Genbee Yamaguchi is one of the most respected kimono makers. In 1981, he became the head of “Kondaya”, a long-established wholesale store of obi sashes that was founded in Kyoto in 1738. As the tenth head of Kondaya, he devoted himself to advancing obi making. His recent works, however, have been more involved in designing and making the whole kimono. He also takes an active role in revitalizing the dyeing and weaving technologies through such measures as the revival of Koishimaru - a specific type of silk worm cocoon found in Japan and the preservation of a unique village in the Philippines called “Dreamweaver”. In 2003, Yamaguchi received the Japan Culture Award. After successful collaborations with Kengo Sumi, an architect, and Hiroko Koshino, a designer, he released a new kimono line called Kabukimonotachi-no-keifu, in collaboration with UNITED ARROWS, a specialty retailer. It is an exciting and bold kimono collection for men.
Kabukimonotachi-no-keifu is inspired by the men of the Momoyam period (approximately 1568 to 1603) who loved to live a wild and flamboyant life-style. Japanese men in those days were respected as the toughest of the world. Kabukimono is expressive of that type of man who pursued an extraordinary and “cool” life style. The fashion of Kabukimonotachi-no-keifu evokes masculinity and the true “rock and roll” spirit of the time.
“If you keep on pursuing the basics, there will be a moment when you will suddenly see limitlessness revealed to you, as once Zeami (the greatest playwright of the Noh theater) said. Mastering the basics is the shortest road to freedom”
The vital life force and sexiness in Yamaguchi’s designs come from the inner depth of his creative process.
Satsuma Tsugegushi or Satsuma Comb is a general term for the comb made from a Satsuma box tree.
Ibusuki region of Kagoshima Prefecture, having a climate with high temperatures and high humidity, is known to produce high quality box trees.
Satsuma box tree, which is extremely detailed and hard, produces a comb that is difficult to break. The tree also has a natural yellowish surface and beautiful gloss, and has been much valued.
The origin of the comb is said to date back to when samurai warriors from Satsuma clan first started making it when they came back from Edo (now Tokyo) after finishing the flood prevention works at Kiso River in the middle of Edo period.
Since that time, comb making became widespread as a side job for samurai warriors in the lower classes, and the comb became well-known nationally for its high quality.
In Ibusuki region, when a girl was born, a box tree was planted which grew up together with the girl. When she got married, a comb would be sent to take with her along with her other furniture.
As the comb is used to brush hair with camellia oil for a longer period of time and it ages, the light yellowish surface of the comb glosses further and more finely. In addition, it combs one’s hair very smoothly and feels soft and gentle to the scalp. Also, it doesn’t create static electricity. With these characteristics, Satsuma comb is a fine product that is still highly sought after.
Hino lacquer ware is a traditional handicraft in Hino-cho, Gamo-gun, Shiga Prefecture. The craft dates back to 1533, when Gamo Sadahide, the castellan of Hino Castle, planned to build a castle town. He assembled woodcraftsmen and lacquerers working at the foot of Mt. Watamuki and made them live in the specially arranged blocks of Nusi-machi (lacquerers’ town) and Kataji-machi (woodcraftsmen’s town), where the making of Hino lacquered bowls started.
As Sadahide’s grandson Ujisato was transferred to another place in 1584, the making of this craft declined for a short time. However, as Ohmi-Hino merchants were willing to sell Hino bowls as their staple merchandise, the production of Hino bowls started to grow again and its name came to be widely known. Most of the early products that are still existing today are vessels for ceremonial use. They are characterized by the heavy body and thick foot rim.
In 2001, efforts to revive this traditional craft started by volunteers in the town. They are now working on the production of lacquer ware that can be durable for daily use.
Toshiro Uchida is a silver craftsman from Tokyo and was born in 1925 in Daito-ku, Tokyo.
Silver is highly valued because of its beautiful surface and other unique qualities. Now, 90% of silverware in Japan is produced in Tokyo.
Tokyo silverware is tasteful and bright and is made using techniques developed in the Edo period, such as hammering and fine engraving. One technique is known as 'kiribame': a design is cut out of the silver and another metal, like copper, is soldered into the space.
