Kyoto traditional industries



Brought to Japan from the continent in the 5th to 6th century, the Nishijin weaving industry originated with government-operated weaving shops established soon after the city’s founding in 794. After the Onin War happened 1467 to 1477, the weavers returned to the city and organized themselves into work groups in the Nishijin district. Using dyed yarns woven into beautiful brocades, Nishijin weavers employ traditional techniques while continually develop new methods. There is such a variety of Nishijin weaves produced today that it is said there is no woven fabric that Nishijin weavers cannot weave.



“Kyo-yuzen” is a style of textile dyeing that creates colorful patterns of natural scenes on white cloth. Characterized by the brilliant use of color, “kyo-yuzen” dyeing is accomplished by either hand dyeing or stencil dyeing. The technique of hand dyeing was developed in Kyoto during the mid-Edo Period(17th century)by Miyazaki Yuzensai, from whom the name “yuzen” dyeing was taken. Stencil dyeing was developed in Kyoto during the early Meiji Period by Hirose Jisuke. The product of numerous production processes, the beauty and elegance of Kyo-yuzen dyeing have made it one of Japan’s best-known textile arts.


Kyo-shikki(Lacquer ware)Kyo-shikki(Lacquer ware)

Japanese black lacquer is one of Japan’s most traditional crafts, and the term “japan” in English is still used to refer to both black lacquer and lacquer ware. Durable, with a beautiful texture and sheen, lacquer ware was originally introduced to Japan from China, and has long been treasured for its combination of utilitarianism and beauty. Kyoto lacquer ware was first produced for the imperial court during the Heian Period(8th-12th centuries) and is characterized by the exquisite workmanship and decoration favored by the aristocracy. Numerous famous “Higashiyama Era” pieces influenced by the tea ceremony were produced during the Muromachi Period(14th-16th centuries). While various techniques are used for lacquer application and decoration, Kyoto lacquer ware is noted for its pure black lacquer finish or exquisite pictures inlaid into the lacquer.


Kyo-Sashimono(Wood Work)Kyo-Sashimono(Wood Work)

Woodworking with board and round rods to produce furnishings and other goods dates to the imperial court during the Heian Period(8th-12th centuries), and was also used for shrines and temples as well as the tea ceremony. Woodworking in Kyoto includes making furnishings for everyday life and specialized furnishings for the tea ceremony. Numerous skilled techniques are employed to design, rip, bend, join, and carve the numerous components and pieces. Kyoto woodworking is characterized by a natural finish that captures the full beauty of the natural grain.


“Kyo-yaki” and “Kiyomizu-yaki” are general terms used to refer to all the pottery made in Kyoto. The sophisticated designs and diverse techniques of Kyoto artisans have produced wide range of different types of pottery called “tsuchi-mono”, the same meaning as “earthenware”, and porcelain called “ishi-mono” ,the same as “stoneware”. The arts of “Kyo-yaki” and “Kiyomizu-yaki” are said to have begun during the reign of Emperor Yuryaku from late-5th to early-6th centuries, and reached a peak with the brilliant colored porcelain of the great artist Ninsei Nonomura in the mid-17th century. Numerous talented potters such as Kenzan Ogata, Eisen Okuda, and Mokubei Aoki gave birth to a variety of unique designs and techniques. Through the centuries, the wonderful artistry and craftsmanship of “Kyo-yaki”and “Kiyomizu-yaki” have produced countless gorgeous pieces of elegant pottery.


Kyo-Sensu(Folding Paper Fan)Kyo-Sensu(Folding Paper Fan)

Folding fans were born in Japan, most likely in Kyoto, and travelled from there to China and Europe. Although first made around the 9th century in the early Heian Period, the techniques used today were developed around the 16th century. As the home of such traditional arts as the tea ceremony, incense ceremony and Japanese buyo dance, Kyoto was ideal for the development of this craft. Made in an amazing variety of forms, Kyoto folding fans are crafted with the shape and materials selected according to the application. They are broadly classified as ita-ogi, made from linked wooden ribs, and hariogi, made from paper or silk glued to bamboo or other ribs.

Kyo-Uchiwa(Flat Paper Fan)Kyo-Uchiwa(Flat Paper Fan)

Japanese flat paper fans(uchiwa) are classified by shape as Chinese, Korean, or South Pacific in origin. Kyoto uchiwa ware derived from flat Korean fans introduced during the Northern and Southern Courts Period(14th century), and are characterized by arraying the fine ribs one by one in a radiating pattern, applying the cover paper, and then attaching a handle. Also known as gosho uchiwa from their use in the imperial court, Kyoto uchiwa are made from high quality bamboo from Sagano with elegantly crafted handles of lacquer and gold. The pictures decorating the fans are themselves a unique art form, and many Kyoto uchiwa are appreciated as art.


Kinzoku-Kogei (Metal Work)Kinzoku-Kogei (Metal Work)

Metal craft was introduced from the continent in the Nara Period(8th century),and then to Kyoto when the Heian capital was built in 794. There are three main types of metal crafting in Kyoto: casting, in which molten metal is poured into molds: forging, in which metal is beaten and shaped with a mallet: and engraving, in which patterns are engraved in metal plate. Applications range from Buddhist images, bells and other religious goods, to goods for daily life, decorations for armor and horse rigging.


Zogan(Inlaid Work)Zogan(Inlaid Work)

Originating in the area of present-day Syria, the art of inlaying gold, silver, copper, or other materials into a base metal entered Japan during the Asuka Period(6th-7th centuries). Current techniques were refined during the Heian Period(8th-12th centuries), and during the Edo Period(17th-19th centuries) Umetada, Shoami, and other craftsmen skilled in making swords and armor produced outstanding inlay work.Characterized by fine detail, nunome inlay – in which the artisan etches fine textile-like lines into the base metal(iron, copper, brass), and then beats gold, silver, or copper into the etched pattern with a mallet – is the most common form of inlay produced in Kyoto.


