Lessons from Mugiwara Zaiku (Japanese Straw Craft)

N J and I just got back from a lovely, albeit short, vacation at Kinosaki in Hyogo Prefecture. We’ve been to Kinosaki before, about two years ago. We explored the hot springs and the aquarium. Kinosaki is one of the most famous hot spring resorts in Japan, having some of the oldest natural springs in in the entire country. The entire town is centered around this– there’s not all that much to do, actually, if you aren’t planning on soaking in a few of the multiple onsen available in the area.

The nice thing about it is that there are also a ton of ryokan, or Japanese traditional inns, and an all-you-can-stand onsen ticket is part of the nightly fee. We didn’t go to the hot springs this time around; instead, we made our way up to the Japan Sea to get some beach time in. It was the last week people could do so without fear of jellyfish. After Obon, the Japanese version of Day of the Dead, the water is too warm and they start to swarm.

DSC02895The beach was great, of course, but I wanted to use this post to talk about something else. On the first day we were there, we visited the Kinosaki Straw Craft Museum. It’s a small, almost hidden gallery located on the western side of the town.

If you’ve never seen Japanese straw craft, sometimes known as Mugiwara Zaiku, I think you’re in for a treat. It must be one of the most complex arts to come out of Japan, and it’s so rare now that only Kinosaki produces it, with only a handful of artisans who still actively create new work.

DSC03191The process of turning raw straw (pictured left) into master works of art (pictured right) is just mind-boggling. If you would like to check out the process visually, I’ve included a link to a YouTube video at the bottom of this post. It’s entirely in Japanese (so you can skip to 1:00), but I think the images are enough to understand the sheer amount of time, dedication, foresight, and patience mugiwara zaiku takes. And, in a way, I think the whole art is quite translatable for writers, and our never-ending endeavor to create something remarkable.

DSC05536No waste. Well-crafted. Beautiful. Inspiring. These are all things that I strive for in my writing. Looking at mugiwara zaiku inspires me. I see the complex patterns and processes that created these boxes, balls and fans and can only marvel. There is a saying that sometimes goes around critique groups–“The author should be invisible”–I don’t think, if you’ve crafted your story well, that this is possible. When I look at things like this, or read things by authors like Sir Conan Doyle, Shakespeare, or JRR Tolkein, I can only ask myself how. That’s what I want with my writing. I want it to appear elegant, effortless. I want people to read it to find it so natural, but also so gripping, that they need to ask how.

I may never get there, but it will always be a star worth shooting for.

 YouTube Video:

3 thoughts on “Lessons from Mugiwara Zaiku (Japanese Straw Craft)

  1. I agree.
    And that’s some amazing stuff.
    Reminds of the basket man across the street from me when I was a kid. Not that his stuff was as complex as this, but, still, he was one of the last of his kind.


    1. It’s such an amazing art. I was talking to all of my students yesterday about the ‘dying arts’. Someone mentioned pottery, and tapestry art. Kind of crazy to think of these arts disappearing into history books.

      Thanks for the comment!


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