- ▼ 8月 (5)
Traditional Japanese art & craft, “Sashimono”, has more than a thousand and several hundred of history. People used to use as a miniature shrine and a gift for a court, aristocracy, and priest. Sashimono established a category called “Edo gonomi” later in the history, and it is one large cohesion of woodworking technique in the present times.
Especially the genre called “Edo sashimono” has the most sophisticated technique utilizing traditional methods by using domestic natural woods. These facts satisfied people who live in the city, and they were very particular about the beauty and finish.
The feature of Edo Sashimono is in the coupling joint which you cannot see from the outside namely inside coupling joint. There are two origins in sashimono, and one is measuring a thing precisely with a ruler. This ruler was called “sashi” in the old times.
The other one is a craftsmanship of fitting pieces together without a spike. This craftsmanship is called “sasu” as a technical word.
In either way, coupling joint is as important as a life of sashimono.
The color of wood is rather bright when it has not been so long, but it changes to tortoiseshell color after 20 years. Mulberry trees in Mikura Island has been used for more than 200 years. Therefore, the number of mulberry trees in Mikura Island is declined and they are not in the market anymore. Even the people in the same line do not own them anymore. There is no better noble wood than mulberry trees in Mikura Island.
The number of sawmills, adhesive material manufactures, and metal plating manufactures is declining rapidly and all of these people have a hard time finding a successor.
I lost my parents when I was six because of atomic bomb in Hiroshima. I did not have any people or place to depend on, so it was clear that I’d better learn a strong technique. That is why I was involved in the woodwork. I found out that my brother lived in Tokyo, and he introduced me to my master, Mr. Shimazaki. I became his pupil and was trained under him for 13 years. I am 78 years old now which means I have been working for Edo Sashimono for more than 60 years.
I did not have any skills other than Sashimono. It had been said that spending 10 years makes a qualified worker, but I had to spend extra three years in order to take care of two young craftsmen. After working as an apprentice for my master, I set up in my own business. My master took me to his clients and recommended them to do business with the same price as the master. It is a common pattern to succeed business in parents and child but pupils set up their own business under Mr. Shimazaki. I think this pattern is unusual and only under Mr. Shimazaki.
I do not have any pupils currently but there used to be one or two pupils always here until five years ago. They probably saw or heard many of difficult circumstances like people came here for advice and vanishing of precious wood merchants. These difficult circumstances made them worry for the future. Other workshops faced to the same situation, and we were all short in successors.
There used to be 30 to 40 workshops but there are only a few left now. There are only two workshops hold the knowledge and skill handling mulberry trees. We all have different techniques and designs depending on the tradition.
I had been attending the exhibitions in the big departments for more than 30 years. I went there with furniture which I designed and made myself. For example, this chest has pure silver fittings. There are no other workmen who order pure silver for a chest. But I think it is worth using pure silver because this cabinet is made with mulberry trees from Mikura Island.
When the main road for the cars made in Mikura Island, I went to the market to buy most of the big mulberry trees. I have been contacting the people I met in the market since then and they allow me to buy mulberry trees. Additionally, they are very kind enough to send me the condition of the trees.
When I make joints on the wooden parts, I have to be very careful for not making it too tight but not too loose. This sensitive adjustment cannot be done by a machine. The size and thickness of tree is different depending on what you make. I have to determine with my eyes and make carefully. That is why our work is done by only our hands.
Trees were grown in the nature and they all have different character. Some of the trees are nice and easy-going, but some others are difficult and devious. The northern half of tree is called “bad tree” at the midpoint of one tree, and workmen wants to avoid these bad trees. These bad trees have different color and no one cannot fix their character no matter how much effort people put on. These bad trees are mainly used in the northern part of houses so that their character is adapted to the climate. On the other hand, southern half of tree is grown honestly and it is easy to handle.
Mulberry trees grew up in the mainland have dark color. The color of tree differs depending on the growing districts because of the nutrient element in the soil. Miyake Island and Mikura Island are close each other, but Miyake Island is a volcanic island. Therefore, their mulberry trees are different. Mulberry trees grew up in the mainland are cheaper, but I do not buy them. For the workmen, using a not noble tree loses our vitality because we put the same amount of effort anyway.
When I see the precious tree, it makes me peaceful. I am always thinking how to use a certain tree. There are only a few good wood grains in the tree and I get the picture of all the good and bad trees in this workshop.
There used to be many orders from the wholesale merchants and our furniture was sold in the departments. Because of the changes in dwellings, there are not so many apartments putting a low table and Japanese-style chest. Then wholesale merchants stopped ordering furniture. I directly went to the departments to sell sometimes.
We get more orders from the individual customers directly now.
They order wide variety of small products rather than big furniture.
I made some ballpoint pens and hand mirrors, and most of them are sold. The people who bought these things give someone as a gift. No matter the size of the products, nice color and good wood grain are obtainable only from a limited part of roots. Therefore, cutting out a small piece out of big tree is such a precious thing.
I made some tools like miniature planes for the people who come here for the trial classes. You can make your own chopsticks using these tools. There are many visitors here such as school excursion students, tourists from overseas, and rural people with strong wills to learn woodwork.
Fortunately, I am very busy for responding to the orders from my customers, so I am not thinking about expanding my work currently. I just want my customers to use my products cautiously for a long time.