Skilled smiths moved from Nara to the new Heian capital in 794, marking the start of metalsmithing in Kyoto. With ready access to good soil from Fushimi, Narutaki whetstones, Tamba charcoal, Sanin iron sand and clean water, Kyoto soon became a leading center for meta lsmithing and cutting tools. As Kyoto was also home to numerous crafts, cooking, and flower arranging traditions, cutting tools were developed for specialized applications. Kyoto metal smiths today still have the skills to meet the special needs of professionals in a variety of fields.

Kyo-Hanga (Wood-block Print)Kyo-Hanga (Wood-block Print)

The art of woodblock printing was introduce to Japan in the 8th century during the Nara Period, and developed with the spread of Buddhism as an efficient means of reproducing Buddhist imagery and scrolls. Woodblock printing has since been closely associated with publishing in Kyoto. During the Edo Period(17th-19th centuries), Kyoto woodblock printers produced vernacular picture books read even in the Edo capital. The Kyoto printer Yoshida Hanbei produced the illustrations for The Life of an Amorous Man, an important early work by Ihara Saikaku. Kyoto woodblock prints were also used on fans and in Japanese woodblock print books from the Meiji Period. Woodblock print books from Kyoto are typical of this genre, and are widely known abroad.

Take-Kogei(Craft Work)Take-Kogei(Craft Work)

The history of bamboo crafts is said to date to the prehistoric Jomon Period, and bamboo crafts have been made in Kyoto since the Heian Period(8th-12th centuries) for the tea ceremony, flower arranging, interior decoration, and other purposes. Used extensively in the tea ceremony, bamboo crafts have developed both technically and as an industry since the Momoyama Period(16th century). Kyoto’s bamboo crafts are characterized by fully utilizing the inherent qualities and texture of the high quality bamboo grown in Kyoto’s excellent climate.



The tradition of “Kunko” or incense, which creates a special ambiance with its fragrance, was introduced to Japan from China as far back as 1,300 years ago. “Kunko” quickly became popular among Japan’s nobility, and in the Muromachi Period(14th-16th centuries) it was incorporated into the Japanese tea ceremony, culminating with introduction of the “Kodo” , or incense ceremony. As the nation’s center for both Buddhism and the tea ceremony, Kyoto soon became a leading producer of “Kunko”. Today, the many applications of incense range from powders and sticks burned at Buddhist temples to sachets and pastilles sold to general consumers. This fragrant tradition has recently begun attracting attention outside Japan.




Embroidery was originally used to embroider Buddhist images on priests’ garments and alter hangings. When the Heian-kyo capital was established at the site of present-day Kyoto in 794, craftsmen skilled in embroidery were organized to produce various Buddhist garments, as well as decorative goods and clothing for the aristocracy. Beautiful silk thread and real gold and silver thread are used to embroider silk or hemp materials with realistic, picture-like patterns, typically on natural themes. Many different embroidery techniques have been developed, and more than thirty are still in use.

Gaku Kanban (Tablets)

From the Shinto and Buddhist tablets appearing over the front halls of shrines and temples on “torii” gateways and main entrances, to the tablets on tea houses and the engraved wooden signs on longstanding shops, gaku kanban have deep roots in traditional Japanese culture and way of life. The manufacturing process involves trimming down rough wood to make a base for the sign, attaching a paper with the desired calligraphy, then carving. Then, paint or lacquer is applied to the carved characters, followed by gold leaf. The planning and manufacturing of gaku kanban is usually carried out in Kyoto, where this handicraft, using skills cultivated through history and tradition, continues to this day.

Kyo-Ishi-Kogeihin(Stone Work)

Stone working is believed to have begun in Japan during the Tumulus Period and developed with the introduction and spread of Buddhism throughout Japan. Good quality granite mined in the Hieizan mountains and Shirakawa section of Kyoto, combined with the spare aesthetic of the tea ceremony, led to the development of highly refined stone working skills. There are numerous famous works from the past, and modern works are still produced using the same traditional techniques.

Kyo-Gawara(Roof Tiles)

Introduced from continental Asia to Japan in the late 6th century, roof tiles were initially used only on temples and shrines. First employed in Kyoto when the Heian-Kyo capital was built(794), Kyoto later became a leading center for roof tile production and the local industry today specializes in unique handmade tiles. These are now more than 700 varieties of Kyoto roof tiles made for use on shrines and temples, traditional “sukiya” style homes, and modern homes. All roof tiles retain the traditional forms, with “jigawara” covering the main roof area, “onigawara” gable caps, “nokigawara” eave caps, and “keraba-gawara” at the gable edges. Sturdy with a silvery sheen, roof tiles create a characteristic texture on the roofs of Kyoto homes.

Zoen(Landscape Gardening)

The basis for Japanese landscape gardening techniques first developed during the Heian Period(8th-12th centuries). Abundant water, high quality stone and sand, and a climate ideally suited to gardening created conditions in Kyoto perfect for landscape gardening. Gardens were first created at temples, shrines, and the homes of the aristocracy and samurai class, but later were added to commoners’ homes from the mid-15th century, leading to the development of tiny “tsubo-niwa” gardens. Kyoto’s landscape gardening is noted for incorporating the natural scenery, and assigning specific meaning to such gardening elements as stones, trees, grass, sand and gravel, and moss. New ideas are constantly being combined with traditional techniques to create gardens soothing to the eye.

Teien-Yo-Takekogei(Bamboo Craft Work)

Having a climate ideal for growing high quality bamboo, Kyoto has for centuries produced a wide range of bamboo crafts, including bamboo fences and various architectural structures. Skilled in expressing the innate qualities of the bamboo, Kyoto’s bamboo workers developed numerous designs for specific applications including edahogaki, sodegaki(short privacy fences projecting from the side of a building), and yotsumegaki(a rectilinear lattice-work fence). The simplicity of bamboo is highly valued when used in gardens, tea rooms, and other areas.


In contrast with hand dyeing, stencil dyeing is a technique in which the dye pattern or picture is cut into a stencil, which is then placed over the cloth. Dyeing is performed by filling the pattern with a dye mask and dye. The paper used for the stencils is heavy laminated Japanese “washi”(handmade paper), which allows highly detailed patterns with lines as fine as 0.2mm wide to be cut into the paper. Still known as “Horikawa-kongata,”dyeing stencils have been used in Kyoto for centuries(the precise origin is not known).


