New Generation of Artisans Stand Firm in Robotic Era

Japanese artisan entrepreneurs work hard to thrive as more and more companies are moving towards robotics

Artisan tradition
Women in the street wearing kimonos

With a greying population and shift towards robotics in the workplace, the number of people devoting themselves to traditional Japanese crafts is dwindling. However, a younger generation of entrepreneurs may just keep Japan’s artisan traditions alive.

The name to describe such traditional artists in Japanese is “shokunin”, which roughly translates to “artisan” or “craftsperson” in English. Shokunin devote their lives to perfecting their art, earning their living from it, and then passing their craft on to the next generation.

But with the rise in automation and a steadily ageing population, can the shokunin tradition continue much further into the future? Some young entrepreneurs are certainly trying to ensure the tradition prevails.

Craft coffee, Japanese style

One such next-generation shokunin is Yozo Otsuki, 35, from Kyoto. Otsuki’s parents used to run a jazz coffee shop when he was growing up. So after a brief career in international finance, he made the decision to follow in their footsteps and set up his own specialty coffee chain, Kurasu, in Kyoto.

Kurasu sources its products locally, selling coffee roasted by Japanese roasters and coffee equipment made by Japanese designers to customers all over the world.

One product in particular has attracted the attention of international coffee lovers. That product is the origami-inspired ceramic coffee filter. It’s said to better distribute the hot water in a pour-over brew and has been popularised abroad by California’s Blue Bottle coffee company.

Hasegawa had a humble start in his career shining businessmen’s shoes at Tokyo Station in order to make ends meet

Making a show of shoe shining

Yuya Hasegawa is known as a shoe-shining Jedi on Instagram and is the owner of a shop on Tokyo’s upmarket shopping avenue, Omotesando.

In contrast to where he is now, Hasegawa had a humble start in his career shining businessmen’s shoes at Tokyo Station in order to make ends meet. He dedicated this time to refining a trade that many people would consider a low-paying and outdated occupation. However, his dedication to his work has elevated shoe-shining to both an art form and a lucrative business.

As both a shokunin and a business owner, Hasegawa currently runs a number of shops in various locations throughout Tokyo. His stores sell shoe products and offer courses in shoe-shining to students eager to learn the craft. He judges national shoe-shining competitions and even has apprentices to whom he is passing his trade.

Rising tourism boosts dwindling artisan sales

According to the Association for the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries, the “output of traditional craftsmanship has declined from ¥540billion in 1983 to ¥96billion in 2016.”

However, there remains hope as traditional crafts have huge economic value as tourism to Japan continues to rise. Foreign tourists are keen to experience Japan’s rich traditions when they visit. Whether it’s sipping green tea or coffee or trying on kimonos, there is still a market for Japanese crafts.

What artisan crafts do you think the next generation should preserve? Let us know in the comment section below.

"Otsumami" - a bite size snack:

Opportunity exists in the historical arts and crafts that have been passed down from generation to generation.

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