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Japanese Gardens: The significance of aesthetics

Japanese gardens are often affiliated with the natural and botanical culture that the Japanese embrace. Japanese gardens are made to reflect a small landscape with its basic principle being to create harmony and balance. The oldest Japanese text based on Japanese gardens is Sakuteiki (Records of Garden Making) the work of which was based on verbal traditions which were published for the first time in the 11th century.

Types of garden

There are many different types of Japanese gardens that can be explored. There are the contemplation or thinking styles of Japanese gardens, also known as kanshō, which are designed to be studied and enjoyed from one specific place. The stroll or walking styles of Japanese gardens, known as shūyū, are intended to be looked at from a path. The boating or pleasure-boat styles of Japanese gardens, or funasobi, are centred on a large pond and, lastly, the many-pleasure style of Japanese gardens, or kaiyū, which have a central pond and many paths, combining aspects of kanshō, shūyū and funasobi gardens.

Favoured features

Japanese gardens always incorporate water into their landscapes, whether it be a pond or a stream. Water has the ability to capture the essence of nature which is what makes  Japanese gardens so distinctive and appealing to observers. In traditional gardens, the ponds and streams are carefully placed according to Buddhist geomancy, the art and science of putting things in the place most likely to attract good fortune. It is believed that the water of gardens will allow the owner of the garden to have a healthy and long life if the flow goes from the east to west, where evil is carried away. Another favourable arrangement of water flow in Japanese gardens is from the north, which represents water, to south which represents fire, both of which are opposites, or yin and yang, which are said to bring good luck.
Rocks and Sand
Rock, sand and gravel are an essential feature of Japanese gardens. The specific placement of stones in the gardens are designed to symbolise and represent islands and mountains, as well as be an aesthetically pleasing property of traditional gardens. Rock placement is generally used to portray nature in its essential characteristics, which is the essential goal of all Japanese gardens.
Garden Bridges
Bridges first appeared in Japanese gardens during the Heian period with the bridge symbolizing the path to paradise and immortality. Bridges are usually, made from, stone, wood or logs that have been covered with moss to create wither an arched or flat structure. During the Edo period, when large promenade Japanese gardens became popular, streams and winding paths were constructed alongside a series of bridges, to take visitors on a tour of the scenic views of the garden.
Stone Lanterns ans Water Basins
Japanese stone lanterns date back to the Nara period and the Heian period. Originally they were located only at Buddhist temples, where they lined the paths and approaches to the temple. According to tradition, they were introduced to the tea garden by the first great tea masters, and in later gardens, they were used purely for decoration. Stone water basins, also known as tsukubai were originally placed in Japanese gardens for visitors to wash their hands and mouth before the tea ceremony.
Trees and Flowers
Nothing in Japanese gardens is natural or left to chance; each plant is chosen according to their aesthetic principles, either to hide undesirable sights or to serve as a backdrop to certain garden features to create a picturesque scene. Trees are selected and arranged by their autumn colours, moss is used to give Japanese gardens their ancient feel and flowers are carefully selected by there season of flowering. Some complimenting plants are chosen for their religious symbolism, such as the lotus, sacred in Buddhist teachings, or the pine, which represents longevity.
Fish, particularly nishiki-goi, also known as coloured carp, or goldfish are used as a decorative element in gardens, an influence borrowed from that of the Chinese garden. Goldfish were developed in China more than a thousand years ago by selectively breeding Prussian carp for colour mutations. By the Song dynasty, many colourations had been developed. These newly bred goldfish were then introduced to Japan in the 16th century where they were popularly used in Japanese gardens amongst other breeds of fish, such as koi and carp.
At Atelier Japan, we understand the true importance of traditional Japanese aesthetics, that’s why all of our collections are handcrafted by master artisans to create pieces that are time honoured and reflective of Japan’s cultural design. Explore our collections to browse more of our bespoke collections of fans, tea, silverware, jewellery and pottery.

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Japanese Silver: Trading over time

Although Japanese silver has been used in Japan internally since the earliest periods of Japan’s history, the precious metal became most prominent in terms of external trade and industry in the 16th-18th centuries. After having imported silver from China until this time, the dynamic shifted in this era with China importing Japanese silver in exchange for their coveted silks.

General History of Silver in Japan

In the 16th and 17th centuries Japan engaged in maritime trade on a large scale for the first time. Europe, particularly the Netherlands and Portugal, turned to Japan for trade. Japanese silver mines would become one of the chief sources for silver in the worldwide market. After William Adams, the English navigator, initiated trade with Japan on behalf of the Dutch East India Company, the Dutch were given extensive rights to trading with Japan over other European countries. Most Japanese silver trading happened in Nagasaki, a coastal city on the northwestern island of Kyushu. Initially, Japan was keen to exchange their silver for the desirable silk which China was famous for producing. Originally China was the main exporter of silver in the East, but when their mines started to deplete this title shifted to Japan, with China ironically becoming one of the biggest procurers of Japanese silver. By the 17th century, Japan was exporting so much of the precious Japanese silver that the Tokugawa Shogunate tried many different methods to minimize this trade. Most of these ventures backfired, particularly the attempt to abolish the itowappu silk monopoly. In 1668 the trading of silver externally was banned completely. However, although the Shogunate successfully halted exportation by the 1760s, the silver mines of Japan were already highly depleted.  

Iwami Ginzan

Iwami Ginzan was the largest Japanese silver mine in the whole of Japan and was in operation for nearly four hundred years, from 1526-1923. Situated in the Iwami province, this site was highly contested and has been owned by different factions and families over the centuries. Iwami Ginzan opened under the stewardship of ‘Bakufu’, the then government, and was later managed by the infamous Fujita Company in the Meiji and Taisho eras. Between the 16th and 17th centuries this Japanese silver mine could produce as much as 150 tons of Japanese silver a year due to imported technology. The Japanese refined a technique imported from Korea and China called haifuki-ho and this was first used in Iwami Ginzan. This process involved adding lead to the Japanese silver ore and blowing hot air into the mixture to melt them together. Excavations of the site started in 1993 and since its closure in 1923 no documents of the actual management of Iwami Ginzan have been found, though a lot can be learned through records of political history. Iwami Ginzan became a national heritage site in 2007.

Kyoto and Silver

Ginkaku-ji is one of Kyoto’s most famous temples. It is easy to confuse this pavilion with Kinkau-ji, which is the more renowned of the two. Kin in Japanese means gold, and Gin is the word for silver. Kinkaku-ji was originally the home of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and was made into a complex that was then converted into a Zen Buddhist temple on his request after his death. The pavilion has had to be repaired twice due to fires, but the roof is still made from pure gold-leaf. The building of Ginkaku-ji was initiated by Ashikaga Yoshimasa but the Japanese silver leaf covering that he desired to top the temple with was not achieved before his death and has still never been applied, even in renovations. Instead there is lacquer on the roof which gives off a Japanese silver sheen, which still creates a stunning sight. Despite the fact that actual Japanese silver is not used, this temple is still known as Ginkakuji, the temple of silver, and is a popular monument in Kyoto. In terms of real silver trade in Kyoto, the main use in tradition in this city has been in inlay, which we have discussed in a previous blog. Kyoto has always used silver for many of their crafts and designs but was never known as a silver-producing region. However, Japanese silver is an important aspect of trade, featuring heavily in many traditional art forms in the city.

Silver on Atelier Japan

Used particularly in inlay design, Atelier Japan features many different products that are made from Japanese silver, or use the precious metal in their designs. Kazariya-Ryo produce pure silverware in a variety of different objects, and Zinlay provide our stunning inlay items, which use both Japanese silver and gold, all available to purchase on Atelier Japan.

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Japanese Etiquette: A guide to the unique culture of Japan

Japan is widely known to have a very unique society, especially when it comes to Japanese etiquette and even more so when compared to its neighbouring countries in North East Asia. It can be quite difficult for Westerners to understand these differences and usually, as long as you act polite and respectful, a Japanese person would not expect you to know all the ins and outs of their culture and what is classed as Japanese etiquette. However, there are some simple insights that can help anyone trying to break into the business world in Japan and ensure you will make the most out of any experience with a Japanese company.