“Kyo-komon” dyeing, a technique for stencil dyeing small patterns, is believed to have been perfected around the late 16th century. “Kyo-komon” dyed summer kimono and haori worn by the famous feudal lord Uesugi Kenshin and Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu can still be seen today. “Kyo-komon” dyeing was widely used for samurai ceremonial dress and was later employed for textiles worn by commoners. Though “Kyo-komon” dyeing began as a slight departure from the monochrome textile of the day, it was influenced by yuzen dyeing and developed as a unique from. Picture-like patterns with rich coloring were widely used, and “Kyo-komon” dyeing became noted for extremely colorful designs.


Kyoto’s “shibori-zome”, or tie-dyeing, has a long and distinguished history. “Kyo-kanoko-shibori” originated from the type of tie-dyeing used for the garments of imperial courtiers around the 10th century. “Kanoko” means fawn, and refers to the fact that the pattern created by this method resembles the spots on young deer. Today, “Kyo-kanoko-shibori” is used as a general term for all tie-dyed silk fabric produced in Kyoto. Noted for its complex and elaborate patterns, “Kyo-kanoko-shibori” involves many different techniques such as “hitta-shibori” and “hitome-shibori”, requiring a high level of expertise that has been handed down from generation to generation.


In “Kyo-muji-zome-shinsen”(immersion) dyeing, the dyeing process is divided into blue, black, and brown steps. The brown dyeing step is the basis of most of today’s immersion dyeing. Tea leaves, other leaves and blossoms are combined by the dye master to create the desired color shade for solid cloth. In the late 19th century chemical dyes were introduced from England and made it possible to freely create a broad palette of colors. Immersion dyeing is very durable and is noted for its deep, rich colors.


Developed in the early 17th century, “Kyo-kuromontsuki-zome” was used throughout the Edo Period(16th-17th centuries) to produce the betel nut-dyed “kuromon-tsuki”(a black kimono with a family crest) preferred by the samurai class. The tannin in the dye reinforced the silk fabric so it was more resistant to cutting and piercing, and the dyed silk was often worn as protective clothing. Haori, kimono, and hakama dyed with the family crest are today still worn as traditional formal wear. “Kyo-kuromontsuki-zome”, which is noted for its deep rich blacks, was further refined with the introduction of European dye methods and chemical dyes in the late 19th century, leading to such new techniques as “aishita”, “benishita”, and “sandokuro”.


The origins of “hatashirushi” dyeing can be traced back to the flags used during the time of Queen Himiko(3rd-4th century). This type of dyeing was used to dye characters, crests, and other marks on fighting banners previous to the Onin War(1467-1477), and is now used to dye furoshiki scarves, fukusa tea ceremony napkins, store banners, yukata, and noren. The dyeing industry in Kyoto developed superb dyeing techniques and graphic design skills, which were refined by dyers with a long tradition of skilled color dyeing. “Hatashirushi” dyeing in Kyoto is characterized by distinctive products with a sense of history.


Used in the prehistoric Jomon Period to decorate pots, ropes used for tying, securing, and bundling together developed out of everyday necessity. Decorative tuft strings and methods of tying tassels to express one’s authority and rank emerged later, as did traditional methods of tying these braids in shrines, temples, for warrior dress and horse rigging. Today, traditionally made tuft strings and tassels are used in many aspects of Japanese culture such as in shrines, temples, festivals, the performing arts, tea ceremony, noh, kabuki, and even sumo wrestling.


Decorative “Kumihimo” braids have been made in Kyoto since 794, when the city was founded as the Heian Period capital. Braids have been used for many different purposes over the ages, including as decorative ties for samurai apparel, for haori, as obi ties, and in shrines and temples. Approximately 40 basic different types of Kyoto braids are made today, including round braids made using a round braiding stand(marudai), and there are more than 3,000 different patterns and styles. The artistic aesthetic developed during Kyoto’s long history is reflected in each braid.


Looms have been made by specialized craftsmen known as “tebata daiku”(handloom carpenters) since the Muromachi Period(14th-16th centuries). Improvements continued to be made and today many looms are motor-driven, but handlooms made of pine are still essential to the hand weaver’s craft. The shuttle, reed, and “hakuhera” are just a few of the other implements essential to Kyoto’s weaving industry, particularly the hand weaving industry.


Embroidery was originally used to embroider Buddhist images on priests’ garments and alter hangings. When the Heian-kyo capital was established at the site of present-day Kyoto in 794, craftsmen skilled in embroidery were organized to produce various Buddhist garments, as well as decorative goods and clothing for the aristocracy. Beautiful silk thread and real gold and silver thread are used to embroider silk or hemp materials with realistic, picture-like patterns, typically on natural themes. Many different embroidery techniques have been developed, and more than thirty are still in use.


Today most “tabi”, the traditional Japanese socks indispensable to dressing up in kimono, are machine sewn. But here in Kyoto, where the kimono industry is still a flourishing business, many hand-made “tabi” are even today made by traditional methods. Using stretch-and shrink resistant cotton, an extremely high level of expertise is required to make “tabi” that perfectly fit the foot. Although the demand for hand-made “tabi” has decreased, they are much more durable and comfortable than machine-made “tabi” and continue to enjoy a loyal following among kimono wearers.

Kyo-Fukuromono(Bags and Pouches)

Accessory bags have been widely used in Japan since the 16th century and include paper holders, tobacco holders, furoshiki wrapping scarves, and handbags. These and other bags have been made in Kyoto since the Edo Period(17th-19th centuries) and today are popular souvenirs, with many made from yuzen-dyed cloth and other fine materials. New patterns are characteristically designed for the changing seasons with elegant forms and attractive colors.

Katsura (Wigs for Actors and Actresses)

Katsura originates from the grass wigs (kusa-katsura) and flower wigs (hana-katsura) used in ancient times, but is said to have been designed to fit around the whole head at the beginning of the Edo (Enpo) period (1673-1681). Katsura were produced by first matching a metal plate to a performer’s head, so there were as many katsura types as there were performers who used them. Human hair was used for the majority of hairs. Since a difference of just one or two hairs at the hairline could change the entire appearance, careful attention was required. Katsura are broadly divided into types for film and types for the stages found in the pleasure districts, but for both of them, most of the production process is done by hand.

Hana-Kanzashi(Ornamental Hairpin)

Known for their ornate beauty and delicate craftsmanship, the “hana-kanzashi” or ornamental hairpins used as women’s hair decorations are a traditional handicraft unique to Kyoto. Today there is almost no demand among the general public for these hairpins other than for dressing up little girls on special traditional occasions, and most “hana-kanzashi” are custom-produced for professional geisha. The making of “hana-kanzashi” is a traditional craft that still reflects the local flavor of Kyoto, with its historic geisha quarters in Gion and other districts. Working with “habutae” silk, the craftsman uses a variety of special chisels to work the hairpin into the shape of flower petals and other intricate designs, then beautifully finishes it with “washi” paper, yarn, wire, and other materials.


The production of “tsuge-gushi”, or combs made from boxwood, has a long tradition in Kyoto and dates back to the Heian Period(late 8th through 12th centuries). Boxwood is soft and gentle on the hair and generates no static electricity, making it the ideal material for combs. In addition to conventional combs, boxwood is also widely used for various types of combs distinctive to Kyoto, such as those used to make hand-woven brocade and combs used to arrange the hair of “Kyo-ningyo” dolls. The making of these combs involves time-honored techniques that are both labor-intensive and time-consuming, such as drying the raw wood for a full 17 years before using it.

Meiboku・Kitayama-Maruta(Kitayama Cedars)

The Kitayama mountains north of Kyoto are lined with stands of straight Kitayama cedars, valued since the Muromachi Period(15th century)for both tea room and traditional sukiya-style architecture. The forestry management and log processing techniques used today are products of the local geography and methods developed over centuries. Kitayama cedar logs are known  for their dense grain and smooth shiny surface, as well as freedom from discoloring and cracking. The characteristic white skin is created by immediately peeling felled trees and exposing the debarked logs to the bright summer sun for approximately one week.


Blessed by rich soil and conducive climate, Kyoto has long been one of Japan’s leading bamboo producers. When Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb at the end of the 19th century, he searched the world for the best possible filament material and chose bamboo from Kyoto. Strong and flexible, bamboo is easy to work and has been used as a building material since at least the Heian Period(8th-12th centuries). Kyoto bamboo is an essential component in gardens, tea room gates and fences, as well as various architectural styles that developed in Kyoto.

Wagasa(Bamboo Umbrella)

The production in Kyoto of Japanese paper umbrellas, or “wagasa”, is believed to have begun with the vermilion-lacquered umbrellas of the Muromachi Period(14th through 16th centuries), “Wagasa” that could be freely opened and closed, like the umbrellas used today, did not appear until the Edo Period(17th through 19th centuries). Notable features of “wagasa” are the expert craftsmanship and beautiful detailing, and also the fact that the complete production process, from the framework to the finish lacquer, is all performed at the same workshop. In addition to traditional types of umbrellas such as those covered with coarse oil-paper of decorated with a “bull’s eye” design, other types of “wagasa” are used to provide shade for Shinto and Buddhist religious events and for the Japanese tea ceremony, and are also sometimes used as decorations for retail shops.

Chochin(Paper Lantern)

“Chochin”, of Japanese paper lanterns, were first used in the Muromachi Period(14th through 16th centuries) to light the way while walking at night. “Chochin” did not become common in Kyoto until the Edo Period(17th through 19th centuries), when they were produced and used as Shinto and Buddhist religious adornments. Today they are also used as decorations. Kyoto “chochin” are made using a method called “ipponkake-shiki”, in which individual pieces of bamboo are connected in a circle to serve as the lantern’s frame.

Harikago(Bamboo Box)

“Harikago” are woven baskets of bamboo that are covered with “washi” paper and then lacquered. Here in Kyoto where weaving, dyeing, and other kimono-related industries flourished, these baskets were developed as a craftwork for the purpose of storing and transporting rolled cloth and finished kimono. The baskets are also known as “tsuzura”. Masters of the Japanese tea ceremony, who cherish the simplicity of bamboo, often use “harikago” for the tea ceremony.

Kiseru(Tobacco Pipe)

Kyoto and Tokyo were both centers for the production of “kiseru”, of bamboo pipes, up until the Second World War. Those made in Tokyo were “Sumiyoshi-bari” style, but Kyoto “kiseru” were known throughout Japan as “Murata-bari”. Although “kiseru” are no longer commonly used for smoking tobacco, they are still highly valued as curios or antiques. “Kiseru” are made by first forging metal such as gold, silver or brass to shape the bowl and mouthpiece, then fitting those pieces onto a stem made of “shinobe” bamboo.

Fushimi Ningyo (Fushimi Dolls)

South of Mt. Inariyama in the Higashiyama Peaks, there is an area of good-quality porcelain clay. It is said that clay dolls have been baked here since the 1st century, and that Fushimi dolls are from this lineage. Fushimi dolls are said to be ancestors to all of the more than 90 varieties of clay dolls in Japan, and they still maintain their uniquely Japanese beauty. There are more than 2,000 types, produced into dolls by creating the mold, creating the unvarnished version, applying varnish, baking, and then applying color. Even now the process is still done by one person, without dividing up the work.

Sagamen (Saga Masks)

Saga masks are thought to have been derived from masks used in kyogen at the Sagashaka-do (Seiryo-ji). In the late Edo period (around the mid-19th century), they were sold as protective charms in Saga’s shrines and temples, becoming Saga-arashiyama’s most well-known handicraft. However, Saga masks had completely disappeared by the early Showa period (late 1920’s – 1930’s), undergoing a revival about a decade after the end of World War II. Using the old “hariko” technique, Japanese paper covered with paste is layered on top of plaster and dried.

