Tohoku District (Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Yamagata, Fukushima, and Miyagi Prefectures)
Materials: Wild grapevine, akebi, walnut, painted maple
The Tohoku district is considered the “vine capital” of Japan, where baskets of all types have been produced using such natural materials as akebi and wild grapevine, along with the wood and bark of walnut and painted maple trees. Wild grapevines and walnut bark are harvested during the month-long rainy season in June and July, when the forests come alive; akebi, meanwhile, is gathered in late autumn. Making baskets is a time-consuming process that involves drying the materials in the sun, tanning, cutting, and weaving. As such, it was usually done during the winter months, when there was little farm work to do. Although baskets were essentially farming tools in the past, new varieties are now being produced for use in urban settings. They generally last for more than 30 years, and the longer they are used, the glossier they become. With age, baskets made from wild grapevines can appear to have been made of leather.