First Impressions

Japanese etiquette is highly important when it comes to first impressions. The first impression that you create when meeting a prospective Japanese business partner is crucial to the success of the whole relationship. In Japan, tardiness is considered impolite, and often Japanese people will arrive early with the general view that it is much better to be too early than too late, punctuality is a large part of Japanese etiquette. So, if you think that you might be running behind even by just a few minutes, it’s best to let them know.
When meeting someone for the first time, it’s important to know the custom of giving and receiving business cards, as this interaction will establish how the person views you and create an affiliation which leads to trust. If you are given a business card, ‘meishi’, Japanese etiquette requires that is to be presented in both hands with the face up. The polite response is to take the card in both hands and read it carefully before putting it away neatly. Commenting on the card will also go a long way. A big cultural faux pas would be to stuff the card in a back pocket and sit on it, throw it away or write on it in front of the person. This is an easy mistake to make, so this a custom of Japanese etiquette to be careful of.
The society in Japan is very hierarchical with a strong emphasis on age, with the older person being superior. It is traditional Japanese etiquette to refer to each other by the person’s surname plus the suffix ‘san’, and remembering this will pleasantly surprise the person you are meeting.


Courtesy is a good word to remember when visiting Japan or meeting Japanese people; Japanese society is very honorific, and the idea of ‘face’ and loss of it is an incredibly important part of Japanese etiquette, almost to an extreme level. If you are associating with a Japanese person, anything that causes you embarrassment or loss of face would also affect them. The language used by the Japanese will be polite and tempered and it is not normal for them to use aggressive or assertive language. When dealing with a difficult situation, it is Japanese etiquette to stay calm as this will help to resolve any problems sooner.


Typically, Japanese etiquette suggests that the purpose of a meeting in Japan is to affirm your relationship and endorse prepared work rather than discussing new ideas. New proposals will often not be accepted in the meeting, so don’t panic if you feel you aren’t getting anywhere. Usually, many of the associates will attend, particularly if you are not that familiar with each other. It is traditional of Japanese etiquette for the most senior representative to talk and the junior associates to remain silent, although this is now changing to match the increasing need to speak English in business relationships.
Don’t worry about getting an immediate response to the ideas that you bring to the table as this is not typical of Japanese etiquette. Whoever you are meeting represents their whole company and therefore will need to return to their colleagues and discuss extensively. Japan is a consensual society where everything must be viewed meticulously, which can create a slow process that other countries are not used to. The idea behind this way of conducting business is that when the respective parties are ready to go forward with an idea, it will have been so extensively planned that everything will then move very quickly and effectively.

Language and Relations

Japanese is linguistically very different from both English and other Indo-European languages and therefore can be difficult to grasp. Structurally, Japanese is the opposite of English, you’ll find that simple sentences in English become quite long when translated into Japanese, and vice versa.
There is a concept relating to Japanese business arrangements that the relationship comes first and the business will follow.  The Japanese traditionally have social events after formal events, and there are several different layers to these. The idea behind this piece of Japanese etiquette is to create a more relaxed and personal atmosphere to build trust. These social interactions can also be very fun and give you a chance to sample traditional sake or Japanese beer with locals who know all the best ones.

Things Not To Do

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there are a few things to avoid doing in Japanese company that are culturally very different and go against Japanese etiquette. Don’t blow your nose in public; the Japanese will instead sniff. This is quite difficult for westerners to get their heads around as the opposite is polite respectively, but in order to avoid awkward stares, this is a good rule to follow. Furthermore, slurping when eating noodles and soup is considered polite, showing that you enjoy the food. So you can forget your grandma’s rules about making noise when eating and relax. Swearing is not part of the Japanese language, instead, they would express disrespect in different ways. It’s not natural for them to openly express disrespect to others, although unfortunately Western swear words are making their way into young Japanese culture, particularly the media.
If you keep in mind these Japanese etiquette rules, they will help you make the most of this wonderful country and reciprocate the respect that is already present within Japanese society. If you are looking to discover more on Japanese culture and tradition, why not take a look around the Atelier Japan website where you can find an exquisite range of traditionally handcrafted fans, tea, pottery and jewellery. 

