Report by Isla Phillips
Wow! What an exhibition! Anyone even remotely interested in Japanese traditional crafts shouldn’t miss this free event taking place now at Marine Messe and again today and tomorrow. The Kougei expo is a fantastic way to learn about a huge array of different Japanese traditional crafts as a tranquil weekend activity. Beautiful displays of not only crafts from Fukuoka Prefecture such as Hakata-ori, Hakata ningyo, Kurume kasuri, Koishiwarayaki, Yame Fukushima butsudan, Aganoyaki, and Yame chochin, but also crafts from around Japan.
I arrived at the Kougei Expo late on Friday afternoon and really appreciated the spaciousness of Marine Messe and event’s relaxed vibe. It was busy but neither crowded nor noisy. Upon entering the hall my attention was drawn to the impressive kazariyama float (from the local Gion Hakata Yamakasa festival) in the centre before I noticed the just how many different booths there were to visit. There is a lot to see at the expo but it is not overwhelming. It’s the perfect relaxed activity for a November weekend!
As a very new student of the Japanese language I couldn’t read the available map but wandering through the expo was a really lovely experience. I first found myself in the area where people were able to have a go at the crafts. Most activities are reasonably priced at ¥1,000 and some even ¥500. I watched someone being shown how to tie-dye, some others painting hand carved wooden dolls and a group weaving baskets. You can even try your hand at making an inkan! In particular, I was fascinated by doronuri (dark mud dyeing) from Amami Oshima Island in Kagoshima. A very gentle old man was carefully filtering water through paper, sieving out more water before showing a visitor how to add paint into the shallow layer of water so as to create a beautiful water-colour/tie-dye effect on the large sheet. Visitors were able to have a look at previous pieces and there was a large crowd gathered to watch the slow and soothing process. There were many many experts busy crafting, with visitors watching on and taking photos. Helpfully, for the more intricate crafts, there were cameras set up so guests can really get a close look at the master craftsperson at work.
I then made my way towards the section of the hall where you are able to purchase hand-crafted items. I spent time watching people buying the remarkable Kyudo bows, there is a huge rack on display and they are magnificent. I was also very impressed by the beautiful wooden fishing rods and puzzle boxes. If you are an enthusiast for a particular Japanese traditional craft this would be a great place to buy something. There is a huge variety of things on offer.
Next to the shopping area of the hall, on the left of the stage, there is a rather juxtaposing section of booths featuring modern technologies. It has its own specific area map but is relatively small but this further highlights the contrast with the traditional crafts everywhere else. The sense of wonder that you will experience watching the skills of an expert in some intricate traditional crafts is surprisingly well paired with the amazement you feel when you see some crazy mind-blowing technology. You can witness up the showcase of up and coming technologies ranging from crowdsourcing support software to airless bicycle tires. I was excited to be able to read some English due to a demonstration of real-time translation software and equally enthralled by the robot and futuristic three-wheeled cars! I also had fun standing in front of a screen that let me ‘try on’ different kimonos too.
Leaving the future behind me I then made my way back out into the exhibition, making my way towards the booth showcasing high-quality Japanese home furnishings. The show-home was truly beautiful! Next, after gazing at stunning shrines and lanterns I began to explore the booths dedicated to fabric. The colours are mesmerising, and they are so soft to touch! There is a particularly large section for Hakata-Ori because the company is celebrating their 777nd birthday. Nearby to here there are also some pretty ceramics and more opportunities to do some crafting yourself, maybe painting your own lantern or figurine.
After about an hour and a half of exploring the wonders that the exhibition had to offer I thought it was time for a snack. I headed upstairs to the balcony and treated myself to a small cake from one of the various food stalls. On offer is a a range of food and drink from ten popular restaurants and sake breweries in Fukuoka Prefecture. Eating your food while overlooking the exhibition from the balcony is great, especially if something like live-music is happening on stage.
I would really recommend making the trip to the Kougei expo if you get the chance! You will almost certainly see something you haven’t seen before. You could spend hours perfecting your very own lantern or you could just spend your time watching an expert carve a Noh mask, either way the relaxed atmosphere is charming.