My FavoriteMy FavoriteMy Favorite

Artisanal Creations Infused with Wishes “The Shimanean Vol.85”

     Twice a year, spring/summer and autumn/winter, CIRs (Coordinators for International Relations) visit places throughout Shimane and write about their experiences in their bi-annual magazine Shimanean. The CIRs represent their different countries and through their articles offer their own perspective to unfamiliar cultural experiences.
This time the CIRs learn about some of the locally made sweets and the connections with the locals. 
Also, check out the youtube video at the bottom!

Infusing Wishes to Achieve Happiness through the three secrets of Mitsutori-Hitogi

     The feeling when appreciating an artwork is perhaps as Ms Makiko Tabei, the designer of Mitsutori-Hitogi, said: even without explanation, even if you don't really understand it, you will be overwhelmed with its greatness and brilliance. For instance, one might feel a sense of mysterious gentleness in ‘Mona Lisa’, derive passion and hope from Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflower,’ and always get energy and courage from the power of the creatures to grow from the silk-screen works designed by Mitsutori-Hitogi.
      Our visit to Ms Tabei’s studio, nestled in a renovated old folk house in Izumo City, was a delightful experience. Listening to the stories behind her works enriched our understanding of her artistry and aspirations. The more we got to know her, the more apparent it became that Ms Tabei has always been driven by wishes – both in the roots of her creative pursuits and in her personal experiences. This, we realised, is perhaps the secret to her happiness.

Secret One: No matter how far you go, never forget your original intent.
     When three spices - wasabi, ginger, and shiso - are served together, Japanese food lovers may think it is probably t ime for some 'sashimi'. However, when onions, sansho (Japanese Pepper), and chili are added, you probably come to mind of something good for your health such as yakuzen cuisine (medicinal cuisine) which is focused on the
idea of ‘medicine and food from same origin’. However, these plant-based toppings, which are often seen in that home-cooked dish, play a significant and unique role in the artwork titled ‘Condiments’ by Ms Tabei. This piece, characterized by the technique of repetition, features ten different condiments arranged on a 25-metre fabric. The careful selection of colours ‒ black, yellow, and grey ‒ lends a stylish yet endearing atmosphere to the design, akin to genderless fashion. Achieving two goals at once: it aligns w ith the motif of strength that Mitsutori-Hitogi wishes to express while also being user-friendly for men. Until this fabric was created, there was a lot of conceptualisat ion and repetition, drawing of sketches, and man y other innovations involved, taking about 3 to 4 months to complete.
     Items made with this fabric include hair ties, pouches, bags, stuffed animals, and more. Depending on the way the fabric is cut and sewn, the design of the products differs. Having put so much thought and effort into creating them, Ms Tabei proudly remarked while looking at the original products exhibited, "They all hold sentimental value; there is nothing wasteful." However, when asked about her favourite piece, she said, "That would be my graduation project from university, where I dyed a large piece of fabric myself. It wasn't from Mitsutori-Hitogi, but it was the most key piece that set the direction for me".
     The establishment of Mitsutori-Hitogi all started with the encouragement of her close friend, Ms Maho Yanagimoto, and together they collaborated in Tokyo. When they approached the milestone of nearly 10 years, Ms Tabei decided to move to Shimane with her family. There, she experienced another decade of balancing both their business and family life in an old folk house in Izumo. Although the workspace changed, her wish to create something that empowers others through the strength of living beings remained unchanged. Instead, being surrounded by nature hundreds of times more than in Tokyo, she finds herself constantly in a state where ideas flow as if they are raining down, conscious of the seasons and drawing out the charm from everyday sights. Ms Tabei uses kiwis and other plants she grows in her garden as motifs to bring her work to life. The gradually increasing sense of fulfilment undoubtedly serves as a well-deserved reward for her life.

