The Samurai District of Kakunodate boasts more than the beautiful samurai houses. The Kakunodate Cherry Bark Craft Museum is located in the middle of the avenue.
At the entrance, an explanation plaque provides a brief history as follows.
“Kakunodate Cherry Bark Craft Museum
This museum was opened in 1978 to promote the cherry bark articraft industry and develop tourism in the area. It costs 300 yen per person to visit the exposition of various artifacts and historical documents and view a demonstration of cherry bark handicraft (300 yen per person). However, visits to other parts of the museum including the shop and coffee room are free of charge. The museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm (4.30 pm in winter), and closed during the New Year holidays.”
Further explanation is provided on a board in the museum as follows.
“Introduction to the Museum
The Kakunodate Cherry Bark Craft Museum was opened on September 1, 1978. It is officially named the “Kakunodate Museum for the Transmission of Cherry Bark Articraft and the Regional Culture and History Center.”
Regarding its role in the transmission of traditional articraft, this museum is the third of its kind in Japan after the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts in Kyoto (Kyoto Prefecture), which showcases Nishijin silk fabrics, and the Traditional Crafts Center of Shigaraki in Koga (Shiga Prefecture), which focuses on Shigraki ware. The role of this museum is to develop the cherry bark articraft of Kakunodate, which the State designated as traditional crafts in February 1976. In addition, the museum collects, conserves, and exhibits the cultural heritage of the castle town of Kakunodate in four exhibition rooms on the first and second floors.
The tourism information hall can be freely used, and a coffee room is located on the second floor. A demonstration of how cherry bark articraft is made is provided in the craft studio. The local product exhibition room gives an overview of the local products and tourism in the area.”
The cherry bark articraft exhibition room includes a collection of beautiful art pieces.
“Cherry Bark Articraft—Master Craftsmen of Our Times
In 1947, the Ministry of Labor instituted an award for master craftsmen. The award was given to masters of “techniques and knowledge as well as the heart,” in other words, those who achieved an excellent level of knowledge and techniques, and worked hard to train the next generation. A number of Kakunodate cherry bark articraft craftsmen received the award, and each piece they produced is an expression of their soul.”
Kakunodate has more traditional artifacts, including the lacquerware of Kakunodate-Shunkei.
Chohachi, a commoner in the town of Kakunodate, started Kakunodate-Shunkei about 200 years ago. Therefore, it is also sometimes called “Chohachi lacquerware.” After Chohachi, the families of Sato, Watanabe, Honjo, Masaki, Kobayashi, and Owada, among others, also practiced the art, attaining a considerable level of production in the Meiji period. The Kakunodate-Shunkei gradually gave way to full coating lacquerware, declining in the Taisho period. However, the tradition was revived by Hirase Sadakichi through innovative collaboration with local painters such as Fukuda Toyoshiro, Kusanagi Koso, Terasawa Kotaro, and Tateoka Ritsuzan, as well as with cherry bark craftsmen such as Ono Tozo. However, the sudden death of Sadakichi in his 30s in 1927 delivered the final blow to the tradition. Thus, Kakunodate-Shunkei craftsmen no longer exist. Using the stumps of the Hiba tree, Kakunodate-Shunkei produced daily commodities such as small dining tables and dish trays.
Furthermore, Kakunodate has a tradition of straw work.
As the cultivation of rice developed in Akita, the by-product thereof, namely rice straw, was widely used to produce items for daily use. Rice straw is an excellent material with cushioning and breathing effects, and retains moisture and heat. It was used to produce items such as ropes, sandals, clothes, carpets, containers, and ritual pieces. In addition, rice straw was a fertilizer and provided food for animals and fuel for fire. Furthermore, the ash thereof was used as a glazing agent in the production of ceramics. As such, rice straw was used in various ways. The production of straw work involves softening raw straw, as well as bundling, curling, composing, texturing, and weaving it. Today, not many people know how to produce straw work. Here, we have a collection of straw work, mostly footwear such as waraji, zori, sampe, and hedoro to remind us of the landscape of the old days in farming villages.”
Wooden votives are also part of the traditional culture here.
