Come to know the heart of handwork
Sanshu Asuke Yashiki
Passing on Traditional Handicrafts to Today's Generations
Through Demonstrations and Hands-On Experiences
The handwork performed here isn't simply folk art or traditional crafts—It's the creation with your own two hands of what was essential for life in days gone by. It's the revival of hearty, meaningful mountain life.
From the Sanshu Asuke Yashiki Policy
The mystique that is the Sanshu Asuke Yashiki Living Museum
Firmly woven bamboo baskets, exquisite Japanese-style bamboo umbrellas, simple yet remarkable wooden dishes—Beautiful and rare products are skillfully created before your eyes by adept artisans just as they would have been by ordinary people without a second thought in antiquity. The Sanshu Asuke Yashiki Living Museum recreates what it would have been like to live in a mountain-dwelling farmer's home from around the Meiji period to the middle of the Showa period (1860s–1950s). Craftspeople perform almost all the work themselves of creating various items in the hopes of exhibiting the division of specialized labor which was the status quo of yesteryear for guests in our modern age when everything is provided in a simple all-in-one package. From going to cut down bamboo to drying lumber before going to work on a handicraft project, Sanshu Asuke Yashiki offers a clear glimpse into the rich essence that is the Japanese mountain life of yore.
Sanshu Asuke Yashiki's story
Long ago, summer entailed work in the fields and rice paddies while winter involved work in the forests. This mountain lifestyle of the Mikawa region was commonplace until the 1950s when Japan experienced a period of high economic growth, leading to more practical and convenient life in the city. As work dried up for rural craftspeople, they began to leave the mountains for more lucrative work at urban automobile plants. If things were to continue in this way, these irreplicable customs and ways of life of the mountains would only meet their demise. The Mikawa region's town of Asuke was grappling with this very issue when the idea arose to build a living museum which would bring back and preserve the proud local ways of life; that museum came to be Sanshu Asuke Yashiki. Take in Sanshu Asuke Yashiki's knowledge and simple warmth dwelling within not folk art or traditional crafts but authentic handwork.
A village-style residence in the middle of Korankei Gorge
Sanshu Asuke Yashiki lies right in the middle of Korankei Gorge—one of Japan's most well-known autumn leaves locations. Take a trip back in time as a past world unfolds among a rich natural setting and satiates your intrigue with a circa 1860s–1950s residence featuring craftspeople and their workshops. Walk a bit further, and you're greeted by the traditional townscape of Asuke, which prospered as a post town along the Old Iida Road, a major highway connecting Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture with Iida in Nagano Prefecture. However, even with its lush nature and rich history, Asuke was on the road to desuetude.
At that juncture, Sanshu Asuke Yashiki was able to bring together the local, rich cultural aspects and give a new name to the Asuke area as a phenomenal tourist spot offering a beautiful and nostalgic atmosphere which continues to attract people from all over.
Craftspeople / Handwork / Merchandise
A straw craft by devoted craftspeople using the precious straw from the rice harvest
Straw refers to the remaining stem of the rice plant after harvest, which is then set out to dry in the sun. Long ago, once the rice was harvested, people would take great efforts to store it for use in straw sandals, straw shoes, and other footwear; clothing items, such as straw raincoats; straw mats; straw ropes for practical purposes as well as Shinto rites; and an assortment of other everyday items once winter came around.
At Sanshu Asuke Yashiki, you can watch as craftspeople weave that very straw into such items. You can even weave a pair of your own straw sandals, straw shoes, or cloth sandals over the course of a day, getting first-hand insight into what life would have been like way back when. This footwear also makes a unique gift for someone back home to use either as footwear or to set out as a decoration. As footwear, these original products feature incredible usability as they do not slip in snow or when, say, walking through a river.
Growing cotton, spinning yarn, and all the ladies banging on the looms
Many farmers' homes had a room set aside for a loom, which the ladies of the household would use to weave fabrics for the family's clothing. Weaving was so important that it was said you couldn't be married off unless you could use a loom, so women would learn the skill from their mothers and grandmothers from the time they were children.
