Sales are on the rise for traditional Edo crafts that can help people beat the heat without relying on electricity.
Orders for folding fans and wind chimes have come in earlier than usual this year, forcing artisans to work longer hours to meet the increased demand.
Hiroshi Matsui, 65, is the second-generation owner of a folding fan studio in Tokyo's Edogawa Ward. He uses bamboo skewers to open up holes in traditional Japanese "washi" paper where the fan skeleton is to be inserted.
He said orders began increasing from about April, a month earlier than usual. He works until late at night every day to keep up with the orders.
"I have been doing this for 44 years since I started when I was 21," Matsui said. "But last year was special--we received a lot of orders."
With concerns about an electricity shortage this summer due to the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and the current shutdown of all of Japan's nuclear power reactors, folding fans have been the focus of attention as a way to keep cool without using electricity.
Although Matsui normally sells between 5,000 and 6,000 fans a year, sales increased to 7,000 last year. While the pace at which orders are coming in this year is much more subdued than last year, Matsui said, "In preparing for another summer of energy conservation, orders have begun earlier than usual."
Compared to traditional folding fans made in Kyoto, the Edo fans generally have simpler designs and are not as flashy. Matsui, however, has developed a number of different works.
"I would be very happy if the need to conserve energy allowed people to rethink the wisdom of past generations and traditional culture and understand the advantages of Edo folding fans," he said.
Wind chimes made in the traditional style dating from the Edo Period (1603-1867) have also become more popular.
Orders have come in earlier than usual to Shinohara Furin Honpo, also located in Edogawa Ward. Although orders normally begin to increase in April, this year orders began coming in about two months earlier.
Immediately after the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake last year, orders decreased drastically. Some who had placed orders also canceled them.
However, after wind chimes were explained as one way of conserving electricity last year, orders returned in droves.
The nine employees worked from 8 a.m. until 5 a.m. the next day to make 400 wind chimes, about double the usual pace. Even with that schedule, all orders could not be met.
Yutaka Shinohara, 62, the third-generation owner, said, "We appear to have received orders earlier than usual this year because our customers want to buy wind chimes before they sell out."
The most popular wind chime still remains those with goldfish painted on the glass with a diameter of about 8 centimeters and a height of about 7 centimeters.
Other wind chimes that continue to enjoy strong popularity are those with designs reminiscent of summer, such as morning glories and fireworks.
All the wind chimes are handmade. Molten blobs of glass produced from furnaces with temperatures of about 1,320 degrees are blown up and expanded. The technique of shaping glass in the air without using a mold has not changed since it was first started about 300 years ago.
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