Google Helps Communicate Japan’s Craftsmanship to the World

Google Helps Communicate Japan's Craftsmanship to the World

A collaboration between US company Google Inc. and university students in Kyoto has created a website to introduce Japan’s craftworks to the world.

The website ( currently features about 140 traditional craftwork items from the nation’s 47 prefectures in Japanese and English. The list includes Nishijin brocade from Kyoto Prefecture and Arita porcelain ware from Saga Prefecture.

Using photographs, text and movies showing the processes involved in craftworks, the Google-run website features various Japanese artworks in an unprecedented endeavour.

“We worked hard to create the website using smart, stylish images and atmospheres just like those in fashion magazines,” said a student who edited material and created designs for the site. “We hope visitors to the site will appreciate how wonderful Japanese craftworks are.”

One of the movies on the site shows a craftsman hitting a brass board with a hammer on a wooden work table. The man checks the curve of the board and starts hitting it again to gradually form the rolled mouthpiece of a kiseru pipe.

The man in the video is Seizo Tanigawa, 67, a kiseru pipe artisan and the ninth-generation operator of Tanigawa Seijiro Shoten in Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto. The pipe specialty shop was founded in the 18th century.

Tanigawa hopes the movie will spread awareness of the craftsmanship. “Kiseru pipes are a perfect example of Japan’s chic culture and accomplishments, so I wanted to make them widely known,” he said.

According to Google Japan G.K., this is a part of “Google Arts & Culture,” a global-scale project to compile various forms of arts and documents into an online database. The ongoing project has focused on Japan’s handiwork.

The company hoped to create a site that would attract young Japanese and foreigners who are not familiar with craftworks.

It asked Shinya Maezaki, 40, an associate professor of Kyoto Women’s University who is an expert in craftwork, for his cooperation in the project.

Maezaki and about 40 students taking his seminar and several students from Ritsumeikan University started working on the project in the summer of 2015. The students received a large number of photographs and movies taken by photographers and text written by staff members of museums across the nation. They examined which aspects to use in the final versions and edited material on computers and created the entire design for the website.

In Kyoto and other cities, the students visited local artisans to improve the editing process.

“We tried hard to find the best way to create a site that viewers would find cool and attractive,” said Mitsuki Iwata, 21, a fourth-year student of Kyoto Women’s University.

The website launched in January last year, with programs featuring 83 items, including Miyama washi paper from Yamagata Prefecture.

Later, some craftworkers who were suffering from a lack of publicity and struggling to find successors showed interest in cooperating with the website. This was followed by more artisans who were in similar situations.

The website was completed in March, with programs introducing 141 items from all of Japan’s prefectures.

The number of page views is undisclosed, but the site has received comments from people in Europe and the Middle East who admire Japanese craftworkers’ excellent tradition.

“The students successfully presented the attraction of Japanese craftsmanship (to the world) using their young sensibility,” Maezaki said, speaking about the positive responses from visitors.

Cultural Heritage Online, run by the Cultural Affairs Agency, also serves as an online database of cultural assets, arts and crafts, but it mainly deals with items designated as national treasures.

Naoto Ikegai, a visiting associate professor at the University of Tokyo, said, “This website is valuable as it covers craftsmanship, a field that wasn’t fully covered by digital archives before, and introduces content rich in both quality and quantity.”

“The design of the website is sophisticated, and it’s also easy to use,” said Ikegai, a lecturer in information politics.

© 2017 The Japan News

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Tags: Google, Google Japan, Google Cultural Institute