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Japanese Myths and Legends: An ancient approach

Japan, like many other countries and cultures, has a rich and mysterious tradition of Japanese Myths and Legends passed down from generation to generation. As is true of any myth, the stories often have different versions and can contrast hugely. Much of Japan’s history is already steeped in mystery, so it can be difficult to distinguish myth from history.

Japan’s Gods and the Creation Myths

There are many religious Japanese Myths and Legends to explore. In Shinto religion, gods are synonymous with nature and are one and the same. There are thousands of kami (deities) in Japan, as there are local gods of every region and town, and many Japanese will revere the kami of their nearest shrine. However, there are also famous deities recognised by all as the main gods of Japanese Myths and Legends. In the Kojiki (‘Record of Ancient Myths) and the Nihon Shoki, which both chronicle Japan’s history and legend, the gods come about in the creation story through particles forming the heavens where the gods appear. These gods are collectively known as the ‘Kotoamatsukami’.
When these celestials formed the earth, more gods appeared. Izanagi (the ‘exalted male’ deity) and Izanami (the ‘exalted female’ deity) are perhaps the most famous of the gods, as they are sent to rule on earth and start life there. They eventually have children, after a failed attempt where two abominations were formed, to the eight great islands of Japan, all representing different aspects of nature. When Izanami died in childbirth, one legend is that Izanagi, stricken with grief, travelled to ‘Yomi’, the underworld, to bring her back. He was too late as her body had already decayed. Izanagi had to flee the underworld after Izanami, who had eaten food there and become one of the dead and decaying spirits, chased him. When he escaped, he purified himself from the effects of Yomi, which fits in with the Japanese ideology of death and decay as impure. From the water of his left eye Amaterasu was formed; from his right eye, Tsukiyomi-no-Mikoto the moon god; and from his nose, Susanoo, the trickster god of the sea.

Amaterasu and Susanoo

These two of the three are particularly notorious in Japanese Myths and Legends and modern-day Japan. In all stories surrounding the two, they are seen to have distinct sibling rivalry. Susanoo is often represented as an annoying brother who loved to play tricks and upset Amaterasu. There is also a common portrayal of him as a ‘snot-nosed’ boy, and several stories that suggest he was formed from snot. In the most widely accepted version of the myth of Amaterasu and Susanoo, the brother terrorises his sister after they had a competition to see who could produce the most divine children, by throwing a half-flayed horse (Amaterasu’s sacred animal) into her weaving hall. The display upsets Amaterasu so much that she runs away and shuts herself up in a cave. Since she is the Sun Goddess, the world and the heavens fall into darkness, causing the other gods to get involved. They all go to the cave to try to get her to come out, but she refuses. In the end, she is caught by a ‘strong-armed’ god when she peeks out of her hiding place to see an amusing display put on by the goddess of merriment. The Sun is restored to the universe and Susanoo is exiled. However, on earth he saves a human girl from a dragon which he then defeats, and then marries the girl, creating descendants that Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan in legend, is said to relate to.

The Hare of Inaba

Moving away from Japanese Myths and Legends surrounding gods, Japan has many legends concerning morals and metaphorical political ideals. One of these is the tale of the ‘Hare of Inaba’. In one version of this urban myth, a hare tricks some crocodiles into forming a bridge for him to cross over to an island. The crocodiles learn of the trick and tear off all the hare’s fur. The hare, sobbing about his misfortune, is told by a group of men passing by that he should bathe in sea water and then dry in the sun. He follows this advice but this leads to more pain as the salt burns his wounds. Another man tells him to wash in fresh-water and to then roll in cattails pollen. This time it works and the grateful hare promises the man, who turns out to be the fairy Okumi-nushi-no-Mikoto, that he will marry the princess Yakami. This story is widely taken to metaphorically represent Japan’s struggle to escape barbarism and the beginning of modern Japan. The ‘Hare of Inaba’ is still one of the most popular Japanese Myths and Legends story today, and often features in festivals, artwork and shrines.