Use of a loom entails pressing down on pedals beneath your feet to change the position of the warp yarns so that you can pass the shuttle and its weft yarns through, after which you pull the reed toward you and bang the wefts against one another. Last, press down on the other pedal with your foot to change the position of the warps and pass the wefts through, finishing with another couple bangs of the reed. By repeating this sequence, you could weave approximately one tan, or 11 to 12 meters, of fabric in about two to three weeks.
Even the yarn used in the loom would be created by each household, cultivating and harvesting cotton to spin. The spun yarn could then be brought to an indigo dyer or boiled at home in a vegetable dye concoction for coloration.
The allure of handwoven cotton is its strength with a gentle softness and finish. The cloth features a warm touch due to the fact that each weft has a slightly different length. Workwear and everyday wear made for the family was strong enough to stand up to use by and the passing down between siblings.
Exact measurement and precise shaving—
The integrity of a cooper's work
The faint aroma of wooden buckets and tubs draw you into the cooper's workshop. These wooden tubs to hold steamed rice and buckets to collect water for bathing are made using Sawara cypress, which is soft and specially suited to processing. Sawara cypresses 200–300 years of age are split into the necessary measurements and dried in the sun. This process is essential in woodworking.
There are numerous tools used in coopering, such as the warinata plane, used to shave the wood into a curve; sen plane, which roughly shaves the surface of the wood; and other such planes in all sizes. However, the shojiki kanna plane is the most important tool in determining the quality of a bucket as it is used to shave the surfaces on the sides of each board which will come into contact with one another. If the shojiki kanna is unable to obtain a certain degree of precision, the bucket will not achieve a perfect circular shape and leaking will occur.
A special bucket for celebratory purposes, known as an iwaibitsu, would even have bamboo hoops woven around it to keep the bucket together. Handmade buckets and tubs are strong and with that bamboo hoop, you can use it for ages.
Umbrella maker (creation of umbrella frame)
Umbrella frames with seemingly only a single bamboo pole are actually carefully calculated mechanisms of beauty
Japanese umbrellas are said to have over 100 processes in their creation, making them the most complicated of the numerous Japanese handicrafts. In the days when specialized craftsmanship was divided into various fields, over ten craftspeople would work for months to handmake a single umbrella. However, at Sanshu Asuke Yashiki, two craftspeople work together to create umbrellas with one focusing on the frame while the other adheres the canopy. The frame builder here trained and gained the needed technical experience in the prefecture of Gifu—known as the largest producer of Japanese umbrellas.
The frame of a Japanese umbrella is made from a single stalk of bamboo with the most ideal bamboo growing as if it were an umbrella itself. Bamboo with artistic roundness optimum for the frame is first branded on the surface, equally split, and then put back in order in the umbrella's creation. The stretchers, which are pushed up to expand the canopy, are obtained through the same method for a delicate and meticulously beautiful frame.
Sanshu Asuke Yashiki also offers a Japanese umbrella feel through lighting stands and other Japanese-style interior decor.
Umbrella maker (adhesion of the canopy)
Opening into a flower, closing as a stalk of bamboo—
The wonderous techniques giving way to Japanese umbrellas
Once the frame is complete, it is now the next craftsperson's turn to adhere Japanese paper for the canopy. However, that doesn't necessarily mean simply gluing the paper onto the umbrella. The further out you go, the narrower the spindles become, making it extremely difficult to fold up the paper as the umbrella closes. The specialized craftsperson at Sanshu Asuke Yashiki explains that when beginning training, time and time again their pieces would end in failure, be it making mistakes on the glue's compounds, wrinkling the paper, ending up with a less-than-perfect form once the umbrella opened, ripping the paper, and so on. To make an umbrella which can endure opening and closing motions requires the technical prowess of a craftsperson with 30 years of experience.
