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Title: Tradition in the making : the life and work of Tokyo craftsmen
Author: Pontsioen, Robert Gerard
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2012
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Abstract:
This dissertation concerns life and work among communities of shokunin – traditional craft practitioners – in contemporary Tokyo. Based primarily on ethnographic fieldwork conducted over a ten month period in 2009, I investigate the historical and contemporary nature of traditional craft production in Tokyo through a consideration of the meaning of making and creativity, the resilience of traditional craft forms, and the reproduction of craft skills in this context. Of the 41 communities of practitioners that produce the designated traditional crafts of Tokyo, I focus specifically on five craft groups among whose practitioners I was able to work most closely with during fieldwork: some komon textile dyers, sashimono wood joiners, ginki silversmiths, kiriko glass cutters, and shamisen lute makers. I delineate the history of Tokyo crafts, from their ancient antecedents in mainland Asia and Western Japan to their maturation as distinct crafting traditions during the Edo and early Meiji periods. Drawing on the previously unrecorded stories, memories, and oral histories relayed to me by craftsmen, I go on to consider the significant challenges and changes to Tokyo crafting traditions that resulted from the Meiji restoration in 1868 and World War II, before discussing the resurgence of Tokyo craft sales during Japan's rise as an economic superpower in the post-war period. I then discuss the diverse range of crafts being made in Tokyo today, categorized according to the primary materials used in their production, through a close examination of the five crafting traditions described above, focusing on the acquisition and nature of the raw materials in use, the tools and techniques involved in processes of making, the channels of craft product distribution, and the unique challenges facing specific Tokyo crafting communities today. I go on to explore the national and prefectural traditional craft designation and promotion systems, as well as the traditional craft guilds (kumiai), in order to illuminate their significance for contemporary Tokyo craft workers and communities. I then draw and expand upon anthropological discussions of creativity, learning, skill, and the mechanisms that facilitate the persistence of culture across generations, to develop four themes relating to the meaning of making traditional craft products among contemporary Tokyo shokunin. First, I argue that the stability of complex traditional craft forms over time emerges out of the mindfulness expressed in concentrated attention (shūchū) and shared routine bodily gestures inherent in processes of making. I then address the prioritization of concept over skill that has long constrained Western understandings of making, by illustrating the way in which creativity, rather than being a strictly mental process, is expressed in craft practitioners' ongoing engagement with the tools, materials, and conditions of skilled work. Next, I consider the sociality of making traditional Tokyo crafts and how it has been affected by dramatic changes to the accepted channels of craft product distribution in recent decades. Finally, I consider the way in which a decline in the live-in apprenticeship system and the loss of ‘easy jobs' have led to dramatic changes to traditional apprenticeships. I conclude that in responding to these and other challenges, Tokyo shokunin have not abandoned the ideals of traditional craft life and work, but rather have successfully adapted craft practices in ways that are commensurate with the values and goals they consider to be distinctive of their work and vital to the legacy of their traditions.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Sasakawa Foundation ; Smithsonian Institution ; University of Aberdeen ; Scottish Overseas Research Awards Scheme
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.619163  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Artisans
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