Kyo-Sudare(Bamboo Blind)

Misu bamboo blinds were an essential furnishing in the imperial court of the Heian Period(8th-12th centuries). Today’s bamboo blinds originated in these misu blinds and are used widely in shrines and temples, traditional restaurants, and in other places and ceremonies which honor tradition. Nearly all handmade bamboo blinds today are manufactured in Kyoto. Providing both shade and a practical means of dividing rooms, elegantly designed bamboo blinds remain popular in Japan and are even exported to Europe and the United States.

Kyoumaru Uchiwa (Kyomaru Fans)

The origin of the Kyomaru fan is thought to be the “gensei-gata Fukakusa uchiwa”, produced during the Momoyama period (1583-1600) using Fukakusa Japanese timber bamboo. When this disappeared in the late 19th century, the new, more useable, fan which appeared at the same time was the kyomaru fan. In the pleasure districts of Kyoto, there is still a custom of geishas and maikos giving made-to-order, name-engraved fans to their regular customers as a summer greeting. Japanese paper is used for the fan paper, and the fans are created one by one by hand using traditional skills and methods.

Kyo-To-Ningyo(Pottery Doll)

The origin of pottery dolls in Japan is believed to be “Fushimi Ningyo”, painted dolls made of unglazed pottery that were sold in front of the gate to Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine around the 16th century. “Kyo-To-Ningyo” are elegant pottery dolls made in Kyoto. There are various types:some are painted in brilliant colors, others are finished in lighter colors to allow the character of the clay to show through, and still others are finished by glost-firing or twice-firing. The many different varieties include traditional-style dolls that reflect the court customs of ancient Japan, new style dolls that capture the joyful expressions of small children, dolls that celebrate seasonal festivals, animals that represent the years of the Chinese calendar, and earthenware bells.


Dolls have long been used in Japanese life both as toys and as talismans which deflect misfortune from the owner. Kyoto dolls are said to have originated in the hina dolls that were toys of aristocrats’ children during the Heian Period from 8th to 12th centuries. Today, they include a wide range of doll types. For example, ukiyo dolls, dolls representing female commoners, made so the kimono hem can be lifted, hina dolls, representing the imperial retinue for the Girls’ Festival, gogatsu dolls, for the Boys’ Festival, gosho dolls, ceramic dolls of corpulent boys, and ichimatsu dolls which made from molded sawdust, named for their resemblance to Sonogawa Ichimatsu, an 18th century kabuki actor. Hina dolls in particular are made by numerous artisans who fabricate specific components such as the heads, hairstyles, hairstyles, hands and feet, accessories, and clothing. They are widely known for their technical skill and tradition of attention to fine detail.

Kyo Tatami (Kyoto-style Tatami Mat)

The tatami mat is said to have originated in the age of the gods, but it is first mentioned in a passage from the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) from the Nara Period (710 – 794). A picture scroll from the Heian Period (794 – 1185) depicts a tatami mat with a similar shape to those of the present day, and tatami mats made of straw appeared in the Kamakura Period (1185 – 1333). Accompanying development in the Japanese tea ceremony, the tatami mat underwent numerous changes and began to be used by average citizens as well. There are two basic types of tatami mats: the “standard tatami” for use in homes and tea rooms, and the “Yusoku tatami” used in shrines and temples. In Kyoto, the tatami mats used in tea rooms, shrines and temples like the “Kyo tatami”, “atsu tatami”, and “yae tatami” are producing using highly refined techniques. Even today, tatami production techniques in keeping with the ancient style are being passed on.


Mounting in the Japanese context refers to providing a backing of cloth of paper enabling scrolls, calligraphy, and drawings to be displayed or viewed, and was introduced with Buddhism to Japan from China. Basic mounting techniques were later adapted for use with hanging scrolls, fusuma sliding doors, picture framing, decorative screens(byobu), hand scrolls, and picture albums. While similar mountings are used to decorate Western-style homes today, another important field is repairing and caring for historical assets. Kyoto’s history as a center for religion and the arts promoted the growth of this unique art form.

Wahon (Book)

The techniques for making recorded documents were originally introduced to Japan from China together with the Chinese writing system. During the Nara Period (8th century), Japanese craftsman called “kyoji” made scrolls containing Buddhist scriptures. The evolution from scrolls and multi-fold records to easy-to-use bound books was the result of an original development called “wahon”, or Japanese bookbinding. As the economic, cultural, and religious center of ancient Japan, Kyoto was also the center for the development of bookbinding techniques. Today, the highly skilled and much-prized techniques of “wahon” are still used to bind special records related to Japan’s cultural heritage, such as cataloging the historic and artistic treasures of Japan’s many temples and shrines, making, reproductions of ancient manuscripts, and preserving Buddhist sutras and other religious writings.

Shikishi・Tanzaku (Shikisi・Tanzaku)

Collections of poems and songs were produced on dyed paper during the Heian Period (8th-12th centuries), and others were written on paper coated with gold or silver paint or gold foil. These were the predecessors of the fancy shikisihi and tanzaku used today. Tanzaku are basically smaller pieces of shikishi, and the tanzaku dimensions were set during the Kamakura period(13th century). Both shikishi and tanzaku soon moved from the court and temples to common use. Shikishi and tanzaku produced by coloring handmade washi paper with gold paint or gold and silver foil developed here in Kyoto, and later spread to other regions. Traditional methods are still used today.


It is said that the production of playing cards such as “hyakunin-isshu” (cards featuring 100 famous poems) and “hanakaruta”(playing cards with pictures of flowers used in many games) began in Kyoto during the Edo Period(17th-19th century). Since that time virtually all playing cards distributed throughout Japan have been produced in Kyoto. There is a wide variety of cards, from playing cards just for practice to meticulously handcrafted cards that require highly experienced craftsmen with refined skills.

