Noto’s Cultural Industries: Keep Local Craft Traditions Alive as Driving Force for Reconstruction

The Noto Peninsula Earthquake dealt a heavy blow to the region’s traditional culture and industries. Detailed support for the affected areas is essential to protect long-held techniques and cherished townscapes.

Wajima lacquerware, a traditional craft of Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, which has been designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property by the central government, suffered damage to its production and sales bases, which were destroyed and burned by the earthquake and a subsequent fire at the Wajima Morning Market.

Many artisans and related people lost their workshops, homes and stores, and continue to live as evacuees. The city is home to three artisans who are officially honored as living national treasures. One of them was seriously injured.

Wajima lacquerware, known for its high level of artistry, is one of the region’s leading industries. There are at least 100 processes involved, from the initial wood processing to the final decoration, with a high degree of division of labor by artisans.

Since every process is indispensable, it will be difficult to restart the business as long as the artisans and other workers remain scattered.

In the first place, demand for Wajima lacquerware had become sluggish due to changing lifestyles, and the aging of the artisans was also an issue. Their livelihoods and workplaces must be quickly rebuilt to restore the production system.

The government will reportedly begin subsidizing the costs necessary to continue the traditional craft businesses, including securing tools and raw materials. Depopulation is continuing in the affected areas. If nothing is done, more and more artisans could leave the business, which could accelerate the decline of the region. It is important to steadily implement support for restarting businesses.

Temporary joint workshops for traditional handicraft artisans were built in Fukushima Prefecture after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. In the case of Wajima lacquerware, where the division of labor is well established, it would be effective to provide such a place.

One idea would be to establish a facility that handles production, sales and information dissemination as a symbol of reconstruction from the earthquake. This should be considered broadly in conjunction with the reconstruction of the fire-razed Wajima Morning Market.

Encouraging people to buy local products will also support the affected areas.

In addition to Wajima lacquerware, other traditional craft businesses in the prefecture, such as stores selling Kutani ware porcelain, were also affected by the disaster. Many sake breweries in Wajima, long known as an excellent place for sake brewing, are reportedly facing difficulties in producing sake this season due to the disaster.

Fairs selling Noto crafts and sake have already been held in various locations and online. It is necessary to encourage such events.

Some of the damaged buildings and townscapes have high cultural value. Cultural assets are a source of emotional support for local residents and are also important tourism resources.

In order to protect local communities and restore civic vitality, the central and local governments should carefully listen to the affected people as to what they need and formulate concrete medium- to long-term support measures until recovery is completed.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 12, 2024)