The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

A Multiplicity of Tsukurimono [cultural artifacts] for Folk-events

Joint Research Coordinator FUKUHARA Toshio

Reserch Theme List


temporariness, extraordinariness, decoration,ornament


Tsukurimono (cultural artifacts) for the purposes of this research includes those things used in festivals and annual events held in urban areas and temporarily installed or displayed in specific places in towns, or dashi and other floats designed to be pulled as conveyances with people riding on them. Tsukurimono have not previously been considered objects of study for Japanese ethnography. That is because they were not thought to be dependent on the comings and goings of the kami deities during the festivals and annual observances. Even research on private artifacts and material culture did not focus on tsukurimono due to their temporary/provisional character. At present there is a tendency to position tsukurimono within the setting of time and space of private homes and to recognize artifacts that are employed in street festivities or ornamental performances as having that value. Tsukurimono can be divided into two major categories. The first category concerns the form known as isshiki-kazari (one-set adornment). This would include those items conforming to the theme of things used in everyday life, such as kitchenware, chinaware and similar items, or materials such as vegetables and wildflowers, which are used as is, untransformed to compose a theme. One of the current uses would be in plays or other forms of storytelling in which puppets are utilized, with tsukurimono objects being used to reproduce reality, including in the background. The second category, namely special conveyances (dashi), would be in line with Nobuo Origuchi’s theory of portable god seats and like the omikoshi portable shrines are apparatuses used to meet the kami, although thinking on this front has stagnated in the decades since his time. This research will bring together researchers from ethnography, festival history, the history of exhibitions and their performers, the history of puppets, the history of handicrafts, the history of modern art, the history of Buddhism, the history of performing arts, the history of funereal practices, and other aspects of society to implement joint research for interdisciplinary study on tsukurimono.

Research Results

  • Research primarily on the history of early modern Japan (1568-1868) has revealed the importance of tsukurimono (disposable artifacts, props), created for the temporary sacred spaces associated with the rebuilding of shrines or the sunamochi rituals performed in or near Osaka. Since the modern period (1868-present), most tsukurimono have been treated as auspicious artifacts, intended for temporary use in celebrations ranging from major national events (related to war or the imperial household) to smaller scale events.
  • Tsukurimono currently in use tend to be found primarily in Western Japan. It had been thought that they had originated in Osaka in the pre-modern period and then spread along trading routes. But while this joint research project found hints that tsukurimono had originated in Osaka, the routes by which they were transmitted elsewhere remain unclear.
  • The majority of tsukurimono currently in use were created in the late Edo or Meiji periods. Popular examples from the Meiji period on include those created for (1) summer festivals like the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, (2) the Jizo or Hassaku festivals that take place from August to early autumn, or (3) folk events during the 14th-16th days of the lunar New Year.
  • One characteristic of tsukurimono is that they are decorated to represent only one particular genre of artifacts: lacquerware, ceramics, kitchen implements, or bar utensils, for example. They are playfully designed so that one glimpse of the shape evokes the original utensil yet also suggests similes or parodies of something else. Materials and construction vary (for example, images of Buddhas made of dried foodstuffs), and the bigger the gap between materials and form, the happier are those who see them. We were also able to confirm that full sets of tsukurimono are more likely to be seen as “real tsukurimono.”
  • At the opposite pole from these parodies are tsukurimono intended to be realistic representations, of which nama ningyo, lifelike representations of real people are one example. These may be based on scenes from Kabuki or historic victories. Tsukurimono of this type have largely disappeared from eastern Japan.
  • Basic tsukurimono are handcrafted by non-experts. The larger human figures, stage props and scenery, e.g., human figures made of chrysanthemums, require the contributions of specialists.
  • Tsukurimono are made for and displayed by families and local communities. They are displayed in shopfronts or their attached houses or gardens. They are frequently found associated with Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri or similar community festivals or displayed as family treasures at family celebrations, or on other ritual occasions. They are also displayed in exhibition spaces that belong to families or community associations, along with other family treasures, ceremonial gifts and festival gear.