Souvenirs from any Olympics have always been a popular way to remember the games, and with the years passing they become treasured mementos, family heirlooms, collectors’ items, and so on. Of course, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (as they were originally planned) started releasing officially licensed products with their logo and characters as early as 2018. The online store (Japanese only) offers a wide range of items, from standard fare like towels, mugs, and pin badges, to sports equipment, anime merchandise, and finally the traditional crafts collection. In addition to the online store, there are over 50 brick-and-mortar stores across Japan selling officially licensed Tokyo Olympics merchandise.
What makes the traditional crafts collection special is that its 104 items represent all 47 Japanese prefectures, from Hokkaido to Okinawa. Created through a laborious process by some of the country’s finest craftspeople, these products aim to showcase both Japan’s tradition and evolving technology.
From indigo-dyed jackets, to Olympic colors daruma dolls, everything is a perfect representation of both the Tokyo Olympics and Japan. Tokyo is represented by several items, most notably a compact white and blue shamisen lute. At a press event in Tokyo on April 15, 2021, the new chief of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, Seiko Hashimoto, was promoting the collection. She was joined by Kimiaki Kono, the craftsman behind the musical instrument, who even performed a song on the shamisen, even though he is not a musician himself. However, his goal is to make the shamisen accessible to everyone, much like the ukulele, so anyone can play a few simple songs on the three-stringed instrument. He has modernized it to be made of durable washi paper and further decreased the size so it can fit in carry-on luggage on the plane.
Both Kono and Hashimoto were sporting official Tokyo 2020 face masks made of fabric dyed with the traditional yuzen technique usually reserved for kimono silk. A perfect symbol of how the Tokyo Olympics are trying to adapt, adjust, and persevere, while at the same time struggling under a global pandemic that seems never-ending.
Of course, the postponement of the games hurt everyone who had invested hard work and money in them, and the licensed product makers were not spared. Some of the official shops closed down during the pandemic, and it still remains uncertain whether the craftspeople will see a full return of investment. However, most of the shops are still open awaiting the postponed holding of the Olympics, and the official merchandise is available regardless of what happens. Kimiaki Kono is determined to popularize Japan’s traditional music culture, while another artisan in the traditional crafts collection, the daruma doll maker, has previously stated that, just like the daruma itself, if we’re knocked down we’ll spring back up again.
*Product images and top image courtesy of Tokyo 2020 Licencing Office