Junichi Takano works as the Store Manager at the Shirakiya Nakamura Denbei Store, an old store established in 1830. Mr. Takano supports Satoru Nakamura, the seventh successor who inherited the name and the store.
Along the side of the Kyoubashi River in Tokyo that is now an expressway there once was, in the Edo Period, a commercial river port called “bamboo river bank” where 50,000 to 60,000 sticks of bamboo were unloaded every day. It was also a trading hub for all sorts of materials used for daily products.
The founder of the Shirakiya Store, Toubei, began making houki brooms from bamboo and houki-morokoshi (millet), and this “Edo-bouki” (as Toubei’s houki are called) has been created in the same traditional way and at the same place since.
Junichi Takano initially came in as a part time delivery boy. He was soon fascinated by the “practical beauty” of Edo-bouki and the work being done by master houki maker Seiichi Takagi. Since then, he fell in love with making houki himself and he has now become an indispensable talent for the store.
A houki, unlike some modern disposable tools, lasts a long time.
The craftsmen, anticipating all the possible ways the houki might be used, give it lightness, firmness and pliancy. The user understands that the houki is a tool to purify a house and as he or she sweeps the tatami mat from inside to outside, he or she “collaborates” with the houki. The relationship established between the user and the tool is a further development of the relationship already established between the craftsman and the craft.
Using fine materials, expert techniques and human ingenuity, as an artist, Mr. Takano takes elaborate efforts to continue to preserve the relationship between human and tool and pass it on to the next generation.
When most rooms in Japanese houses had tatami floors, an easy daily cleanup was done with broom and dustpan. Sweeping removed dust quickly and was a simple activity that kept everyday life clean.
Such scenes are seen less and less often these days, but is this a good thing, even though our lifestyles are getting more diverse? Just to clean up a small space, we have to pull out a vacuum cleaner, use it for a short period, then put it back.
Bearing this in mind, why don't you keep a broom and 'harimi' (paper dustpan) in your room? A harimi is made from Japanese paper coated with persimmon tannin, and the size is about 20cm. The color of a harimi is appropriate and it will fit in with any kind of room. The size is quite small and it does not appear jarring.
Daily tools like a harimi look wonderful, even when left lying around in a room. Moreover, a harimi is very useful when used with a small broom for little spaces such as desktops and shelves.
A Houki is a broom traditionally used in Japan for sweeping trash and dust. There are two kinds of houki: zashiki-bouki (room broom) and niwa-bouki (garden broom), depending on where they are to be used.
Zashiki-bouki are generally made from hemp palm fibers and morokoshi ( millet- a kind of grain) fibers . The hemp-palm broom is more widely used in Western Japan and it is made from gathered “oni-ge” (demon hairs) which are extracted from hemp palm bark. The morokoshi plants used to make houki are harvested after growing for one year when they are about 2 meters high. The ears of the millet plants are threshed and dried in the sun for about a week. Then, high quality ears are selected and gathered for making houki.
Besides their obvious practical application as a cleaning tool, houki also figure in various traditional customs associated with the idea of “sweeping away”.
There was a spell in which a houki was stood upside down when a host wished his guest to cut his long stay short and go home. In some areas, a houki was considered a guardian charm for the easy and healthy delivery of a baby. The houki was placed by the bedside of the pregnant woman and, once labor started, a light was attached to the houki and the woman prayed to it. Her belly was then caressed with the houki.
Houki were believed to be sacred and stepping it over or on them was avoided as it would incur divine punishment. Such customs still can be seen today all over Japan.
Sado Tarai-bune or tub boat is a traditional fishing boat that was developed in Sado city, Niigata prefecture. It was in the early Meiji period when tarai-bune, made from a washtub, first appeared and they are still used for fishing in some places, although they are regarded as quite unusual among the fishing boats used in coastal areas.