Secret Two: The greatest wish is to fulfil the wishes of others.
     Within the handcrafted work of Mitsutori-Hitog i, perfectly intertwining design and practical functionality is not the work of Cupid, but rather the wish of the client.
     The design of the fabric depicts the sky of Izumo with yellow clouds drifting, but depending on the item created, the image differs. For a tote bag, it creates an atmosphere of strolling along Japanese old-style blue cobblestone streets while wearing a kimono, and for an umbrella, it brings a cheerful mood even on rainy days. Additionally, when it comes to storage functionality, they ensure to create each item separately according to the needs of the user. For instance, for a stylish woman going on a date, a pouch that neatly holds small items like credit cards, smartphone, keys, and banknotes would be suitable. Conversely, for a mother with a baby, a mother's bag that accommodates a baby's outing set, allowing her to keep both hands free, can be incredibly helpful. There is absolutely no problem in leaving it to the professional to decide how one fabric is being used to suit the needs of the client. However, Ms Tabei would be more than happy to discuss the idea with the client over a long period of time, as they have many ideas and are passionate about it and she would really like to make it happen.
     Clients include not only individuals but also requests from institutions and companies, and there have been occasions where she has created designs for exhibitions and logos. Since 2014, she have participated in the annual 'Matsue Water Lantern Festival' event, creating numerous lanterns to adorn the fantast ical nights. She also provide designs for ‘Goshuincho’ (a stamp book for shrine and temple visitat ions), allowing people to record their journeys of faith and wishes when visiting shrines and temples.

Secret Three: Scatter wishes like seeds, cultivating them deeper, wider, and with warmth.
     In the living room of her old folk house, visitors can experience silk-screen printing first hand, surrounded by screens that Ms Tabei has meticulously created over the past two decades. As Ms Tabei said that printing is probably the simplest task, she showed us how it's done. The moment the blue ink was pressed out and the pattern was visible was as fun as watching magic for us who had never seen it before.
     When asked about taking on apprentices, Ms Tabei happily recounted, "Since my time in Tokyo, I've been teaching middle school students aspiring to attend art universities, right up until their university entrance exams. In the end, they achieved their dreams, graduated from university, and are now active in Tokyo." She added, "If there are children in Shimane Prefecture who also want to pursue a path in art, they are more than welcome. Because I want the children who want to fulfil their dreams to be like me when I was little, to be honest and value the heart within them that wants to create something." What Ms Tabei wants the next generation to inherit is not just a technique or style, but the spirit of staying true to oneself, passionately pursuing what they love. She believes that ultimately leads to happiness. Regarding her ambitions for 2024, Ms Tabei expressed, "I hope that Mitsutori-Hitogi, like seeds, will sow the power of life, take root in the hearts of more people, and blossom." She continued, "There are many wonderful things in Shimane Prefecture. I hope that Mitsutori-Hitogi can contribute to making Shimane better known and loved by more people through design. I will to continue to work harder and harder."
     On a clear winter day, the majestic outline of Mt Daisen looms into view, casting a sense of awe from within Ms Tabei's shop. Bathed in the warm midday sunlight, as you sway gently on a sw ing, the delicate fragrance of wintersweet (Japanese allspice) embraces you, carried by the gentle breeze. It's on Fridays and Saturdays that the shop exte nds its warmth even further, offering visitors a chance to savour a delightful lunch. Whether it's the satisfaction of your appetite or the enchantment of Ms Tabei's creations that captures you first, one thing remains certain: as long as Mitsutori-Hitogi continues to spread its wishes, happiness will forever permeate this place.

(written by: Li Mengqun)

Realising Wishes: Adding the Finishing Touch

     Humans create art when they encounter emotions and experiences that cannot be expressed solely through words. By incorporating their own emotions, thoughts, and beliefs into artistic creation, they produce works that resonate with the spirit of the times, becoming beloved and sought after by people.

