EAST LAKE BIWA and MIE
Regions of Japanese Traditional Craftsmenship
In the heart of the Archipelago and at the crossroads of yesteryear, the Lake Biwa region has bristled with castles: Hikone, one of the best preserved in Japan, but also Echizen-Ono and Nagahama. The culture of ninjas and samurai is perpetuated here, as well as the bushidō, the moral code of Japanese warriors. The ninja villages of Kouga and Iga pay homage to ninja culture through museums, traditional houses and through performances.
The region is nourished by hot springs, inundated with waterfalls, crossed by rivers. Converging towards Lake Biwa, the rivers promote the flourishing of traditional crafts.
In these lands of warriors and traditions, where water is omnipresent, artisanal know-how is perpetuated and transmitted: armory, pottery, Shigaraki ceramics (a kind of stoneware pottery), washi paper, cutlery and Echizen lacquers , Sabae eyewear… Folk arts are also present, with the astonishing Hikiyama Festival of Nagahama. The floats carried in procession are so many portable stages on which kabuki pieces are played.
The lush nature is suitable for meditation. The temple of Eihei-ji is one of the two great temples of Sōtō Zen Buddhism. The monastic complex is made up of nearly 70 structures scattered throughout the mountains, sheltered by cedar forests in which we gladly linger.
For over 100 years Sabae City in Fukui Prefecture has been one of the world's leading eyeglass production centers, passing down traditional manufacturing methods to future generations. Over 200 processes are carried out by artisans and specialized factories to produce high-quality eyeglasses with high precision and long-lasting use.
The traditional craft of Echizen lacquerware originated in Fukui about 1,500 years ago. Created with unique lacquering techniques, Echizen lacquerware is used to produce tableware, accessories, and other everyday items. At the Urushi-no-Sato Kaikan, you can try your hand at lacquering, chinkin gold carving inlay, and wiping lacquer techniques.
Tonda Ningyo is a traditional form of Ningyo Joruri puppet theater in Kita-Tonda, Nagahama City, Shiga Prefecture. At the Tonda Ningyo Kaikan, a ningyo joruri puppet theater stage, various puppets and theatrical tools are maintained.
In the 8th century, Emperor Shomu fired roof tiles here to build the Shigaraki Palace. This production area is counted as one of the six oldest kilns in Japan. A wide variety of household utensils were made, including water jars, tea utensils, and tea pots. Today, products such as tableware, flower vases, and ornaments are produced making full use of the characteristic clay.
The Iga region of Mie Prefecture and Shiga Prefectures’ Koka region are the birthplaces of the ninja. The mountains surrounding Iga and Koka are sacred places of mountain Buddhism, and the chanting of sutras by mountain priests can still be heard today. In the Satoyama region are the remains of earthen castles where descendants of the ninja still live. Iga's gunpowder technology can be enjoyed at the Tejikara Shrine’s fireworks displays, while Koka's traditional medicines have been industrialized forming a medicine producing town.
National Treasure listed Hikone Castle was built over 400 years ago. General Ii Naomasa the first lord of Hikone domain, was considered the “right arm” of the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and one of the "Four Heavenly Kings of the Tokugawa". The castle tower features a tsuke-yagura, extended turret, and the roofing gables are rich in variety. In the early Edo period (1603-1868), nearby Nagahama Castle, the first castle built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was abandoned and most of the materials were recycled in the construction of Hikone Castle. As one of the traditional Eight Views of Lake Biwa, the beauty of Hikone Castle in the moonlight is a must-see.
Fukui Prefecture’s Echizen region is home to a number of traditional crafts that have evolved over 1,500 years of history. These include Echizen lacquerware, Echizen washi paper, Wakasa agate crafts and Echizen cutlery.
Hikone City was famed for the production of red armor worn by the ruling Ii clan, Lords of Hikone domain. As such, traditional techniques such as lacquering, wood carving, gold leaf and metal work were perfected here. As times changed, the demand for armor decreased, and so the advanced armory techniques were applied to the production of Buddhist altars, and many stores selling family altars now line the streets.