Kyo-Karakami (Fusuma Paper Work)

The word “karakami” originally referred to a type of craft paper that originated in the Tang Dynasty of ancient China. During Japan’s Heian Period(8th through 12th centuries), when doors and partitions covered with Chinese decorative craft paper first came into widespread use, the term came to mean any paper used for “fusuma”, a paper partition door. In the Edo Period(17th through 19th centuries) there was an explosive growth of “karakami” printed in brilliantly colored patterns by wood-block printing techniques. Mineral pigments are mixed with a pasty glue and then rubbed directly into the “washi” paper using the palm of the hand rather than a stamping pad, creating a finish characterized by depth and beauty. “Karakami” is widely used in shrines, temples, tea ceremony rooms, and other buildings constructed in the traditional “sukiya” style of architecture, and is a prime example of one of the elegant arts and crafts that can be found only Kyoto.

Kyo-Insho (Inkoku)(Stamp)

Seals and stamps were introduced to Japan from China during the time of Prince Shotoku(late 6th century) and to Kyoto during the Heian Period(8th-12th centuries) to produce imperial seals. They came into widespread use during the Edo Period (17th-19th centuries). The first stamp3 and seal carver in Japan is said to have lived in Kyoto at Sanjo Muromachi during the Edo Period. At that time, stamp carvers were permitted to use a surname and carry a sword. Styles used during the Han period in China are still practiced by Kyoto‘s highly skilled stamp carvers.

Kyo Koma (Kyoto Spinning Tops)

Ancient kyo koma were used in court rituals, but as its connection to Shintoism weakened, it became a toy of the nobility. The kyo koma originates from the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1558-1600), when upper-class women would wrap scraps of cloth left over from when their kimonos were made around a bamboo rod core. This would then be shaped into a top, to become a plaything to be spun indoors. Unlike a typical top carved from wood, a string dyed at the tip was put into the center of the bamboo core and wrapped around the top. There are also versions using thinly-cut Nishijin and Yuzen silk. While the traditional ways of enjoying the New Year are gradually fading away, the colorful kyo koma can not only be spun, but are also used as decorations.

Mizuhiki-Zaiku(Yuino-kazari)(Decorative String)

Mizuhiki decorative strings originated in Kyoto, where twisted paper strips used to tie the hair during the Heian Period(8th-12th centuries) were adapted for tying goods together. The current use of red strings on the right and white on the left when wrapping presents has remained unchanged since the Muromachi Period(14th-16th centuries). Mizuhiki came into common use during the Meiji Period. Mizuhiki decorations may be flat, used to decorate heavy white paper-covered gifts or envelopes, or extravagant three-dimensional decorations used for betrothal ceremonies.

Kogei-Gashi (Confectionery)

Chinese confections brought back by ambassadors from China in the Nara Period(8th century) developed into today’s wagashi, or Japanese confections. Artisans producing confections for use in court ceremonies appeared during the Heian Period(8th-12th centuries) in Kyoto. Confections submitted to the imperial court developed as yusoku-gashi, and became known to the general population through the tea ceremony. Capturing the subtle changes of the seasons in beautiful form and color, today’s wagashi confections are made from a dough of sugar, kanbaiko(a rice flour),coloring and water, and are shaped into flower petals and other shapes.

Kashigata(Confectionery Mold)

Kyoto’s confectionery strongly reflects the atmosphere of the four seasons. Wooden “kashigata” molds are vital to production of this confectionery. Most of the molds used throughout Japan are made by Kyoto craftsmen. They are made of cherry wood which is first dried naturally for about 3years. The molds are engraved with fine patterns representative of traditional confectionery designs. The refined skills of “kashigata” craftsmen are upholding the tradition of the world-renowned beauty of Kyoto’s confectionery.

Nihonshu(Japanese Sake)

Blessed with good quality water and a climate ideal for making sake, Kyoto has a long and distinguished history as a sake producer. A sake producing bureau – the “Mikino-tsukasa” – created within the imperial court during the Heian Period(8th-12th century) produced sake using the most advanced technology of that era. The skill and knowledge of sake production
eventually spread to Kyoto’s outlying suburbs. Fushimi became well-known as a leading sake producing area after Toyotomi Hideyoshi built Fushimi Castle, which brought a steady increase in the number of sake producers during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period(16th century). After the Meiji Period, the opening of the Tokaido Line railway allowed Fushimi’s sake producers to distribute sake all over Japan, and Fushimi became known as one of Japan’s two most prominent sake producing areas.

Chazutsu (Tea Canisters)

After Eisai, the founder of Kennin-ji (a very old Zen temple in Kyoto), brought tea leaves back from China, the well-sealed pipe-shaped vessel to preserve the leaves became necessary as well.
In Kyoto, tinplate imported from England during the Westernization in the Meiji period began to be used to manufacture cylindrical tea canisters. Most other tea canisters are created by machines using molds, but the production of Kaikado’s chazutsus is completely by hand, created using over 130 steps. The special polish of the material changes in color and luster with use, and the minute accuracy which allows the lid to shut by itself when placed on the canister’s opening is a feat that only handmade techniques can achieve.

Hanpusei Kaban (Canvas Bags)

At the end of the Meiji period (early 1900’s), a type of durable canvas bag emerged in Kyoto. With the increasing commonality of bicycles in the Taisho period which followed, demand for a kit bag which could be slung from a bicycle handle arose, and bags for workers at sake shops, milk shops, carpenters, and gardeners began to be created. From this point, bags were made by cutting thick pieces of canvas one at a time and sewing them together with a sewing machine. Everything, including things like attachment of metal fittings, is done by hand. Colors, patterns, and styles have led to new bags in keeping with the times, but the rejection of compromise on durability and usability is the same as ever.

Kanaami(Wire netting)

Most of the wire netting used for various cooking implements in Japanese kitchens is manufactured by machine. Handmade wire netting, however, is still produced in Kyoto by the traditional method of weaving wires around nails fixed to a board. The benefit of handmade netting is that the desired mesh pattern can be created for specific applications. Tofu scoops, netting for flame broiling, tea strainers, colanders and numerous other types of products are produced in small quantities, Production is backed by strong demand generated by the handmade products’ ease-of-use and the fact that the netting can be easily replaced.