     In Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture, there is a craftsman named Tsutomu Horie, who chose not to follow the hustle and bustle and instead chose to be true to his heart and passions and became a Daruma doll craftsman.
     Upon entering Mr Horie’s home, the first thing that catches your eye is a huge Daruma doll standing about 50 centimeters tall. At first glance, you can tell that it is a time-consuming and challenging job. When asked, he says that it was given to him by his master as a commemoration of his wedding. The Daruma doll is lined with handwritten words, and when you go closer, you can see numerous blessings and well-wishes from family, friends, and even the children who wish and look forward to Mr Horie's happiness through this Daruma doll. The Chinese proverb ‘a trifling present with a weighty thought behind it’ indeed encapsulates the meaning of this Daruma doll perfectly.
     Entering the back of the house, there is a Japanese-style room in the corner of the ground floor. This is the studio where Mr Horie creates his Daruma dolls. The room is crammed with colourful Daruma dolls of various sizes, from red to gold, with or without black eyes. The temperature and humidity of the room are intentionally maintained to foster the creation of intricate Daruma dolls. The studio is filled with paints, brushes, unpainted Daruma dolls, and partially completed pieces, yet it also seems to maintain an inexplicable order. It provokes one's eagerness to hear about all the things here and their masters.
     Although I had already anticipated various reasons for Mr Horie's commitment to Daruma production, I was deeply moved to hear that he turned his interest into a lifelong career, and I am still amazed by his unparalleled ability and perseverance.
     The Daruma doll originated from Buddhism, modelled after the posture of Bodhidharma meditating. Initially created as a talisman to ward off evil spirits, it was believed to dispel negative energy, hence it had strong religious significance from the beginning. As society evolved, the Daruma gradually transformed into a form of decorative item. Many Daruma dolls now feature eyebrows and cheeks resembling ‘cranes’ and ‘turtles’, with the
‘crane’ symbolising good fortune and the ‘turtle’ symbolising longevity. In modern times, Daruma dolls are primarily seen as lucky charms for prayers and wishes.
     The creation of art requires constant innovation and change. Mr Horie's ‘Izumo Daruma’ doll stands out for its unique design inspired by the Ryujin (Japanese Dragon God), Magatama (curved, comma-shaped beads), and the Legend of Kunibiki (an Izumo Area local legend). But among all his creations, what comes as the most special is the ‘Zenzai Daruma’̶a Daruma doll with Zenzai, a traditional Japanese dessert soup, balanced on its head. The Kanji characters are written as ‘Jinzai - God is present’, linking to Izumo's myths, particularly the Myriad Deities Arrive at Izumo Taisha Shrine during the tenth month of the lunar calendar. This shrine, located in Shimane Prefecture, holds a significant reputat ion, leading to various products inspired by its culture, like 'Jinzai (zenzai) mochi (rice cakes)' and 'Zenzai Daruma'. (In the lo cal Izumo dialect, ‘Zenzai’ is pronounced as ‘Jinzai’ and also written in Kanji characters as 'God is present’). These not only bring good fortune but also highlight the local characteristics and perhaps serve as an appreciation to the community. Also, when I think of Mr Horie's gentle and generous image, I feel a resonance between him and his work, although I do not know whether it is because he was influenced by the production of the Daruma or whether his image is mapped onto his work. But this must truly be a destined career for him.
     It is said that when you make a wish while drawing the right eye of a Daruma doll with a black pen, your wish will come true with the Daruma's blessing, so I was lucky enough to receive a very nice Daruma present at the end of my visit. Under Mr Horie's guidance, I drew the right eye, and as I hesitated whether to ask him to draw the left eye together if there was an opportunity, Mr Horie had already begun the process of making the Daruma doll. Mr Horie's concentration on his pen is reminiscent of the Chinese poet Zhang Yu, who left words to describe one's marvellous creations that excel nature as surpassing even the works of God. But I feel these words sometimes fail to accurately describe the creation of Mr Horie!

(written by: Men Juan)