The Tale of Genji

Another famous Japanese Myths and Legends story was written by the noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu, who was also a lady-in-waiting, around the year 10,000 CE. Centering on Genji, the son of the emperor in the tale and his mistress, this story tells of Genji’s exploits at court. In the tale, Genji’s mother dies and this causes him to be branded a commoner by his father, since Genji was also not popular at court. After having ventures of his own outside court-life, Genji’s position in the palace is later restored after his father dies and the crown prince later abdicates in favour of a son who turns out to be Genji’s. This Japanese Myths and Legends story is believed to be representative of contemporary court life, and provides unrivalled insight into the life of nobles and imperials at this time, despite being entirely fictional.

Mythology Represented on Atelier Japan

Japanese Myths and Legends still have a firm place in current Japanese society, and influence many art forms and religious representations. Atelier Japan features fans, produced by our wonderful makers Komaruya, that embody these ancient Japanese Myths and Legends. The Japanese God of Thunder fan and the Japanese God of Wind fan both draw on the heritage of Japanese kami, and the Tale of Genji fan showcase this legendary story that still has relevance with Japanese society today. Browse our website to discover our unique range of handcrafted Japanese products. 

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Japanese Business Etiquette: Building bridges overseas


Japanese Business Etiquette is quite separate from others, even from those in neighbouring countries in North East Asia.  Amongst themselves there is a clear Japanese Business Etiquette in terms of hierarchical structure and coded behaviour for interaction. The most noticeable feature to external eyes is the bowing culture.  There are subtle differences between bows, reflecting both social and gender differences.
The good news is that none of this should concern people who are not Japanese!  A simple rule of thumb for a UK national dealing with the Japanese is to act politely in the way that you normally would and this will usually be more than enough.
There are, however, a few things that might be worth bearing in mind.


In Japan it is impolite to be late.  Japanese will err on the side of being much too early, and wait, rather than be late.  If you are going to be late, then it is important to contact your host in advance and warn them, if a delay is inevitable.  At receptions, Japanese turn up exactly on time and, when the senior man present decides it is time to go, those in his group will all leave together.

Business Cards and Introductions

In Japan the exchange of business cards is important.  It establishes affiliation which brings the ability quickly to trust.  A Japanese will hand you his business card, usually with both hands, with the face up and script towards the recipient, so that it is easy to read.  The normal response is to spend a little time looking and perhaps to make a little small talk, such as “I see your office is in Tokyo” or something similar.
You should not write on someone else’s business card when they are present.
When meeting several people for the first time, it is often customary to place cards in front of you, with cards reflecting the seating plan, so that you can remind yourself who is who.
Business cards should be put away carefully, preferably in a business card holder, but a wallet or Filofax or similar neat storage is fine.  Best not to follow one senior example of throwing all cards away as you leave a function! Also, do not put in your back pocket and then sit on them.
For those introducing people, particularly in a business context, there is a responsibility to ensure that the introduction has a good chance of success.  The role of the intermediary in Japanese culture is highly respected and important. If an introduction leads to a bad experience, the reputation of the intermediary will be adversely affected.


Japanese usually call each other by surname plus san. First names are rarely used, unless someone has spent a long time living abroad and says that he prefers it.
When referring to yourself or a close colleague you would not normally use the suffix “san”.
Amongst Japanese themselves, there is a strong sense of social hierarchy, generally age related.  Two Japanese from the same background will refer to themselves as senior (senpai) and junior (kouhai).  This relative relationship is lifelong, even though the junior may in due course exceed his senior’s career trajectory.  Chairmen and Presidents of companies are obliged to consult with their predecessors (but not necessarily follow advice) when making major strategic decisions.  


The concept of face is common throughout East Asia, but probably most important in Japan.  To lose face is to be humiliated and whilst no one wants to lose face in negotiations, the Japanese will often go to some lengths to ensure that their counterparts do not lose face either.  Consequently, strong or assertive language will not normally be used by them, and they will be confused by aggressive language or behaviour from others in meetings.
The watchword is courtesy.  The Japanese will normally go out of their way to be courteous and will greatly appreciate similar behaviour.


Japanese business culture is still male dominated.  Women are often in larger teams but women in positions of real responsibility are still rare.  Things are slowly changing, and the current government is committed to changing this, but a western business person is likely to be struck by the relative lack of female participation.