Kyo-shippo is an enamelling technique revived with methods introduced from China in the early Edo Period(17th-19th centuries).It is used for decorating jewelry boxes, dressers, and other box items.

Kirigane(Gold Leaf Work)

“Kirigane” is the technique of cutting gold leaf into small pieces to affix to Buddhist images and scrolls. Introduced to Japan from China in the Nara Period(8th century), it was widely used to decorate Buddhist statues, paintings, and various other artwork. “Kirigane” flourished during the Heian Period(8th-12th centuries) and Kamakura Period(12th-14th centuries), and has since been used primarily to make “e-honzon”(Buddhist pictures mounted on hanging scrolls). The art has been kept alive by “kirigane” craftsmen at Kyoto’s Higashi Honganji and Nishi Honganji temples. ”Kirigane” is recently attracting attention for new uses such as decorating wooden boxes.

Sukiya-Kanagu(Metal Fittings)

Although Japanese architecture has greatly changed over the centuries, one representative style is the “sukiya” style of architecture which flourished in the days of the samurai. Used for tea ceremony rooms, it was characterized by “sukiya-kanagu” – black wrought iron hardware fittings that originated in Kyoto and met the impeccable aesthetic sense of tea ceremony masters. The methods used to cut, forge, and braze the iron involved traditional techniques that today are still performed by hand. A specials final quenching process was used to obtain the characteristic coal-black finish.


“Sanada-himo” are braids used on items such as paulownia boxes made by Kyoto’s cabinetmakers. They were originally used for sword knots and sword grips. The “sanada-himo” are colored using natural plant dyes and are woven in beautiful patterns employing the same methods used for textiles. Brown dye comes from the skin of the Japanese chestnut, yellow from Cape jasmine, red from safflower, purple from gromwell root. The dyes are obtained from about 70 different plant species. “Sanada-himo” differ in style and appearance from “kumihimo” braids and are the narrowest textile with such a long history. This is a traditional craft found only in Kyoto.


“Nenju” rosaries were introduced to Japan with Buddhism. Originally rare and precious, the spread of Buddhism brought wider use of “Nenju” from the Heian Period(8th-12th centuries) to the Kamakura Period(12th-14th centuries). Permission to trade in “Nenju” during the Edo Period(17th-19th centuries)made them available to the general public. Kyoto has many head temples of various Buddhist sects, and the techniques of making “Nenju” have been passed down from generation to generation.

Kyo-Butsudan(Buddhist Household Altar)

Today’s Buddhist altars, butsudan, are derived from miniature personal shrines housing a Buddhist image. For centuries used only by the aristocracy and samurai class, butsudan became common in the home following the religious reforms of the early Edo Period (17th-19th centuries). There are approximately 3,000 shrines and temples-including several hundred main temples-in Kyoto, which has been a center of Buddhist teaching since the Heian Period. Kyoto butsudan are known for elegant craftsmanship, including lacquer and gold foil decoration, and depend on numerous highly skilled crafts, including woodworking and woodcarving, metalcraft, and lacquering (lacquer application, gold leaf work, and gold makie).

Kyo-Butsugu (Buddhist Household Altar Implements)

“Butsugu” are Buddhist religious objects. The production of “Kyo-butsugu” began around the 8th century in the days of the famous Buddhist monks Saicho and Kukai, who were instrumental in spreading the Buddhist faith in Japan. The art of making “Kyo-Butsugu” reached its peak in the early 11th century with the sculptor Jocho and many other craftsmen of exceptional artistic talent. Generally classified into objects for temple use and those for home use, and varying somewhat among the different Buddhist sects, these are well over 1,000 types of “butsugu” religious objects, including not only statuary and other Buddhist images but also altar sanctuaries, miniature shrines, incense burners, bells, and candle holders. Here in Kyoto, where the head temples of many of the Buddhist sects are located, the techniques for making “butsugu” developed through a constant search for the utmost in quality. This dedication to excellence has spread throughout Japan as a legacy for this sacred craft.


Traditional Japanese candles are called “warosoku” and were originally developed primarily in Kyoto. A wick is made by wrapping the pith of the boneset plant around “washi” paper, then coating it with wax obtained from the fruit of the sumac tree. Although “warosoku” come in both tapered and cylindrical shapes, they are always long and thin. Made only from plant materials, “warosoku” are characterized by a clean burning flame that produces very little soot. They are used in Buddhist and other religious ceremonies, and in recent years demand has grown together with the revival of performing the Japanese tea ceremony at night.

Nohmen(Noh Mask)

The art of making Noh masks was perfected in the Muromachi Period(14th-16th centuries). There are approximately 200 different Noh masks, separated into the 5 basic categories of “shin”, “nan”, “jo”, “kyo” and “ki”(gods, males, females, madness and demons). The masks are made of Japanese cypress. The lumber is harvested and goes through rough carving and fine carving, then the eyes and teeth are set, and the mask is finished by lacquering and painting. Noh masks represent the crystallization of the traditional techniques used in their production.


“Shirabe” are the tension and tuning cords used for “kozutsumi”, small drums with shapes resembling two cones joined at a point, and “ookawa” and “taiko”, large barrel-shaped laced drums used for Noh, kabuki, “nagauta” long epic songs, traditional folk songs and festivals. “Shirabe” have a very long history. Noh musicians and street performers made their own “shirabe” using any type of fiber until professional specialists emerged around the 10th year of the Meiji Period(1877). Today, “shirabe” are made of materials such as flax or hemp, which go through 25 manufacturing steps including dyeing before completion.

Hogakki-Ito(The Strings of a Japanese Musical Instrument)

The technique for making “hogakki-ito” strings for the “biwa”, “koto”, “shamisen”, and other stringed instruments used in traditional Japanese folk music and imperial court music was born here in Kyoto. “Hogakki-ito” strings are made by twisting and stretching silk thread over and over again, and even today the entire process is still done by hand. The three basic gauges in descending order of thickness are No.1, 2 and 3, with subclassifications for each different instrument. “Hogakki-ito” must reliably produce the exact sound required for each instrument, so their production demands an exceptional level of skill and long years of experience.

