Shouemon Kotabe was born in the Ibaragi Prefecture in 1971.
Mr. Kotabe is the 37th successor to his family’s foundry business which has been handed down for over 800 years.
Since his childhood, Mr. Kotabe helped his father make temple bells. After graduating with a Metal Engineering degree from National Takaoka College (now Toyama University), he went into training at an iron kettle studio in Morioka. He then, returned to the Kotabe Foundry run by his father and took charge of it at the age of 25.
At the foundry, on the foot of Tsukuba Mountain, Mr. Kotabe makes temple bells, fire bells and rainwater bowls. Orders come from all over Japan as well as from other countries.
After consulting about letters and patterns, he creates a mold with local sand and clay and then pours copper and tin heated to 1200 ºC into the mold. Because he doesn’t color the bells, he takes considerable time to create an elaborate mold. It takes four to six months and occasionally as long as one year to make one temple bell. A bell newly taken out from a mold is orange-brown in color. Its tone gradually changes to red, then purple and finally to blue-green. As time passes, the local air makes the bell change its color.
Wanting the sound of his bells to resonate in people’s hearts, Mr. Kotabe continues his quest for the perfect bell-tone.
Ishikawa Prefecture was once ruled by the Kaga Clan, known as a “Hyakumangoku” clan or one million“Koku”clan. Koku was a measure of the domain’s production and the Kaga clan’s Hyakumangoku ranking indicated the extreme wealth of the region. Kanazawa Paulownia Woodwork, with its distinctly flamboyant design, has been produced in the region since the era of the Kaga clan.
Kanazawa Paulownia woodwork is unique-to-the-region. It combines the high quality Paulownia wood, which thrives in the region due to the heavy snowfall each year, and the Makie lacquer technique, a craft promoted by Maeda Oshitsune, the third lord of the Kaga clan.
While a more common Paulownia features a white chest of drawers, Kanezawa’s chests of drawers are different. Their surface is first burnt and polished to create a characteristic burnt look, then Makie lacquer is applied. The lightness of Paulownia wood and distinctive tone of its color result in woodwork that is truly original.
In the Meiji period, Shouku Oogaki, regarded as a great master of Kaga Makie, developed the technique of applying Makie lacquer to the Paulownia Hibachi, a charcoal brazier. These gained popularity all over Japan and greatly increased the desire for Kanazawa Paulownia woodwork nationwide.
In the Ishikawa prefecture, the Paulownia Hibachi became a necessary household article for new brides. Paulownia Hibachis were regarded as essential for heating in the winter and they were once widely used all over Japan.
The word Karakuri was used to describe traditional Japanese mechanical devices. In the Edo period especially, gears from clocks were first used to make moving dolls and the elaborate Karakuri doll tradition began.
It was Hanzou Hosokawa from the Tosa region who first revealed to the general public the way the Karakuri work, using easily understood illustrations. His book, Kkarakuri-zui, had a tremendous impact on many artisans who later developed their own techniques in the field. This book is considered to be the foundation of Japanese robotic technology.
In the 20th century, acrylic resin was invented and the Karakuri techniques were handed down to Yuutarou Oono. Mr. Oono not only successfully revived Hosokawa`s Karakuri but, in a similar spirit of openness, he made them out of transparent acrylic. It is exciting to see a doll in a beautiful kimono bringing and serving tea but people were doubly delighted to to see the dolls’ inner workings as well. The transparent gears developed by modern technology allowed this to be possible.
It is the spirit of true Karakuri artists to honor the people’s desire to know and also create such beautiful dolls that are totally in keeping with the Japanese people’s sense of esthetics.
Otaue Dance Festival takes place on April 29th annually at Okudari Minamikata Shrine in Kinpo-cho, Minami Satsuma City, Kagoshima Prefecture. The festival, a performing art particular to this region, has long been performed to pray for rich harvests for over 400 years.
Around 150 local men gather from the seventh and the eight divisions of Kinpo Town and perform as dancers. Their costumes, hachimaki headbands and style of dance vary slightly from division to division.
Starting at Okudari Minamikata Shrine, the procession of dancers consisting of various styles of dance such as Kama (Sickle) Dance, Naginata (Pole sword) Dance, Bou (Pole) Dance and Kinzan Dance parade through the town.
Senior residents sing traditional songs which have been passed down for years by word of mouth. With their songs and beats from banging poles on the ground by dancers in red sash, performers demonstrate strong and powerful dances, which enchant spectators and they enjoy the seasonal dance until dusk. The festival used to continue well into the night in the past.
Otaue Dace is a well preserved tradition and continues to captivate people in the region.
Hayashiya Kikuou, a rakugo storyteller, was born in 1937, Tokyo. Kikuzou first studied under Katsura Mikisuke III, an established rakugo storyteller. However, when Mikisuke passed away in 1961, Kikuzou went on to become a pupil of Hayashiya Shouzou X III and named himself Hayashiya Kikuzou. In 1972, he was promoted to become “shin’uchi” and made his official debut as an independent storytelling performer. In 1965, he became a regular star on “Shouten”, a popular television program. He is also the chairman of the National Ramen Noodle Party and a member of trustees of the Rakugo Association. In 2007, he handed his name to his eldest son and gave himself a different name, Kikuou.
Hayashiya Kikuzou was born in 1975, Tokyo. He graduated from the Department of Performing Arts at Tamagawa University. He studied under his father, Hayashiya Kikuzou. In 1996, he became “zenza”, meaning he was allowed to perform on the stage for the first time, and named himself Hayashiya Kikuo. In 2007, he was promoted to “shin’uchi” and became Hayashiya Kikuzou II.
Together Hayashiya Kikuou and Kikuzou launched a performing tour to celebrate their double name-taking ceremony starting at Suzuki Performing Center at Ueno, Tokyo, in 2007. It was an unprecedented occurrence for a pupil to take on his master’s name while the master was still alive.
“Even for rakugo which is a rather gentle performing art, it is essential to be assertive and think outside of the box, and not just maintain the tradition”, says both Hayashi. It is evident that they thrive on developing rakugo, finding new ways of working while keeping its tradition alive.
Zeami, also called Kanze Motokiyo, was a Japanese aesthetician, actor and playwright in the early Muromachi period (1336-1573). He was born in 1363 as a son of Kan’ami, a master Noh player. His childhood name was Oniyasha. He named himself Zeamidabutsu, a Buddhist name of the Jishu sect, which was later contracted into Zeami. However, he was commonly called Saburo.
When Kan’ami’s company performed in Kumano for the 3rd Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the 18-year old Shogun was fascinated by Zeami, who was at the age of 12. Since then Zeami was patronized by the Shogun and his accomplished performance was highly appraised by the nobility and high-ranking warriors. Nijo Yoshimoto, the regent and a famous renga poet of the time, was also impressed by his talent and presented him with the name Fujiwaka.
Being in contact with aristocratic culture and arts, Zeami enhanced his aesthetic thory. He established the Noh theater in the present form with his father and succeeded the title, Kanze-dayu, after his father’s death.
He wrote a lot of Noh plays, which are still performed in the same forms today, and also wrote practical instructions for actors including Fushi Kaden and Hanakagami. His aesthetic senses represented by the words “Hisureba hana nari, hisezuba hana naru bekarazu to nari. (If the secret of the flower becomes known to the public, it is not a true flower anymore.)” give vivid impression even to the people living today.
Chichibu Meisen is the silk fabric made from Chichibu silk that has been manufactured since ancient time in Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture.
The origin of Chichibu Meisen dates back as early as the Emperor Sujin era (BC149~BC29) when Chichibuhiko-no-mikoto taught the technology of sericulture and the weaving to local people.
The fabric uses yarns taken from silkworm cocoons called Tama-mayu as well as Kuzu-mayu, debris of the cocoons. This thick yarn is woven horizontally, which makes the fabric durable. Sericulturists used to make the fabric for their own working clothes.
Chichibu Meisen uses a simple weave form called Hiraori (literally, flat weave) which has no difference between front and reverse side, thus, allowing people to turn the clothes inside-out to renovate the dress when the color wears out. With its durability and utility, the fabric became popular among common people and developed further.
Samurai warriors also valued the fabric and helped its development. Over the decades, Chichibu Meisen was improved and the technology advanced while it kept its tradition. It reached its period of peak popularity during Meiji era and the beginning of Showa era.
Chichibu Meisen, which won the hearts of many people in Meiji and Taisho era with its rich design style, still draws attention and is woven with great care while preserving its long history.
Ishikawa cypress weaving is a traditional handicraft in Hakusan City, Ishikawa Prefecture. It was designated as a prefecture’s traditional craft product in 1988.
The beginning of cypress weaving was about 400 years ago, when a traveling priest visited a village in Hakusan and taught the villagers how to weave hats with cypress strips. By the middle of the Edo period, weaving hats had become the important source of income for the villagers.
Strips of cypress called hin-na, or hegi, are woven to make articles. The most famous product is the Hakusan cypress hat, which has been made since the early Showa period (1926-1989). As it is light in weight, strong and effectively blocks off the rain and sunlight, it is widely used by farmers. The time before busy farming season is the peak of the production of Hakusan hats. Today, 6 workmen undertake the annual orders of about 700 hats. Cypress weaving is also adapted in folk crafts such as oboke (baskets to store spun hemp thread), baskets, flower vases, etc. Each item is a charming handicraft with utility and beauty.