From the Edo until the Showa period, it was popular to dedicate to the gods a wooden votive, which typically had a picture of horses on it (“ema” = “picture of a horse”). Large votives on the wall in the prayer hall were usually offered by social cooperatives. Kakunodate has produced many painters since the old times, and many large votives with exceptional paintings exist. Individuals with wishes or those who wanted to express their gratitude for granted wishes usually offered small votives. Typically, votives for an Inari god of fertility (believed to take the shape of a fox) included a picture of a fox, those for Guanyin Bottisathva a picture of a horse, those for Hachiman a picture of a pigeon or an eagle, those for a dragon god a picture of a dragon or snake, those for Jizo Bodhisattva a picture of a lotus flower, and those for Susanoo-no-mikoto a picture of a cucumber. The small votive shown here was created by Taguchi Shugyo, the last disciple of Hirafuku Hyakusui, who conducted research on the votives influenced by the early folkloric artist Serizawa Keisuke. This is valuable material for research on small votives in Kakunodate.”
Shiraiwayaki was a representative form of art in Akita, with its characteristic deep blue.
Shiraiwayaki was brought here in 1771 by Matsumoto Unshichi, a ceramist from Soma. He left Shiraiwa five years later, but his disciple, Yamate Gisaburo, laid the foundation for Shiraiwayaki. In 1785, Kichigoro built his kiln. For roughly 70 years, these two kilns dominated the production of this art form. In the early years, they produced mostly pottery for the lord and upper society, but gradually shifted to producing local commodities such as jars and sake bottle containers. Around the end of the Edo period in the 19th century, production peaked thanks to the additional kilns of Kanzaemon, Magobei, Taichiro, Kichijuro, and others. However, since the late 19th century, production slowed as white porcelain became fashionable and the government prohibited the home brewing of sake. The great earthquake in 1896 destroyed the kilns, ending 130 years of production. After more than 70 years, in 1975, Shiraiwayaki was revived under the guidance of master Hamada Shoji (who is acknowledged as “a Living National Treasure” by the State).”
This museum also aspires to achieve its mission as a regional culture and history center, and to this end, exhibits local history documents. The explanation board for Satake Yoshimasa states the following.
“Satake Yoshimasa (1775〜1815)
The ninth lord of Akita (or Kubota). His child name was Naomaru, but he also had various pen names. Yoshimasa became the lord in 1785 aged 11 years, and died in 1815. His reign coincided with cultural development in Edo. He opened a dominical school, Meitokukan, in 1790, stimulating interest in education in the Akita (Kubota) domain. He also opened ten branch schools, one of which—Kodo Shoin in Kakunodate—was opened in 1793. Among those involved in the schools were Murase Kotei, Yamamoto Hokuzan, and Okubo Shibutus. At the time, the Akita domain produced Confucianists such as Hitomi Shou, Kikkawa Gomei, Masudo Soshu, Nakayama Seiga, Kurosawa Shijo, Hiramoto Kinsai, Sato Nobuhiro, and Hirata Atsutane. Yoshimoto was one of four great lords at the time, alongside Uesugi Harunori (better known as Uesugi Yozan) of the Yonezawa domain, Tokugawa Harusada of the Kii domain, and Hosokawa Shigetaka of the Kumamoto domain. His dominical policy based on the four pillars of agriculture, the mining industry, forestry, and science was successful, thanks to the good advice of his ministers. He died aged 41 years.”
“Items of Samurai Life
Kakunodate was ruled by the Tozawa family from the Middle Ages until the Sengoku period, the Ashina family in the early Edo period, and the Stake-Kita family from 1658 to the end of the Edo period. This exhibition room showcases items from the time of Satake-Kita family rule, including a poetry guidebook, clothes in the imperial style, and utensils, which remind us that the Satake-Kita family brought the culture of Kyoto to Kakunodate. The exhibit includes armature and wartime clothes used by retainers at the time. In addition, the exhibition displays writings and drawings by Satake Yoshimasa and Masudo Soshu, and antique books such as Monsa-Kiko and Sako-Kiko, which established the reputation of Lake Tazawa and Kayoshu, as well as a collection of pressed flowers by Satake Yoshibumi.”
Please visit the Kakunodate Cherry Bark Craft Museum to learn more about the displayed artifacts and history to increase your enjoyment of Akita.