A Dutch delegation visited Nagasaki and Fukuoka from 5 to 9 April at the invitation of the Dutch Embassy in Tokyo and DutchCulture. This visit was arranged in collaboration with the Crafts Council Nederland, an organisation that focuses on maintaining and developing creative trades for artistic, economic, social and cultural purposes. The highlight of this Kyushu trip was a meeting of experts called Holland – Kyushu: Crafts, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which took place on 7 April 2016 in Fukuoka and was attended by various specialists from the Netherlands, Kyushu and Tokyo.
Crafts and aging craftspeople
During the meeting with Japanese craftspeople, the Dutch experts were amazed at the diversity and sophistication of Japanese crafts. Compared with the Netherlands, where traditional methods of workmanship have almost entirely disappeared, Japanese crafts still play a role in daily life, according to Marion Poortvliet, director of the Crafts Council Nederland.
Kyushu is split into seven prefectures, each with its own local trades. Someone who knows a lot about that is Rei Watanabe from Unagi no Nedoko: ‘Because the local scene here is still very vibrant, with all sorts of people living here and not only working on various crafts but doing other activities, Kyushu is completely self-sufficient.’ Yet the Dutch experts noted that Japanese crafts are also facing a decreasing demand for traditional products and aging craftspeople. As a result, traditional skills and techniques are in danger of disappearing. ‘We were extremely hospitably welcomed and were granted a look at the lives of these craftspeople, who sometimes have been practicing the same trade for 30, 40, 50 years. Most of them are already rather old and the main topic of discussion was and is: How do you find new, young people who want to move to the provinces and completely dedicate themselves to learning a trade…? Within five or 10 years a lot of these workplaces will be gone and unique knowledge and heritage will also be gone along with them. These people are so at one with their craft, their workplace and the objects they make, that you immediately get the feeling when you are there that finding a replacement in a short period of time is an almost impossible task,’ writes Geertje Jacobs, Head of Museum Affairs of the TextielMuseum, in her blog. Because the older generation makes little or no use of the Internet, craftspeople are often difficult to locate. This is also true for their Dutch colleagues who practice their trade in a traditional manner. The question of how to keep crafts alive occupied the experts during their trip.
Innovation and the future
It became quite clear during the meeting that, in both the Netherlands and Japan, innovation and rejuvenation are necessary if traditional methods are to be kept alive. The experts were convinced that these two countries are ideal partners that can complement and strengthen one another: the Japanese with their high quality workmanship, knowledge of materials and production methods and skills and the Dutch with their flexibility, proactive attitude, communication expertise and out-of-the-box thinking.
Says Marion Poortvliet, ‘For the Dutch participants, the stay in Japan was also a unique opportunity away from the daily routine to exchange knowledge and make plans for working together.’ After their working visit, the delegation flew back to the Netherlands full of ideas and inspiration. They also inspired each other and are now conferring amongst themselves about starting a new project. At the invitation of Geertje Jacobs, a meeting is being held at the Textile Museum in the summer for the Dutch delegation and DutchCulture, to among other things discuss the new projects that have sprung from this highly successful working visit. Plans are already being developed for a second meeting of experts in the autumn.
The members of the Dutch delegation were:
Marion Poortvliet (Director of Crafts Council Nederland)
Geertje Jacobs (Head of Museum Affairs of the TextielMuseum)
Jeroen van den Eijnde (teacher and researcher at ArtEZ)
Charlotte Landsheer (Director of Cor Unum)
Emiko Chujo (Director of Japan Cultural Exchange/MONO JAPAN).
The Japanese participants were:
Minako Ikeda van (Kyushu University),
Etsuko Miki van (Arita College of Ceramics)
Tomohiko Akimoto van (Loft Work)
Takaharu Hamano van (Saga Ceramics Research Laboratory)
Tomoko Fujiwara van het (Kyushu Ceramic Museum)
Kyohei Baba van (Maruhiro Inc.)
Takahiro Shiramizu van (Unagi no Nedoko)
Nobuyuki Shiki (Arita 2016/)