Preserving Japanese Arts

As series on CNN called ‘The Keepers’, recently explored the artisans who are investing in, as well as transforming Japan’s culture. Preserving Japanese arts is an important topic which has gained a lot of attention recently as the island nation seeks to emerge from its pandemic cocoon before the Summer Olympics.

The journey begins on the remote island of Sado, at a training center for taiko apprentices hoping to join Kodo – one of Japan’s most renowned drumming troupes. The show meets the teachers and trainees to learn about its history and why the taiko drum is referred to as the heartbeat of Japan. It’s then on to Hamamatsu where Japanese manufacturer Roland has partnered with Kodo to develop the TAIKO-1, a digital-age version that emulates the sounds of traditional drumming in an effort to preserve the taiko tradition.

‘The Keepers’ then meets Jumpei Hibino at his workshop in Kyoto and artisan Mami Okamura at the Narutaki Creative Center to learn about suminagashi, the ancient Japanese art of marbling. 

Keirin is the homegrown cut-throat sport where precision bikes can make or break a cyclist’s road to glory. Although this is a new pursuit, it is important to Japanese culture. The program catches up with Shinichi Konno, who is continuing his family’s tradition of building hand-made bicycle frames. Renowned for his ability to bend metal to the point of artistry, even recreational riders are willing to wait months for a bespoke bike made by Konno. ‘The Keepers’ then joins Hiroshi Nakamura in Chiba who has been riding competitively for more than two decades and whose impressive top speed has put him near the top of the keirin league.

Shiho Sakamoto has been studying the art of wagashi, or traditional hand-made Japanese confectionery, for the past decade. But even with her respect for tradition, Sakamoto isn’t afraid of experimenting, teaming up last year with food-tech startup Open Meals to create 3D-printed “cyber wagashi” which reflects Japan’s weather data. ‘The Keepers’ ends its journey with Mitsuharu Kurokawa, the current steward of the legendary Toraya Confectionery Company, now in its eighteenth generation, as he looks to spread the sweets beyond Japan’s borders.