Witness Toyooka’s 1,200 years of traditional bag crafting
When people think of Kinosaki, they think of onsen (hot springs), due to the town being known for its seven public bathhouses located throughout the area. But for Toyooka, the downtown district, what instead comes to mind are luxury handbags. Toyooka is quintessential to Japan as the backbone of the handbag industry. Today there are many handbag artisans in Toyooka, but only one remains who still weaves wicker bags by hand in the traditional way. He is not merely the only craftsman left in Toyooka, but in all of Japan.
Craftsman Takumi Terauchi
This man, named Takumi Terauchi, has been making traditional wicker trunks (yanagi-gori) for over 50 years. Living in Izushi – 25 minutes by bus from the downtown area of Toyooka – Terauchi is the only craftsman in Japan who has received national certification as a traditional yanagi-gori artisan. The incredibly meticulous and arduous work that he does cannot be replicated by machine, so he continues to look for apprentices in hopes of preserving this delicate, traditional art form. In his shop Takumikogei, one can often find him squatting over a wooden plank holding down the willow he is weaving for his next creation.
These bags were presented at many international expos, where they won awards at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 and the Lousiana Purchase Exposition in 1904.
An ideal environment for growing koriyanagi
Due to the gentle slope of the Maruyama River flowing into the Toyooka Basin, wetlands have formed at many points and created the most suitable environment for Salix koriyanagi, an East Asian species of willow used primarily in basket-weaving, to flourish. These baskets are the yanagi-gori, which have a superior air permeability and are perfect for Japan’s high humidity. They are both durable and light, thus found long appreciated as storage containers for clothing, or as transportation equipment.
A new line of wicker products were exhibited and received a silver prize at the 1900 Paris Exposition
Given the heavy snowfall, limited land to develop new rice paddies, and other natural constraints in the area, there was a surplus labor force during barren periods. This created the ideal conditions for locals to pursue crafting as a side vocation. Willow crafting greatly flourished during the Edo period due to this and as a favorable result of the push to preserve feudal values, and Toyooka’s yanagi-gori became renowned nationwide.
Kaban (Bag) Street
In Toyooka’s downtown area, one can visit Kaban (Bag) Street for modern bags, as well as various handbag paraphernalia. The sidewalks are lined with bag-shaped benches and mailboxes, while the shops sell bags made of various materials and designs. One can even find vending machines selling small totes!
From JR Toyooka Station in is just a 13-minute walk to Toyooka Kaban Street.
Those interested in learning about Toyooka City and its relationship not only with bags but with Oriental White Storks, tourism, and art can read more on Toyooka City’s new global site!