Shamisen (Three-stringed Japanese Lute)

The shamisen is said to be an improved version of the shabisen, brought to Osaka’s Sakai district 400 years ago, in the Eiroku period. Created using wood such as Indian redsander wood, the shamisen is made up of a pegbox (tenjin), neck (sao), and body (dou). Very careful techniques are required in placing the skin on the body, stretching it until it just about to tear. The planning and manufacturing is mostly done in Kyoto, where skills are maintained to fulfill orders for thick, normal, and thin strings as well as for particular schools of shamisen, and most of the production process is by hand. It is a Japanese instrument which is indispensable to the stages of the pleasure districts of Kyoto.

Shakuhachi (Shakuhachi Flutes)

The shakuhachi flute is a type of traditional Japanese woodwind. It first was introduced from Tang dynasty China as a “gagaku” (court music) instrument. It then entered a period where little about the flute is known, evolving into its present form throughout the Kamakura and Edo periods (nearly 1000 years). Its name comes from its length (one shaku plus eight sun in the Japanese measurement system, about 54.5 cm). Starting with a Japanese timber bamboo’s base, any knots are cut out of the inside of the pipe, and the diameter is adjusted by layering a mixture of lacquer, plaster, and water. In Kyoto, traditional handicraft skills are combined with acoustics research, each shakuhachi being touted as meeting the highest standards.


The making of “yumi”, or Japanese bows, in Kyoto began in the Muromachi Period(14th-16th centuries). Production originally focused on decorative bows that served as symbols for defense of the capital. Up until the Meiji Period, only a limited number of authorized producers made “yumi” to fill the demand from feudal clans throughout Japan. Today, although some “yumi” are made as sacred symbols for use in the Emperor’s Court or at Ise Shrine, which is dedicated to the Emperor, most “yumi” are produced today as practice bows for traditional Japanese archery. “Yumi” are made from “madake” bamboo with a core of sumac. The materials are laminated together using a glue called “nibe”, which is made by boiling down buckskin. “Yumi” are made with great care and attention to detail, with the most extravagant “yumi” taking as long as 12 or 13 years to complete. Some “yumi” are lacquered or decorated with gold leaf of other precious materials.


In ancient times “ya”, or arrow, were an everyday item used both for archery practice and in special ceremonies by the samurai and nobility. In the Edo Period(17th-19th centuries), each feudal clan had its own skilled arrow maker in order to preserve the techniques of the craft. Although the production of “ya” dropped off sharply during the Meiji Period, traditional ceremonial arrows called “yusoku-shiki-ya” which are used in special rituals and for decoration are still made in Kyoto. There are over 10 types of ceremonial “ya”, including the “kabura-ya” with a turnip-shaped head that emits an unusual sound as the arrow flies, and the “jinto-ya” with a rounded head to avoid causing damage when used in games. As traditional Japanese archery has recently enjoyed a revival of popularity, especially among junior high and high school students, demand is currently growing for “ya” for use in archery practice.


Here in Kyoto, which served as home to the Emperor for over 1,000 years until the Meiji Restoration in 1868, a wide variety of ceremonies, festivals, and other events are held on a regular basis. Sacred Shinto rituals are also frequently conducted at Kyoto’s numerous shrines. The specialized crafts for making the various implements and costumes needed for these ceremonies and other events have flourished in Kyoto for many centuries. “Shingi-chodo” refers to the various implements used in Shinto-related ceremonies including such things as wooden trays, mirrors, bamboo blinds, screens, flags, curtains, and court music instruments, to name just a few. “Shingi-shozoku” refers to the clothing and accessories worn at traditional Shinto ceremonies, such as imperial court costumes and the robes worn by Shinto priests. In both cases, all of the many different items are produced in very small quantities and the majority are made by hand.

Traditional architecture

As the capital of Japan for 1000 years, there was plenty of time for the techniques of building palaces, temples, castles, private residences and tea houses to advance to a high level in Kyoto, and foreign technologies were also brought in and made Japanese. The traditional carpentry techniques used in miya-style temple and shrine construction, machiya-style town house construction, sukiya-style tea house construction, sheeting metal and plasterer are representative cultural heritage of Japan.

Kyo Kashi (Japanese Sweets)

In Kyoto, which has had numerous shrines and temples since ancient times, “shinsen” sweets and “butsuzen” sweets were used as offerings. The “to-gashi” (Tang sweets) brought back by emissaries to Tang dynasty China evolved into “cha-no-yu-no-kashi” (cakes served with tea). Though the basic types of Kyo kashi are “namagashi”, “hannamagashi”, and “higashi”, depending on their use and origin, Kyo kashi can also be classified into other categories. For example, there are the “giten-gashi” used in festivals and ceremonial occasions, the “kisetsu-gashi” enjoyed each season, the namagashi and higashi used in tea ceremonies, and the gift sweets used as souvenirs by tourists and locals. Kyo kashi are handmade, the meticulously attentive techniques for producing them being passed down from person to person.

Kyo Tsukemono (Kyoto-style Pickles)

Kyoto-style pickles have a long history, beginning more than 800 years ago. It is said that when the empress dowager Kenrei Tokuko, known from the Tale of the Heike, was living in seclusion in Ohara-no-Sato, villagers presented her with summer vegetables pickled with perilla to cheer her up. There are a variety of types of Kyoto-style pickles, but for all of them ingredients from Kyoto are used wherever possible, a unique handmade flavor is produced, and time as well as great care is taken in production using traditional techniques.

Kyo Ryouri (Kyoto-style Cuisine)

The origins of Kyoto-style cuisine include styles such as the “Yusoku cuisine” of the nobility, the “Honzen cuisine” of the warrior class, the “Shojin cuisine” derived from the preparation methods of temples, and the “Kaiseki cuisine” which developed along with the Japanese tea ceremony. These various styles became linked as a system, and then fused together, with 1200 years of dynasties becoming the foundation from which today’s Kyoto-style cuisine emerged. Kyoto-style cuisine is defined as cuisine which is tasted with the five senses (visual beauty, fragrance, deliciousness, touch, and mind).