Thu, Jun 18, 2020

Mugiwara zaiku: Traditional straw craft
of Kinosaki Onsen with vibrant colors

Japan’s beauty in the eyes of CIRs

Straw craftsman at work
By Mira Pomerantz / CIR for Toyooka, Hyogo Pref.

Toyooka’s Kinosaki Onsen is a traditional onsen town with seven public bathhouses that use natural spring waters. People from all over the world come to relax and enjoy the classic Japanese atmosphere in their yukata and geta. In Kinosaki, traditional Japanese culture can be found around every corner, including in the town’s long withstanding straw craft. This straw craft, known as mugiwara zaiku in Japanese, is regarded as a unique traditional handicraft with its vibrant colors and intricate patterns.

Dyed straw

It is said that in mid-Edo period (around 1720), a craftsman named Hanhichi from the Inshu area (what is now Tottori Prefecture) came to stay in Kinosaki Onsen. To make money to pay for his lodging expenses, Hanhichi sold bamboo flutes and spinning tops decorated with colored straw.

Straw craft boxes
Straw craft paperweights

After this, the straw craft was also used to decorate chests, boxes and wooden prayer plaques. After the Meiji era began, famous artists visited Kinosaki and drew sketches for the straw craft’s designs, and thus straw craft gained popularity as an expensive, popular and unparalleled handicraft. Today, the straw is flattened, dyed and placed on paulownia boxes, colored paper, spinning tops and clay bells. Kinosaki Onsen is proud to be the only place in Japan which continues the traditional production of straw craft while preserving the original skills and techniques of the past.

This traditional craft’s artistry can be broken down into several steps (See top photos), the time needed to complete one work depending on the complexity of the patterns and designs. First, the craftsman must make the glue, or sokkui. Boiled rice grains and a small amount of water are kneaded with a spatula to the appropriate thickness. Afterwards, straw scraping, or mugiwara suri, is performed by opening the cylindrical straw and flattening it so it can be applied to a flat surface. Then the craftsman takes the opened straw and cuts them (a process called mugiwara dachi) all to the same width, and lines them up to be pasted together as a base layer on the object.

Straw craft design
Straw craft design

With box-shaped works, next comes bordering, or heritori. The edges are trimmed to increase the strength of the corners and to make the border more prominent. After pasting the straw to the edges, a tool called a kebiki is used to fix the borders so that they are all the same width. The craftsman then lines up the cut straw next to each other to cover the box without making any gaps. In order to vary the colors and patterns, matching is taken under careful consideration when selecting and pasting the straw (a process called jibari). Afterwards, the craftsman adds designs and patterns, a practice called moyoire. They then draw a rough sketch on a piece of handmade washi paper and trace it onto the box with a pointed tool. The areas containing the traced design are cut out from the base layer of straw on the box. The craftsman cuts colored straw with a cutting knife to fit inside the design and sets it to make the desired pattern. This makes the surface smooth and creates an inlay. The very last step is finishing/polishing (shiage). In order to stabilize the attached straw, it is pressed down strongly before the excess glue is wiped off.

Dyed straw in bundles

Visitors to Kinosaki Onsen can try making their own straw craft items such as fans, keychains, and small boxes at a workshop in the Kinosaki Straw Craft Museum. There guests can also see the entire process in a subtitled video and view famous straw works. Because of straw craft, one can see there’s more to Kinosaki Onsen than what’s in the town’s name.

Straw craft pendants (Photo courtesy of Mira Pomerantz)
Handmade straw craft pattern (Photo courtesy of Mira Pomerantz)

(Photos courtesy of Toyooka city unless otherwise indicated)

(Cooperation: CLAIR)


Mira Pomerantz

Mira is from Cherry Hill, N.J. She is currently a second year Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) in Toyooka, Hyogo Pref. She works at Toyooka Tourism Innovation, a destination marketing organization (DMO) that promotes Kinosaki Onsen and its surrounding areas to overseas tourists. She helps manage their tourism website, as well as help promote the area through press releases and social media posts.



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