The traditional crafts of the Tohoku region in the northernmost region of Japan's main Honshu island cover a wide spectrum of traditions and techniques. Beautifully simple and understated are hallmarks of the cherry bark craft found in Akita prefecture, refined lacquerware requiring layer upon layer of work finds a home in Aomori prefecture while the iron casting heritage of Yamagata prefecture and the ethereal porcelain of Fukushima prefecture represent uniquely different expressions of beauty. Here is a simple introduction to some of the traditional crafts found in the Tohoku region.


Despite meaning 'birch craft', Akita prefecture's traditional kaba-zaiku is created from cherry tree bark. Light, durable and water resistant, kaba-zaiku started out as accessories before expanding into containers and display items. With the final form determining which of the three traditional crafting techniques are used, the final result of subdued colouring and natural patterning is truly beautiful.

Kaba-zaiku, Akita (Photo: <a href="http://blog.livedoor.jp/usakuma22-seikatu/archives/1060464076.html" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">Image by うさ</a>)
Kaba-zaiku, Akita (Photo: Image by うさ)

Tsugaru nuri

Established in the Edo period, Aomori prefecture's traditional Tsugaru nuri lacquerware is a beautifully refined expression of practicality and durability. Based on cypress wood, the multi-layered lacquering process requires months of work. Several specialised coating techniques are still used to create the uniquely stylised patterns of the finished product.

Tsugaru lacquerware, Aomori (Photo: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tsugaru_lacquerware_(Tsugarunuri).jpg" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">Kaburamata / CC BY-SA 4.0</a>)
Tsugaru lacquerware, Aomori (Photo: Kaburamata / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Yamagata imono

With over one thousand years of history, the cast iron crafting heritage of Yamagata prefecture's Yamagata imono is a deep one. Also used in industry castings, the artisan tradition features kettles, tea pots and statues that all rely on any number of techniques to help create the fine textures and details that Yamagata imono is famous for.

Yamagata-imono, Yamagata (Photo: <a href="https://itochiha.wordpress.com/2016/02/14/%E7%81%AB%E9%89%A2%E3%81%A8%E3%80%81%E9%89%84%E7%93%B6%E3%81%A8%E3%80%82/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">Image by Itochiha</a>)
Yamagata-imono, Yamagata (Photo: Image by Itochiha)

Obori-soma yaki

Made from locally collected grindstone, the obori-soma yaki of Fukushima prefecture is a kind of porcelain made distinct by its incredibly ethereal blue fissure-patterning. Not only visually impressive, the process of 'cracking' the material when baking adds an aural appeal while the double-firing technique is said to be unique to Fukushima.

Obori-soma porcelain, Fukushima (Photo: <a href="http://koufukutei.blog.jp/archives/51923031.html" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">Image by 亭主</a>)
Obori-soma porcelain, Fukushima (Photo: Image by 亭主)