Japanese companies will often bring several representatives to a meeting.  Government meetings may well be smaller. The less they know you, the more are likely to attend.  Traditionally, only the senior Japanese representative will speak, and others (more junior) will say nothing.  This has begun to change, at least with those who are more comfortable in English. From a Japanese perspective, a meeting’s purpose is to confirm relationships and endorse work already prepared.  It is not a proactive environment in which new ideas will be immediately accepted, although new ideas can be introduced, as long as there is no expectation of immediate response.


Japan is a consensus society, with everyone buying in to what has officially been agreed.  Consequently, each individual represents his whole organisation at meetings. Do not, therefore, expect decisive responses to suggestions which have been made for the first time at a meeting.  They will need to go back and consult widely before responding. The best meetings will have been well prepared in advance.
A secondary aspect of this consensus culture, is that Japanese effectively do their “due diligence” before committing to a project.  The process can be time consuming and frequent questions will often be repeated. This is because they have come from a different stakeholder, and the answers will be checked for consistency.  If an inconsistency is not explained, it may cause confusion.
The corollary of this initial slow decision making is that, when consensus is reached and a decision is made to commit, the whole organisation will swing behind and move extremely quickly and effectively.  
One of the means by which consensus is achieved for major decisions is through a process called ‘nemawashi’.  Literally, this means going around the roots of a tree when transplanting, and refers to the wide networking through all stakeholders that needs to be undertaken when proposing major change.  
Culturally, both through their education system and the collective approach to society, Japanese are encouraged to focus on precise detail, and to be wary of a conceptual approach.  Change tends to be incremental (kaizen means continuous improvement) and radical change is unsettling.  Processes are agreed through wide consultation; once agreed they can be repeated forever.  However, even the smallest change or discretion can be seen as too much for an individual to approve.  Creating precedent is time consuming, and something that most Japanese would prefer to avoid.

Face value

As part of the collective or consensual society, a Japanese is representing the group at any official event.  He will only answer a question with approved wisdom. Pressure to give an honest opinion will cause confusion.  The Japanese word for the official opinion is ‘tatemae’ or outward face.  Genuine personal opinion is called ‘honne’.  This may be obtained when your trusted relationship has deepened, or during a social event when alcohol has loosened inhibitions.  As all discussion under the influence is considered ‘off the record’, you cannot refer to this in subsequent meetings, even if everyone knows what has been said.


The Japanese language is linguistically extremely different from English and other Indo-European languages.  Syntactically, sentences are constructed in the opposite way so, when interpreting, it can take until the end of the sentence before the meaning is clearly positive or negative.  Translated answers will also seem long as interpreters will use more formal, honorific language. Japanese all learn English at school for several years, but the majority do not practice regularly and have little self confidence.  
Many businesses will have trusted English speakers, but the layer of confidence is often very thin.  Colleagues with less exposure to international contacts may have very little competence, although listening ability is often better than they let on.
Ambiguity is often a virtue in Japanese, as traditionally it can allow both parties to emerge from a meeting with face intact.  Business meetings will need clarity, but this is usually achieved by coordinating the agenda and content before a meeting so that there are few surprises.
Taking an interpreter to meetings in Japan, at least until you are confident about the English language capability of your counterparts, is a sensible precaution.


Traditionally, Japanese will want to add social events to formal meetings.  This allows a more relaxed setting in which to get to know each other and build the necessary trust.  The Japanese word “nomu” means to drink, normally alcohol, and “nommunication”, is the process of talking in a relaxed setting with a drink and some food.  The Japanese will tell you proudly that this is the most important part of any business relationship. Karaoke often follows at a second party, but is not obligatory!
When in a social setting, you will probably find that the Japanese sense of humour is quite closely aligned to British humour.  They love word play and subtle irony. You will also find that their English language ability improves with a couple of drinks!