50 Years of Craftsmanship: The Creation of a Lion's Head infused with Wishes

     During the New Year in Japan, a traditional Japanese lion dance ‒ shishi-mai is performed to ward off evil spirits, and the most crucial element of this dance is the lion's head, known as ‘shishi-gashira.’
     For over five decades, Mr Yoshio Nakao, known by his carving name Hōzan Nakao, has poured his passion into the art of carving, giving life to the extraordinary 'Izumo Shishi-gashira' ‒ the country's sole lion head that gracefully moves its ears with every open-mouthed gesture. The exceptional craftsmanship of Mr Nakao earned the Izumo Shishi-gashira the prestigious designation as a traditional craft of Shimane Prefecture in 2005.
     With an awareness of the notable differences between Japanese and Chinese lion heads, my curiosity was piqued. The captivating detail of the ears swaying in tandem with the opening mouth triggered a sense of déjà vu with the lively Chinese lion head. Given my roots in Hong Kong, where the vibrant pulse of traditional Chinese Lion Dance courses through the cultural veins, I couldn't help but feel deeply connected to its dynamic Chinese counterparts
     The production of the Izumo Shishi-gashira begins with the careful selection of wood, followed by a meticulous five-year drying process and various stages of craftsmanship. Devoting eight hours daily for one to two months, each creation emerges as a testament to the delicate dance of craftsmanship, birthing a shishi-gashira that is not only ethereally lightweight but also robust in its presence. According to Mr Nakao, one of the most challenging steps in crafting a shishi-gashira is bringing its eyes to life. Crafting perfectly rounded and smooth eyeballs is no small feat, and attaching them to a brass plate adds an extra layer of complexity. Mr Nakao skilfully ha mmers the bra ss p late into the precise shape of the shishi-gashira's eyes, showcasing his mastery. It's through these meticulous techniques and years of experience that the Izumo Shishi-gashira acquires its unique expression, almost as if a breath of life has been imparted.
     In the pro cess of fulfilling commissioned orders for shishi-gashira, it has come to light that Mr. Nakao consistently produces a pair rather than a singular piece. Surprisingly, the creation of one shishi-gashira entails the labour equivalent of two. Mr Nakao's recurring practice of crafting identical twin pieces serves a dual purpose that goes beyond mere duplication. Firstly, this approach introduces an element of client involvement in the artistic journey. Upon placing an order for a shishi-gashira, clients are presented not with a solitary masterpiece but with a pair, each possessing subtle differentiations in expression. This intriguing facet grants clients the agency to choose the piece that resonates most with their aesthetic preferences. Yet, the significance of this creative twinning extends beyond the point of sale. In practical terms, having a twin shishi-gashira becomes an invaluable asset when considerations shift towards potential future repairs or maintenance. The duplicate piece becomes a point of reference, offering insights crucial for ensuring a seamless restoration process.
     In the realm of shishi-gashira, their forms, facial expressions, and colours exhibit a capt ivating diversity influenced by reg ions and shrines. Each bears its distinctive features, creating a tapestry of uniqueness. The mane, which uses horsehair, typically adorns the heads in shades of white, black, or brown. Through a blend of tooth shapes, hues, and variations in head hair , individual shrines sculpt their exclusive shishi-gashira appearances. These characteristics give rise to a kaleidoscope of regional shishi-gashira personalities, enriching local culture and tradition during festivals and events. The Izumo Shishi-gashira, a traditional craft, proudly preserves the countenance of history. Yet, in the modern era, when ordinary individuals commission these artful pieces, the desire to tweak the shishi-gashira's face is a permissible and welcomed.
     The belief "I've never considered giving up. Even if my eyesight weakens, I'll persist," resonates through Mr Nakao's hands, leaving an indelible mark on the crafting of the Izumo Shishi-gashira. With years of experience and honed skills, he has earned high praise in the realm of shishi-gashira and various other crafts. Even at the age of 82 this year, Mr Nakao continues to wield the passion of a true artisan, enriching local culture and tradition.
     The shishi-gashira transcends mere craftsmanship, evolving into a symbol of warding off evil and dispelling misfortune̶a quintessential representation of Japan's culture and spirit. As a traditional craft, the lion head embodies Mr Nakao's unwavering convictions, infusing vitality into people's lives with wishes and hopes. It plays a vital role in fostering peace and prosperity within the community, carrying the weight of aspirations for a brighter future.

(written by: Bianca Chan)

About the The Shimanean

A magazine about Shimane Prefecture, Japan
Publisher: Culture and International Affairs Division, Department of Environment and Civic Affairs, Shimane Prefectural Government
Editor(s): Bianca Chan

If you have any questions or comments about this magazine please contact us at: