Renaissance of handcrafts- BUNKOGAWA leather crafts

By Aya | Women
Posted May 29, 2013

JAPAN – Recently, the beauty and the precious value of handcrafts by skilled craftsmen has begun to recognized and coveted widely all over the world. This trend is also occurring in Japan, where handcrafts such as porcelain, urushi lacquerware, weaving fabric, bamboo crafts and so on, have regained popularity. Perfect timing as a large part of those crafts and skills were going into decline, with some of them almost disappeared after the modernization and westernization flood into Japan. “BUNKOGAWA”, hand-crafted leather with stunning embossed design and artful colored, is one example of such “Renaissance of handcrafts”.

BUNKOGAWA is one kind of leather crafts in Japan that has its origin around Himeji City, Hyogo prefecture in the Muromachi period (1336-1573). During the Edo period (1603-1868) decorated letter boxes named “Bunko” were the fashion. Thus, the leatherwork came to be called “Bunko Gawa(leather)”.

The maker of BUNKOGAWA leather is “Bunkoya Oozeki” in Mukojima, the old down-town in Tokyo. The founder of Bunkoya Oozeki, Usaburou Oozeki, was the only one of the craftsmen of BUNKOGAWA leather to survive from the Great Kanto earthquake at Tokyo in 1923. He set up a studio and started his business, and has seen the decline in popularity of BUNKOGAWA leather over the past 80 years. Bunkoya Oozeki is now the only place to find traditional BUNKOGAWA leather saved by Usaburou.

The method of BUNKOGAWA leather is very specific. The craftsmen select a pattern from various stock such as flowers, inspired old Japanese tales, Ukiyo-e, tile patterns in Europe, wall paintings of Egypt and so on. Then they press it on white leather and put colors on it by hand in great detail leaving the background white. After that they put urushi and a powder from a grass plant onto the leather. The brown color of a grass plant fixes on white blank and creates an antique finish. The contrast of vivid colors and tint of vintage brown is a reason that BUNKOGAWA leather has such a unique appearance.

Bunkoya Oozeki produces not only hand-crafted BUNKOGAWA leather but leather goods such as wallets and card cases. These leather goods bring accent of colors and suit both kimono and western attire.

Takeshi Tanaka, the current president of Bunkoya Oozeki shares

“The leather crafts in Japan had been developed with their own design and original method in long history yet a large part of them asked to switch to license producing for big-name brands after the World War 2. Also our business was closed for a period. While we were trying to recover our business, the trend changed, and people have become to have a fun with beautiful crafts. I guess it would be good reason of popularity of our leather crafts.”

Tanaka’s next aim is to create and offer an environment where young people could work as craftsmen continously. “I’d like to make a model of business for hand crafts, with a great hope that Bunkoya Oozeki will last for 50 years or 100 years and more.”

With hope for the sustainable renaissance of hand crafts, you can buy these from their own shop in Asakusa,Tokyo, or order them from Bunkoya Oozeki online.





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