 enterprises or at least 30 people.


Reference, 2016fy METI CraftMeet, Discover Japan's Finest Artisanship