A completed rain umbrella gets a coat of oil to repel water and then dries in the sun. The paper absorbs the oil, increasing its transparency, and takes on a look just like stained glass. The beauty of Japanese umbrellas is truly the beauty of Japan in the soft color of light it offers on a sunny day and the pitter-patter you can hear from it on a rainy day.
A man's winter work creating Asuke's Mikawa Morishita Paper,
descended from nearby Obara Washi Japanese Paper
The city of Toyota is no doubt known for its Obara Washi Japanese Paper, which is said to have its roots in the Obara area near Asuke during the Muromachi period (1336–1573). Asuke adopted the ways of Obara Washi production, leading the creation of Mikawa Morishita Paper in the Meiji period (1868–1912). Mikawa Morishita Paper is a pure Japanese paper using 100% paper mulberry. It is made of two layers, making it incredibly strong and ideal for the paper used in sliding shoji doors and coarse oil-paper umbrellas.
During winter in Asuke, male farmers rather than women are said to have made paper. And in the Taisho period (1912–1926), large heating machines were incorporated in earnest to dry the Japanese paper as technological abilities advanced.
Making Japanese paper involves boiling the bark in a large pot to soften it, putting it in water, removing the scum by hand, and breaking up the fiber with a machine.
At this point, the roots of sunset hibiscus are mashed down to create a sticky substance, which is added to water. The result is a mucilage which, when evenly mixed with the paper mulberry fibers allows for a consistent and high-quality paper. After drying, the Mikawa Morishita Paper is finally complete.
Today, female craftspeople at Sanshu Asuke Yashiki have taken over the techniques of papermaking and continue to create Mikawa Morishita Paper. The Japanese paper achieved through this scrupulous work is used in Sanshu Asuke Yashiki's coarse oil-paper umbrellas and Asuke's famous tankororin paper lanterns.
Making charcoal for an SDGs-friendly mountain lifestyle as you engage with the kiln's fire to create the useful fuel
Making charcoal involves going into the mountains to chop down trees, burning the wood in a kiln, and removing the newly made charcoal. Since creating charcoal entailed chopping down trees, it coincided with the winter chore of maintaining the thicket in mountain villages.
There are two types of charcoal: white and black. Sanshu Asuke Yashiki makes black charcoal for its ability to light easily and uses mainly ring cup oak in addition to Japanese oak and Chinese cork oak.
To make charcoal, one lines pieces of wood inside the kiln before sealing the entrance. Firewood is burned near the kiln entrance to raise the temperature inside. After a flame sparks in the wood material, it slowly begins to charcoalize. Then, the temperature in the kiln is raised again until a blueish smoke starts to emerge, at which point the heat is extinguished. Finally, the after the temperature naturally falls, the kiln is opened and the charcoal is removed.
It takes about 10 days to complete a batch of charcoal, and 300–360 kg can be made at one time. The charcoal is sold; used to cook gohei mochi, or rice cakes on a stick covered in a sweet miso sauce, as well as salted sweetfish; or roast coffee beans.
Heat, pound, and forge…
The traditional techniques to become one with the fire and iron
Long ago there were more than 30 blacksmiths in Asuke servicing the blades used in agricultural and mountain tools, and the clanging strikes against the heated metal could be heard throughout the streets.
Today, Hirose Shigemitsu Cutlery, in business since the end of the Edo period (around the 1850s–1860s), is the only remaining blacksmith. Hirose Shigemitsu Cutlery began as an on-location blacksmith working on machetes, scythes, hoes, and other tools used in mountain chores before moving onto larger scale work, such as the creation of Japanese swords in commemoration of peace as requested by the Japanese government in 1952 in connection with the end of World War II. Yuto Hirose is the seventh descendent of Hirose Shigemitsu (or Shigemitsu Hirose as is the current order of the name in English), and works as the blacksmith for Sanshu Asuke Yashiki.
