Kanazawa's Talent Cultivation
A Small City's Grand Vision
As the unrivaled center of traditional Japanese arts and crafts, Kanazawa invests massively in training artisans, and is committed to creating an environment where all residents can explore their artistic potential.
A Small City's Grand VisionBy Ming-ling Hsieh
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 504 )
Clad in a kimono with her hair neatly tied in a bun, 36-year-old Miho Akitomo deftly handles a gas torch to heat a gold sheet at nearly 1,000 degrees Celsius as she works on a piece of jewelry.
Akitomo isn't a Kanazawa native. She came to this historic castle town lured by its reputation as a city of arts and crafts. After attending Kanazawa College of Art and its graduate school, Akitomo pursued further studies at the Kanazawa Utatsuyama Crafts Workshop. Upon graduation she opened her own jewelry studio in Kanazawa's old geisha district, Higashi Chaya-gai.
The workshop, which offers courses in five crafts – ceramics, dyeing, lacquer, metalworking and glass – accepts only 31 students per year, who must have completed university education and have already mastered the basics of their craft. During the three-year course the students don't have to pay a cent in tuition fees. These are footed by the city government, which also provides the students a living allowance of 100,000 yen per month.
Some 70 percent of the workshop's students come from other parts of Japan or foreign countries, including Taiwan.
"Regardless of whether they remain in Kanazawa or return to their own countries and make Kanazawa more widely known, we regard this as the workshop's highest achievement," declares the workshop's metal artisan Koto Murakami.
Attracting Creative Dreamers from Around the World
While Japan's population is shrinking and aging, the population of Kanazawa has increased from 400,000 to 460,000 over the past three decades, because the city is able to attract talented individuals like Akitomo who flock in from elsewhere.
Of all the students who studied at the workshop during its 24-year history, "about one third stay here and become important human assets for Kanazawa," workshop director Ryoichi Komatsu notes with pride.
On top of training at the workshop, an arts and crafts promotion unit under the city government assists artisans in setting up their own businesses. It provides aspiring entrepreneurs with venues where they can promote and sell their creations.
The Kanazawa City Government spends massively on training arts and crafts talent, not only at the workshop.
Dedicated training and research organizations have been set up for three important local crafts: restoration of historical buildings, gold leaf manufacturing, and the Kaga Yuzen dyeing technique. Professional training, which lasts between three and six years, is completely free of charge.
The Kanazawa Institute of Traditional Crafts, which was founded for historical landmark preservation, accepts no more than 50 students per year. Only craftspeople with recommendations from their professional associations and proven experience get a chance. The craftspeople, such as carpenters, masons, roofers and painters, train 3 to 6 years with all costs fully paid.
"Costs are fully covered by the city government. You'll find that only in Kanazawa," enthuses Yukio Tokuda, the institute's administrative vice director.
Carpenter Akira Nishida looks back on 13 years of work experience. He followed his father, a tea master, from Kyoto to Kanazawa.
"Kyodo is more urbanized. Things aren't as exquisite as in Kanazawa," observes Nishida. Upon his father's suggestion, Nishida stayed in Kanazawa for his professional development.
Young craftspeople like Nishida can obtain a start-up subsidy of between 2 million and 5 million yen if they agree to settle in Kanazawa and move to a designated area.
Upon completing their training at the institute, the graduates obtain the title of craftsperson or master craftsperson and are eligible to participate in the restoration of historical buildings.
"These talents are an important asset for Kanazawa City. It's worth spending money on their training," Tokuda believes.
Turning all Residents into Artists
Aside from training highly specialized artisans, Kanazawa also has the ambition to turn all its residents into artists.
The city government bought a decommissioned textile factory and five warehouses of different sizes, which were revamped into an arts venue, the Kanazawa Citizen's Art Center. Local residents can rent the center's various facilities at a low price for practice, rehearsals and performances. Like Japan's ubiquitous convenience stores, the center is open year-round, 24 hours a day.
A small practice room costs 315 yen per hour, while a bigger performing arts rehearsal site can be rented for just 1,050 yen per six hours.
The venues at the art center are always booked out. "You'll probably be able to book a space in three months or so," predicts Center director Kumiko Iwata.
At night, the lights are shining brightly in all the practice rooms. The air is filled with the sounds of saxophone practice and music from a modern dance class.
Around 200,000 people rent venues at the center per year.
This makes one out of every 2.3 Kanazawa residents.
As the reporter tours the center, Tamayo Suzuki, mother of a preschooler, practices the taiko drumming. Suzuki has joined the class every Wednesday for seven years in a row now.
Nowadays people with skills and talent are highly mobile. Only cities that are able to attract outstanding talent stand a chance of sustained growth.
Kanazawa invests in talent. It truly is a small city with a grand vision and great ambitions.
Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz