Hideaki Tokita, born in 1979, Tokyo, is a rising star in the world of “netsuke”. There are said to be less than a hundred netsuke artists left in Japan.
Netsuke, which became popular during Edo period, is a small accessory which serves as a toggle on a crafted box called “inrou”, or money pouch both of which hang from obi sash. Today, there are more netsuke collectors abroad than in Japan. Mr. Hideaki was exposed to netsuke for the first time while studying in New Zeeland which also led him to start learning jade sculpture
He met with Mr. Mick, a sculptor, who later became his teacher. Under Mr. Mick’s guidance, Mr. Tokita started carving and soon attracted attention and praise from world leading netsuke collectors. In 2007, he received a Newcomer Award from Japan Ivory Sculpture Association.
“Time spent observing is the same as time spent learning. Even for a piece of leaf, if you make an effort to learn something, you will be rewarded”.
His work, born from his ethos in which he pushes himself to the edge in order to sharpen and polish his artistic intuition, releases a powerful presence which is unique in the world.
Katsuhiko Akimoto is a master lacquerer in Tsugaru Lacquer Ware. A traditional craftsman certificated by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. He has also been awarded a lot of major prizes in Japan’s Traditional Craft Competition held every year. At the present, he serves as a director of the Tsugaru Lacquer Ware Association. Born in Hirosaki City, Aomori Pref. in 1942, Katsuhiko Akimoto was apprenticed to Kunitaro Watanabe at the age of 15, and 6 years later in 1963 he set up his own workshop. In 1976, he took up a position as the factory director of Imaizumi Lacquer Craft located in Tsugaru Lacquer Ware Coop and engaged himself in training young craftsmen. In 1982 he withdrew from the company and started making his own products at home. His main products are the speckled trays in kara-nuri technique, as well as other products in nanako-nuri, monsha-nuri, and nishiki-nuri. It takes several months to finish one product through a process of lacquering and burnishing repeated dozens of times. This craft is so time-consuming that it is given an alias name of “Baka-nuri,” which means only a foolish fellow can do it so carefully. The making of this ware dates back to 1677, when a lacquerer, Genbei Ikeda, started making a lacquer ware under the fosterage of the Tsugaru clan. Since then the craft has been handed down for over 300 years.
Souun Takeda, a calligrapher, was born in 1975 in Kumamoto. He started calligraphy when he was three years old, studying with his mother, Souyou Takeda, also a calligrapher.
After graduating from Tokyo University of Science majoring in Science and Technology, he worked at NTT for three years before he became a calligrapher. Since then, he has established himself through a series of unique and original pieces, often collaborating with other artists in various fields including Noh and Kyougen actors, sculptors and musicians, and unconventional one-man exhibitions. He also runs a calligraphy school where many of his students study. “Calligraphy is the same as a conversation. I just use calligraphy to communicate with people”, says the gentle but passionate Mr. Takeda, who is hailed as the new generation of calligraphy.
In 2003, Mr. Takeda received the Longhuacui Art Award from Shanghai Art Museum in China and the Constanza de Medici Award in Firenze, Italy. His work includes title letterings for many movies such as Spring Snow and Year One in the North. He also published three books; Tanoshika, Shoyudou and Sho o kaku tanoshimi.
Ichibee Iwano was born in 1933 in Imadate in Fukui Prefecture. He is known as the son of the 8th Iwano Ichibee, who was designated a Living National Treasure for his work making washi (Japanese paper) in Echizen.
His son, the 9th Ichibee Iwano, was also designated a Living National Treasure in 2002. The paper he crafted was beloved by many artists, such as Picasso. He inherited his temperament for this work from the 8th and, for 60 years, worked hard to make the best washi.
Ichibee Iwano's paper is stiff, and is not easily torn. Its thickness prevents the paper from blotting. He also created an extremely thin paper for publishing reprints of Katsushika Hokusai's woodblock prints. To print these, it is necessary to rub the back of the paper with a special burnishing implement called a baren a few hundred times. To be sure, it is difficult to make a thin paper that withstands these rubbings. However, the 9th smiles and asserts that 'The harder it is, the better it is.' The spirit of craftsmanship may even exceed that of his father.
Takashi Miyake is a master craftsman in Hakata Doll, a traditional handicraft in Hakata area in Fukuoka Pref. He was certificated as a traditional craftsman by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 1976. He has been awarded a lot of prizes in exhibitions of Japanese traditional art crafts including Prime Minister Prize (4 times) and Minister of Trade and Industry Prize (twice). He was also the former president of Hakata Doll Association. The history of Hakata Doll dates back to the early Edo period (1603-1868), when Kuroda Nagamasa was enfeoffed to the Chikuzen domain, a ridge-end tile workman, Masaki Soshichi dedicated a biscuit fired toy doll to the domain lord. Later, simple dolls for townspeople were mainly produced and they were loved by the people all over the nation. A great variety of figures are made including beautiful women, kabuki players, children and themes from festivals as well as some modern folkways. Although he has been engaged in this trade for 50 years, he always agonizes before setting to a new work. However, once he has worked out a conception, he makes out an exquisite work using his splendid skills without hesitation. He is also engaged in a broad range of activities such as the making of the dolls for Hakata Gion Yamagasa Festival. He has now exerts himself in training young craftsmen.
Shiiko Kumagai is the 15th-generation head of Morihisa Iron Studio that has produced Nanbu cast iron ware, a traditional handicraft in Morioka area in Iwate prefecture. Ms. Kumagai is Japan’s first female “Kamashi (caster).”
Born in 1946, she learned metal work as a student. She succeeded to her family business in 1993. Her works have distinctively gentle forms. She has been awarded a lot of prizes including Houunsai Soshitsu Sen Iemoto Shorei Prize for “Marugama (a round teakettle)” in 1990, and the Prime Minister’s Prize at the National Traditional crafts Exhibition for “Kushime round iron kettle” in 1991.
Nanbu cast ironwork dates back to the 17th century, when craftsmen practiced in the art of making chagama (a kettle for the tea ceremony) were invited to Morioka from Kyoto. Being protected by the domain and blessed with fine iron production, making of iron casting became established in Iwate area. Nanbu cast ironwork has been highly valued up to the present time.
Taking advantage of her skills in metal work, Ms. Kumagai has been creating very original works. Through the process of trial and error, she has been producing innovative products that revitalize this traditional handicraft.
Eiichi Kuroda is a craftsman in Suruga Sensuji (a thousand splints) basket ware, a traditional handicraft in Shizuoka prefecture. Born in 1931, has been a bamboo craftsman all his life for 50 years. He especially excels at the technique of Kyokusen-mage (curving). He was designated as a Traditional Craftsman by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry in 1986. He has been awarded a lot of prizes at competitions including the Director-General of Kanto Bureau of International Trade Prize in 1991, the Director-General of Kanto Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry Prize and the President of the Association for the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries Prize in 2001.
This craft dates back to the early Edo period (1603-1868). It is said that the first product of this craft was a feedbox for hawks that Tokugawa Ieyasu used for hunting. The making of bamboo craft spread among local warriors as a side job. It developed into a local business in the Meiji period (1868-1912) and Sensuji bamboo ware was favored as the article of export.
Mr. Kuroda handles resilient bamboo strips at will. It is said that his works have such original aesthetic property that anyone can recognize who made them no matter where they are placed. Besides making effort to brush up his skills that were handed down from his grandfather, he also makes efforts to train young craftsmen to promote this craftwork.
Banshu fishing fly is a traditional handicraft handed down in Nishiwaki City, Hyogo Pref. since the Edo period. The craft was designated as a National Traditional Craft Product in 1989. Banshu fishing flies are used for mountain stream fishing (sweetfish, and Japanese local trout of Yamame or Iwana). Making a fly requires exquisite and high-leveled techniques, by which elaborate work is given to a tiny fishing hook less than 1 cm long to create a perfect lure mimicking an insect in the water. The techniques of Banshu fishing flies were introduced to Banshu province (present-day the western part of Hyogo Pref.) from Kyoto in the late Edo period. Since then the craft has been preserved as a second work of the local farmers. The techniques had been developed with the times and Banshu flies won a number of prizes at Fishery Fairs held during the Meiji period, as a result of which the quality of Banshu flies were recognized by nationwide fishermen. Today Banshu is the main producing center of fishing flies dominating the large part of the market.