The coastline of the Ogi peninsula in Sado is covered with many sunken rocks and small inlets and it has long been a source of kelp and turbans. There tarai-bune have been especially effective as they have a tight turning circle. In this area, tarai-bune were once so important that they would be part of a bride’s wedding trousseau.
At Yogi Port, there are some tarai-bune for tourists to ride or row.
When operating the boat, people are advised to stand the T-shaped paddle upright and, while looking at the desired destination, row the paddle as if they were drawing the number eight.
Sado tarai-bune are a traditional and practical fishing boats that were born of necessity, in response to local geographical features.
A Chashaku is a spoon-like utensil used to scoop maccha tea powder into a tea bowl.
The chashaku originally came from a metal medicine spoon used in China, which had a potato leaf shaped scoop. The other end of the stem was rounded in order to crush medicine easily.
In the Muromachi period, when the tea ceremony was established, people began to think that metal teaspoons might damage the tea set. They then started to make Chasaku from bamboo.
Upon the ascendance of Sen no Rikyu as the most influential tea master in the Sengoku period, Keishuso first designed a chashaku with a joint for Rikyu. Hochiku, who studied under Keishuso and who became a chashaku artisan for Rikyu, completed the establishment of chakasu design as an art form.
The bamboo most commonly used for chashaku is from the Nigatake bamboo family, especially Sarashitake bamboo.
Chashaku is 17~21cm in length. The end used to scoop tea powder is oval-shaped, 1cm width and 2cm length, and it is bent to make the scoop.
Chashaku is considered to be essential to the traditional tea ceremony and it is as beautiful as it is functional.
Wa-daiko are percussion instruments and a general term used for Japanese stick drums.
They are made from the trunk of a tree such as Keyaki wood which is hollowed out and sealed on both ends of the drum body with animal skin, mostly from cows. The player beats the skin and it vibrates to make sound.
There is another traditional percussion instrument called tsuzumi which has the same construction as wa-taiko but a smaller size. Tzuzumi are played with the hand, as opposed to the taiko drum which is struck with a drumstick or other instrument.
The history of the taiko drum goes back to ancient times - as early as the Joumon period (BC10,000 – BC300) in which a musical instrument with a similar structure is said to have already existed.
In the Middle Ages, when Dengaku - dance performance to celebrate the harvest, was developed, Ohayushi-daiko, smaller stick drums, became popular. In the Sengoku period, taiko drums were used for military purposes (Jin-daiko) and, in the Edo period, they were used inside the Edo Castle to announce the time. Over the ages, taiko drums were used for many occasions and purposes and they have become rooted in people’s everyday life.
The fact that taiko drums have been used as ceremonial tools to communicate with God in temples and shrines has made them very special instruments that resonate deeply in the Japanese people’s hearts.
In the Showa period, contemporary ensemble style drumming called Kumi-daiko became popular. It is made up of various different kinds of taiko drums, and the unique sound has been enchanting people around the world ever since.
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.
Edo Tokyo Tatemono-en or The Open Air Architectural Museum is located inside Koganei Park on the western outskirts of Tokyo. It is a spacious and bright open-air museum that showcases 27 historical and cultural buildings from the Edo period to the beginning of the Showa period. It first opened to the public in March, 1993.
Its vast area of 7 hectares is divided into roughly three sections: buildings from downtown Tokyo in the east, Yamanote residential areas in the west and historically intriguing buildings in the middle.
Along with these historically important buildings, a whole town was reconstructed and the tools used in daily life are exhibited inside as well as outside the buildings. Visitors can then enjoy a more complete experience of what life must have been like from the beginning of the Edo period to the Showa period.
Among the buildings transferred from their original locations and reconstructed in the museum are the residential house of the Mitsui Family, the Bathhouse Kodakara-yu which inspired the popular movie Spirited Away, the residential house of Kunio Maeda, an architect, and the residential house of Korekiyo Takahashi, a politician from the beginning of the Showa period.
At the museum, visitors can travel beyond time and feel their past heritage.