Long term relationships

It is often said that Japanese make relationships and that business will follow.  There is some truth in this. Taking time to build relationships is of critical importance and once made, you can expect them to be honoured for a long time.  Breaking off a business relationship, particularly abruptly, can badly affect a reputation.
Japanese business etiquette is something often seen in Japan as well as their other customs. Japan continues to take care to support these traditions. When you order from Atelier Japan, you’re directly supporting the culture and the spirits of Japanese makers that have kept traditional Japanese craft alive for centuries. Browse our website to discover more of our range of artisinal fans, tea, jewellery and pottery.

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Japanese Origami: A carefully crafted history

Japanese origami is the ancient art tradition of paper folding. Interestingly, the name of origami can be broken down, with ori meaning ‘folding’ and kami meaning ‘paper’. Japanese origami is the creation of a finished sculpture made from a flat square sheet of paper through a series of folding and sculpting techniques. Modern Japanese origami discourages the use of cutting, glueing or marking the paper as this is associated with kirigami origami which is more characteristic of Chinese papercraft.

An Ancient Art

Traditional Japanese origami has evolved over many hundreds of years from very basic, ritual objects to the myriad of contemporary designs we see today. The origami bases that are the beginnings of so many origami models are Japanese in origin. Many specific origami models have beginnings that are difficult to trace, however, we know that some are much older than others.
In Japan, the earliest reference to a Japanese origami is in a short poem by Ihara Saikaku, written in 1680, which mentions a traditional butterfly design used during Shinto weddings. It then wasn’t until the 1860s when Japan opened its borders that Japanese origami became more prominent. As part of a modernization strategy, Japan imported Froebel’s Kindergarten system, the system of pre-school in which children were taught through creative play, and with it, German ideas about paper folding. These ideas and some of the European folding repertoire were integrated into the Japanese tradition.
By the early 1900s, many people began creating and recording original Japanese origami works. This led to a number of innovations, such as wet-folding and the Yoshizawa–Randlett diagramming system, a diagramming system used to describe the folds of origami models. During the 1980s a number of folders started systematically studying the mathematical properties of folded forms, which led to a rapid increase in the complexity of Japanese origami models.

Exploring Japanese Origami

Action Origami
Action Japanese origami includes origami that flies, requires inflation to complete or, when complete, can be moved by hand from 9intricatley designed flaps or limbs within the origami structure.
Modular Origami
Modular Japanese origami consists of putting a number of identical pieces together to form a complete model. Normally, the individual pieces are simple but the final assembly may be tricky.
Wet Folding
Wet-folding is a Japanese origami technique for producing models with gentle curves rather than geometric straight folds and flat surfaces. The paper is dampened so it can be moulded easily, allowing the final model to keep its shape when it dries.
Pureland Origami
Pureland origami is rather complex as the structure only allows you to use simple mountain and valley folds, with all the folds having to be straightforward. Some Japanese origami designers like the challenge of creating unique origami within these very strict constraints.
Origami Tessellations
Origami tessellation is a branch that has grown in popularity since 2000. A tessellation is a collection of figures filling a plane with no gaps or overlaps. In origami tessellations, pleats are used to connect the paper structures such as twist folds together in a repeating fashion.
Kirigami is a Japanese term for paper cutting. Cutting was often used in traditional origami, but modern innovations in the technique have made the use of cuts unnecessary. Most Japanese origami designers no longer consider models with cuts to be origami, instead using the term ‘Kirigami’ to describe them.
Strip Folding
Strip folding is a combination of paper folding and paper weaving. A common example of strip folding is called the lucky star, dream star, wishing star, or simply origami star where alternating star shapes are crafted by specifically folding and weaving strips of paper.

Traditional Techniques and Materials

When it comes to crafting Japanese origami, there are several basic techniques that are used to create the sculptures. This includes simple diagrams of basic folds, such as the valley and mountain folds, pleats, reverse folds, squash folds, and sinks.
In terms of crafting materials, Japanese origami is made using paper or ‘kami’ that is square and thin, making it suitable for folding. It is commonly coloured on one side and white on the other, however, dual coloured and pattern versions are also often used. Japanese origami is also made using a range of traditional and artisanal Japanese papers such as washi, unryu, lokta, hanji and gampi. Their delicate and thin nature allows them to be easily compressed to create intricate pieces of Japanese origami.
It is common to fold using a flat surface, but some folders like crafting Japanese origami in the air with no tools, especially when displaying the folding. Many folders believe that no tool should be used when folding Japanese origami, however, a couple of tools can help especially with the more complex models. Bone folders, paper clips and tweezers are all often used for more complex and intricate designs.
Looking to explore traditional Japanese craft? At Atelier Japan, all of our pieces are synonymous with Japanese culture, embodying meticulous design, a strong work ethic, and a focus on aesthetic brilliance. Visit our website to browse our collection of traditional tea, silverware, pottery, jewellery and fans that are handcrafted by traditional Japanese artisans.