To make a knife, the blacksmith cuts up the necessary materials before bonding together iron and steel in a process called "forge welding". The forge-welded material is then pounded and forged at high temperatures, given a rough shape, and then instantly cooled by quenching. Next, heat is again applied by tempering before flattening the blade. Finally, the blade is given its edge by whetting it and then a handle is added. The knife goes through all these various processes before it is finished, and after more sharpening, it is ready for years of use. Incredible handling and sharpness make these knives the perfect present for cooking enthusiasts.
A variety of functions and designs
born from the weavers' ingenuity
Asuke was famous as a bamboo production area as it was blessed with plenty of high-quality bamboo, shipping it off to places far and wide. Varieties included Japanese timber bamboo, Henon bamboo, black bamboo, and tiger bamboo, while Japanese timber bamboo was the species most commonly used.
Numerous bamboo products, such as baskets and sieves, were daily necessities and thus made at Asuke residents' homes. To make these items, the bamboo is split to make fine, thin bamboo strips which can be weaved. Preparation of the bamboo begins in autumn as the length between the bamboo's nodes is the ideal to make easy-to-use strips. During winter, the bamboo is trimmed to thicknesses ideal for each purpose, and the weaver weaves all sorts of products.
Bamboo baskets with sturdy meshing will last many years without unraveling. Even if a basket does unravel, repairs can be done quickly if you have the same variety of bamboo. However, it is also fun to enjoy the character baskets gain with their use.
There are so many weaving patterns it's hard to count, and depending on the weaver's abilities, there is no shape which he or she cannot be achieve. The incredibly beautiful designs are endless.
The beautiful wooden vessels of a woodturner:
Vessels beloved for 100 years from trees over 100 years of age
Wood turners use a lathe to create wooden trays, bowls, and other circular products. Their beginnings are said to have originated when Koretaka, the first prince of Emperor Montoku (827–858), lived in Oguronosho, located in the former province of Omi, and developed lathe technology. Woodturners had special permission to cut down trees in imperial forests and would go into the mountains, build small workshops, and trade with locals for daily necessities, moving from mountain to mountain.
Remaining historical sources explain that from the end of the Edo period (around the 1850s–1860s) to the end of the Taisho period (1920s), a group of woodturners came to Asuke from Mt. Dando in the nearby town of Shitara to settle and began a woodturning industry. Once the Meiji period came around in 1868–1912, dozens of woodturners came to Asuke to reside due to its convenience and were active mainly in the eastern area.
A woodturner's work is often thought as mainly entailing carving wood into various shapes, but in actuality, preparing the materials before they are carved is an important aspect, requiring a lot of time and effort. Zelkova, chestnut, castor aralia, and other trees are turned into lumber, the bare wood is rounded and dried, the middle is carved out and dried again, and the inside is carved one final time. In all, the process takes one to two years, but with professional woodturners performing the lengthy process, the end result would be worth it with a vessel families could use for a variety of different purposes. The incredible effort taken to create wooden vessels allows them to be used over many years as a beloved piece to last a lifetime.
At Sanshu Asuke Yashiki, woodturners inherit this important artistic tradition and show guests how it's done. They create trays and bread plates utilizing the beautiful grain of the wood and simply coating it with perilla oil. Or maybe a cute, light-hearted apple-shaped paperweight is more your style. Whatever it is, the products offer a spectacular beauty just as they are, and you can also enjoy how their character and hues change through years of use.
The indigo dye is entirely alive,
working diligently to create deep shades of blue
The technique of plant dyeing met its golden age in the middle of the Edo period (1603–1868). Each village had a dyer, and families would bring in the yarns they spun to be dyed. Fabrics dyed in indigo had stunning antibacterial and deodorizing properties, making them incredibly useful in cloths for kimono and obi, diapers, traditional Japanese mompe pants to ward of bugs, and a variety of other garments.
