Searching all of Japan for handcrafted items that express its heart and soul, our proprietor, KASHIYUKA, presents things that bring a bit of luxury to everyday life. Her journey this time took her to Nibutani, a district in the town of Biratori in Hokkaido that is the world center of Ainu culture. Here she encountered beautiful, traditional crafted art bearing patterns originally envisioned as supplications to the deities.
In Nibutani, Biratori-cho in Hokkaido, where Ainu heritage and culture maintain their strong influence. This piece is a Nibutani “ita”, or tray, by Shigehiro Takano. Carved across the entire surface is the pattern known as “ramuramunoka”, representing the scales of a fish. “The pattern conveys deep reverence for all living things, plants and animals,” explains our shopkeeper KASHIYUKA.
I’ve longed for Ainu woodcraft ever since first reading the manga “Golden Kamuy”. The literal meaning of Ainu is “human beings”, as opposed to kamui, which stands for “deities”, and consequently, nature. On this trip I visited Nibutani in the Hidaka region of the northern island of Hokkaido, where the traditional handcrafts and culture of these indigenous people are maintained. In the Ainu language, Nibutani refers to a “place where trees thrive”. It’s girded by the Saru river, where legend tells that in ancient times a kamui named Okikurumi descended to bestow knowledge of hunting and toolmaking upon the people.
Purchase No. 45 [Ainu Traditional Craft] A beautiful carved wooden tray, the ita bears a pattern of prayer to the deities known as kamui.
“This is a traditional wooden tray called an ita, and the small knife is known as makiri. The designs carved into the wood are conceived by the maker himself,” says Shigehiro Takano, wood carver, as he shows me his own design sketch. Originally from Tokyo, he made a stop in Nibutani while traveling in his 20s. Fascinated by the woodcraft, he decided to move there, and in some 40 years since, he’s become renowned for making traditional Ainu crafts.