Toshiro learned hammering from his father, Uzaburo, in 1946, and kiribame from Tomoe Ogawa. Toshiro is particularly good at kiribame.
In 1984, Toshiro was designated as a Tokyo Silverware Traditional Craftsman by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. In 1988, he was also designated as a Tokyo Traditional Craftsman. In the same year, he was awarded a prize and designated as a Tokyo Excellent Artist.
Tamamushi lacquer ware was developed in 1932 by Shun Koiwa (artist name: Komei), who taught at National Tohoku Craftworks Institute established in Sendai by the old Ministry of Commerce and Industry in 1928. Traditional lacquering techniques and some innovative techniques were combined together to create a product with styles favored by foreign people.
The origin of the name Tamamushi comes from the fact that it glitters just like a Tamamushi (jewel beetle). After a base coating with lacquer, silver power is sprinkled on the surface, over which lacquer is applied 10 times, or in special cases 40-50 times. Because of this silver coating and repeated lacquering processes, its color is iridescent and mysteriously beautiful. In the final stage, patterns are drawn and decorated with the techniques of Chinkin (gold-inlay carving) or Makie (gold and silver powdering).
In the post-war period, it became very popular in foreign countries and became the major lacquer ware item for export. Today, it enjoys a good reputation domestically and overseas as the lacquer ware that fits both Japanese and Western lifestyles.
The Sendai fishig rod, the hallmark of a Japanese traditional telescopic fishing rod, is coveted by anglers all over the country. Date Masamune, the founder of the Sendai domain, who had a broad range of interests and loved fishing, also favored this flexible and strong fishing rod.
It has been made in the same way for 400 years since the time of Masamune. Materials of the rod are carefully selected from locally grown eight species of bamboo including Matake and Koyadake in accordance with the function of each section of the rod from the end-piece to the middle-pices and the handgrip. Then the materials are made into one set of fishing rod through as many as 200 detailed manufaturing processes. At the final stage of the production, lacquer is applied many times to give the rod wonderful gloss.
The rod breaks down to 6 to 15 sections and extends to an about 3-meter rod. The whole rod keeps good balance and its performance is extremely excellent. Although composed of many sections, the rod feels like one bamboo stick. It is known for its light and flexible action. It is both functional and practical, and also an exquisite piece of craftsmanship.
Shiwasu is a Japanese traditional name for December. Shiwasu (師走) literally means “teachers run.” It is a generally accepted interpretation today that everyone gets extremely busy in this month to complete unfinished tasks of the year and prepare for the coming new year including house cleaning and cooking for New Year’s Day. Thus even teachers can’t help running around.
However, the word “Shiwasu” derives from “Shihase-zuki,” which literally means the month when priests visit. In the old days in Japan, December was the time when people held a memorial service for their ancestors just like they do during the Bon period, from which custom it was the month when priests were busy visiting every house of villages or towns.
December is also called Harumachi-zuki, meaning the month to wait for spring, or Kureko-zuki, the year end month. It gets severely cold and quite a few places are attacked by heavy snow. Few plants produce flowers in this month except Camellia sasanqua. Its red flowers add colors to deserted landscapes of the cold winter.
As the word “manbi” literally means “ten thousand coquetries,” the Manbi mask expresses coquetry of a young woman. This mask creates different impressions according to light and shade. When seen from the front, its long-slitted eyes and small projecting under jaw give an impression of a beautiful woman. But when it is tilted upward, it looks smiling prettily. And downward, it looks like a woman smiling fearlessly.
In the play “Momijigari,” the Manbi mask is used for a beautiful woman, who is actually the demon taking on the form of a woman. In the plot, Taira no Koremochi joins the feast held by young women in the mountain. Drunk by sake and the woman’s dance, Koremochi fell asleep. In his dream, he receives a message from the deity and slew the demon. The Manbi mask is also used for a demon taking on the form of a beautiful young woman in such plays as “Yuya” and “Sessho-seki.” The Manbi mask has a mysterious charm with both coquetry of an adult woman and prettiness of an innocent girl.