Sanshu Asuke Yashiki uses lye without any chemicals in a natural lye fermentation technique used from the Edo period for authentic indigo dyeing. There are two large earthen pots in the dyer's workshop with indigo dye made from lye, sukumo, and slaked lime. Sukumo is a material created by drying the indigo leaves, adding water, and allowing it to ferment.
The fermented indigo is a living organism and thus requires an experienced hand. Depending on the condition of fermentation, the dye's finished result can falter, so a mixture of sake and flour is added from time to time to regulate the fermentation.
Dip cloth into a bottle of dye, and right before your eyes, a beautiful indigo blue fabric emerges just like magic.
Bamboo crafts (bamboo helicopter)
The retro go-to Japanese toy: The bamboo helicopter
How you carve it and how you fly it makes you a hero!
Bamboo helicopters, or "bamboo dragonflies" as they're referred to in Japanese, are an old Japanese toy carved out of bamboo. The children of Asuke used to create their own toys out of the area's ample bamboo, competing for the best quality. The creation of one is rather simple, but to get it to fly well, the angle of the wings is important, and—while it's a toy used in child's play—it is quite the profound little trinket.
The plank of bamboo for the wings must have heavy edges with the middle shaved to be light so that the propeller will continue to rotate for a long time. The balance of the propeller's two ends too is an important aspect. After a bamboo skewer is placed into the propeller and the helicopter is stood overturned to create an upside-down "T" shape, the wings should lie horizontal with the surface it's on. If it tilts, it needs to be adjusted by slightly sanding the underside of the heavier wing with a file to regain balance. Heat and soften the propeller before rounding the edges at each end, and drill a hole in the center for the bamboo skewer to pass through.
When flying it, a calm day without any wind is ideal. Make sure no one is in the direction you're going to fly it, and give it a try: Sandwich the axle with both hands where your fingers meet your palms, and thrust your dominant hand forward (if you use the other, it won't fly) to make it soar with force into the sky.
Bamboo craftspeople are masters of child's play. Create an incredibly efficient "ultra bamboo helicopter" and "grating helicopter" and give new definition to just what it is to play.
Picturesque tools born from everyday life
To see the devotion in their creation is a thing of beauty
Passing on the complex and diverse processes
Asuke once prospered as a post town along a major highway and was home to a number of umbrella makers with a thriving coarse oil-paper umbrella industry. These coarse oil-paper umbrellas were essential props in kabuki and festivals, and it is said that 100 different processes were involved in their creation. In the past, all these jobs were divided up among specialty craftspeople, but here, a mere two take on the enormity of the task. They cut down local Japanese timber bamboo, shave it down to create the frame, and adhere Mikawa Morishita Japanese Paper made at Sanshu Asuke Yashiki for the canopy.
- Product name:
- Japanese umbrella lampshade (small)
- • Lighting fixtures sold separately.
- JPY 4,950 and above (lighting fixtures sold seperately)
- Product name:
- JPY 23,650 and above
- Product name:
- Small parasol (total length: 540 mm / canopy: 435 mm)
- JPY 37,400
Knowing the characteristics of each wood
A woodturner creates bowls, trays, and other wooden vessels using a lathe. Long ago, groups of woodturners are said to have lived an active life moving from mountain to mountain in search of quality wood, accepting orders from local villagers, and manufacturing wooden vessels in those very mountains. Using hardwoods such as zelkova and chestnut and finishing the vessels with perilla oil, the products gain ever deeper hues the more they are used. Providing maintenance as you use them is part of the fun.
- Product name:
- Apple-shaped paperweight
- JPY 2,200
- Product name:
- Food bowl (small)
- JPY 5,000
- Product name:
- Oiled bread plate
- JPY 2,400
Striking red-hot steel with a mallet to forge sturdy tools
Long ago there were more than 30 blacksmiths in Asuke servicing the blades used in agricultural and mountain tools, and the clanging strikes against the heated metal could be heard throughout the streets. Today, the seventh generation of Hirose Shigemitsu Cutlery, in business since the end of the Edo period (around the 1850s–1860s), is the only remaining blacksmith in the area. You can watch the ingenuity of that seventh-generation blacksmith as he works at Sanshu Asuke Yashiki. Handmade knives offer incredible handling and sharpness, making them utensils you'll love using over a lifetime.