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Japanese Architecture: Beautifully built buildings

Japanese architecture a standout feature when taking in Japan’s surroundings. The country exhibits a variety of interesting buildings, houses, palaces, temples and shrines, each with their own unique styles. Japanese architecture has evolved vastly from ancient to modern times as early native designs were exposed to strong influences from the Asian mainland. Over time, styles have changed to suit more local tastes and recent history even shows the introduction of Western architecture into Japan.

Preserving architecture

Traditionally, Japanese architecture saw buildings built from wood due to an abundance of timber and the material’s relatively good resistance to earthquakes. Unfortunately, many buildings were lost over the years from Japan’s natural disasters, humid climates, fires and conflict. Given this, a lot of effort has gone into protecting and preserving Japanese architecture, including monumental buildings such as shrines, temples, palaces and castles. Japan is continuing to make efforts to reconstruct and renovate lost buildings of importance all across the country. Today, Japanese architecture has become quite a popular tourist attraction with beautiful pieces that can be seen all across the country.

Intricate history

The distinct look of Japanese architecture dates back to around early 57BC. Before this point, Japanese architecture consisted of wood and dirt floors with very little features differentiating them from homes across the globe. Architects up to this point and until 660AD were influenced by Korea, where buildings were made from stone and timber, however, there are very few remains of these early structures left.
The most important pieces of Japanese architecture are that of shrines, which showcased the very best skills that Japanese architects had to offer. Although shrines were often torn down and rebuilt, newer versions always remained faithful to the original design. The style of shrines heavily influences that of domestic and modern Japanese architecture in terms of its tower design and building materials. Japanese architecture went through several periods of innovation during the history of Japan, with the early 7th Century being dominated by early wooden structures. As Japan entered the Heian Period, in the 9th century, Chinese influences made their mark in Japanese architecture. Wooden temples began to emerge in greater numbers in new styles that were different yet still reminiscent of traditional Japanese design.
As Japan entered into the Kamakura and Muromachi eras, Japanese architecture was characterised by a far simpler design. The major development and design of tea houses became an important cultural statement in Japan. Shortly, Japanese zen architecture, Japanese Buddhist architectural style derived from Chinese Song Dynasty architecture, allowed for the building of castles during the 17th century. These castles were built in a similar style to that of shrines, with wooden structures and contrasting protruding roofs that retained elegance.
After World War II, Japan quickly modernized with the introduction and influence of Western architecture leading to some new and freshly designed buildings made from metal and concrete. Now, Japanese architecture continues to use new materials and different designs whilst still emphasising traditional, religious influences for building and homes that are elegant and unique.

Interior aesthetic

When we think about Japanese architecture, we usually overlook that of the inside aesthetic. Many Japanese buildings boast beautiful exteriors, however, the indoor architecture and aesthetics are just as important and intricate. The most typical feature you will find in Japanese architecture is wood. In old Japanese houses, wood was given great respect and was not concealed by paint or other coatings; it was used in its natural form so that the grain could be appreciated. Influences from Shinto and Buddhism influences come through in the naturalness of Japanese architecture. Both religions have strong connections with nature, amplifying the use of natural light and raw wood.
Another traditional aesthetic feature of Japanese architecture is that of screens and sliding doors. These natural and light screens tend to be constructed of paper and are often handpainted. They are designed to divide and re-divide rooms whilst still allowing for the flow of light and shadows. These features of Japanese architecture and aesthetics have become very common amongst Western countries, who have been inspired by Japanese design and translated into their own aesthetic.
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