- Product name:
- Knife (with leather case)
- JPY 12,000 and above
- Product name:
- Kitchen knife
- JPY 9,900 and above
- Product name:
- Long nail letter opener
- JPY 1,800/letter opener
Designs weaved and born from human hands
Japanese households around the 1920s–1950s used bamboo baskets for just about everything. Asuke was a production area of bamboo as it was home to quality varieties. Sanshu Asuke Yashiki's craftspeople follow in the footsteps of the masters before them, from going out to cut down the bamboo themselves. These artisans use not only their hands but feet to weave together baskets with beautiful meshing and long-lasting strength.
- Product name:
- Bento lunch box
- JPY 4,000 and above
- Product name:
- Bamboo dripper
- JPY 3,000
- Product name:
- Fruit basket
- JPY 6,000 and above
Add the warmth of the mountains into your own life
Time seems to pass slower at Sanshu Asuke Yashiki as you take in the good old handwork of simpler times. And souvenirs are available to let in, if even just a bit, the richness of its old mountain life. Products are unavailable on the internet, making your visit the perfect chance to purchase the tools and items created by skilled craftspeople.
Umbrella maker: Japanese umbrella lampshade (small)
These lampshades are made by hand, one strip of bamboo at a time, by umbrella makers. Their beautiful Japanese patterns and transparent, warm light create a truly relaxing atmosphere. A great wedding present or souvenir for friends back home. (Lighting fixtures sold separately.)
- JPY 4,950
- • Lighting fixtures sold separately.
Umbrella maker: Parasol
Parasols are built to order, so you may consult with the craftsperson regarding the color of the Japanese paper, preferred pattern, and other factors (adding your name and designs costs an extra fee). Completion occurs at a later date. The size is 800 mm in total length with the canopy section 500 mm.
- JPY 23,650 and above
Umbrella maker: Coarse oil-paper umbrella (rain umbrella)
Bangasa, or course oil-paper umbrellas have their Japanese paper canopies coated with perilla oil to repel water, making them ideal for use on rainy days. The soothing pitter-patter of rain from a Japanese umbrella is unmatched. The size is 750 mm in total length with the canopy section 600 mm.
- JPY 25,300 and above
Cooper: Half-sized tub
Wooden tubs are essential in Japan for creating sushi rice, chirashi sushi, and other Japanese cuisine, but you can use it for just about anything. The tub is referred to as "half-sized" because it almost looks like it was sliced in half due to its shallow depth.
- JPY 6,000 (30 cm)
Papermaking: Japanese paper with Japanese maples
Vivid Japanese maple leaves strewn about handmade Japanese paper as the perfect memento to look back on beautiful Korankei Gorge. Use it as wrapping paper, a book cover, or whatever you like.
- JPY 500
Papermaking: Chopstick rests
Made by tying the paper into a knot, these chopstick rests symbolize ties and relationships. Decorated with Japanese patterns, they make a perfect addition to your table. Great for entertaining guests at a dinner party.
- JPY 100
Dyer: Indigo tie-dye T-shirt
The tie-dyed T-shirts' indigo color changes with each wash, giving it character.
- JPY 2,500
Dyer: Indigo tie-dye parasol
Cool-looking, stylish parasols that go well with Western clothes or Japanese kimonos. Each product is completely unique.
- JPY 7,600
Located next to Sanshu Asuke Yashiki Museum, this restaurant serves savory mountain cooking like sansai vegetables, sweetfish, and gohei-mochi.
Charcoal-grilled coffee shop Katakago Café
The fragrant coffee made from beans roasted in-house with charcoal made in Sanshu Asuke Yashiki Museum is particularly popular.
Sit out on the terrace and spend a relaxing time gazing at the river.