Category Archives: biography

Newspaper article 新聞記事: “Edo tops” made in Sendai 仙台でつくられる「江戸ごま」

Hiroi-sensei has appeared many times in Japanese newspapers. Below is a translation of an article entitled “’Edo tops’ made in Sendai .” See the original Japanese article at the link below.

廣井先生は多数の新聞記事で特集されています。「仙台でつくられる「江戸ごま」」という記事も掲載しました。以下のリンクでアクセスできます。

Click here for the original article in Japanese.

日本語での記事はこちら

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“Edo tops” made in Sendai

These endlessly beautiful items…
“For me, there is only this path.” – Hiroi

When you say “tops,” you might imagine tops you’d play with outdoors, but these are “land tops” (jigoma 地独楽). Edo tops are a type of tops known as known as “parlor tops”“(zashikigoma 座敷独楽),  which you enjoy by spinning them in your home and decorating with them. In addition to single-block tops, there are all kinds of tops that rely on centrifugal force.

The blueprints for the tops are in my arms

“Even if you ask me how many types [of tops] there are,r” says artisan Hiroi Michiaki of the tops he has vividly colored, “If you were to categorize them like kokeshi, it would probably be over a thousand. Well, probably about 600.”

To the question “are there blueprints?” Hiroi says but one word: “No.” When I reply, “Then they must be in your head, right?”, he says, “No, there’s nothing in my head. But these arms have memorized them. My hands move on their own.” I’m speechless for a little while at this perhaps profound statement.

Edo tops—Wax polish makes the bright colors–the characteristic red but also purple, green, and yellow– stand out all the more. Once, these tops were intended for the children of high-status warriors and wealthy merchants, having little to do with commoners. As such, the finishing touches were minded to the smallest detail, and except for the single block tops, “they express the characteristics and old tales of each time period, and there’s no [top] without a history.”

This is something that can be said for all of Hiroi’s wooden toys, and even if they appear to have no origin story, that is simply a product of having forgotten it in the present day.

The spirit (kokoro) that protects tradition

When asked about the “spirit” of continuing to make Edo tops, a central part of [Japanese] wooden toy traditions, he dismissed this question smoothly, saying, “[Tops] are not something to tout as tradition. Because I was born an artisan, there’s no other path for me.”

On the subject of successors, he first said, “Right now about ten people are coming [to apprentice],” seemingly unworried, but added regretfully, “It would be difficult for them all to inherit [the practice].”

Why Edo tops in Sendai?

“During the war, we evacuated to Miyagi. We lost our chance to return to Tokyo,” Hiroi said, adding, “In Tokyo, there are many people in Tokyo with resources and many people who understand [our work]. And people who suggested I come back.” Saying that his younger brother was working hard on making tops in Tokyo now, Hiroi seems determined to preserve the Edo top tradition here in Sendai’s Fukuhara.

Hiroi also makes kokeshi, but doesn’t seem very interested in them.“Kokeshi are easier to make compared to tops, and sell well, but…” he said, although he was unable to identify the reason why he wasn’t motivated to make them.

There are Edo artisans here

Hiroi’s wife, listening to us nearby, says, “When we have an order deadline approaching he procrastinates. Then when he starts, he’ll skip meals and stay up turning the lathe late into the night. If he’s even a little unsatisfied with the result, he’ll just toss it out.” Because these tops now are being gifted to an orphanage , Hiroi-san has stopped tossing out ones he doesn’t like.  

Hiroi, who was born an artisan, aims only to create the best products. Right now, he only makes direct sales aimed at about sixty people without going through wholesalers. His reason is that “if you sell them in stores, they can mark them up to absurdly high prices.”

“Despite all the effort you put in, you don’t make much money. It’s the kind of work only an idiot could do,” Hiroi says [joking], finally adding, “This is the only path for me, now and forever.”

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Media Post: Janell at work and her tops

Below are photos of Janell at work on the lathe and some of the tops she made in the 1980s.

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友情の輪

宣教師時代に里帰りした際のできごとや、日本でできた友人について、そして廣井先生との特別な絆について語ったインタビュー

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マリナ・スーティ: 故郷のアメリカにいるご家族やアジアにいる親しいお友達とはどうやって連絡を取っていましたか?

ジャネル・ランディス: そうなの。私がいたあの頃は電子メールなんてなかった…手紙よね。母は書くのが上手だったし、妹も私も未だになんだけど、パソコンを持っていないの。妹は手紙に絶大な信頼をおいてるから妹には手紙を書かないといけないわ。それで書くのが上達するわけじゃないけれど。ペンの黒インクよりも修正液の白の方がたくさん使うわ。まぁとにかく、あの時は主に手紙で家族とやりとりをしていたわね。たまに電話もしたけれど、当時は電話するのに日本からインドへかけて…電話をかけるための予約をインド人に取り付けないといけなかったから、たくさん掛けることはできなかったの。しかも時々かからないこともあったから。でも日本はあの頃、産業技術が発達してきてた時期で…FAXがあったわ。未だにFAXを持ってる宣教師って結構いるの、楽に連絡を取れる手段だから。でも今の時代はみんなと同じようにインターネットよね。おそらく、それでも、インターネットなしで日本と連絡を取れるからFAXを未だに持っている宣教師達はかなりいると思う。

マリナ: アメリカへ里帰りする機会は多かったですか?前に言っていたみたいにー

ジャネル: えぇ。毎年、そうね1ヶ月くらい、日本にいる人たちが里帰りできる制度があったわ。私は5年いて1年か9か月の休暇があった。私は教師だったから一年中日本にいることはなかったのよね。4月から3月までの年度内いつでも代理の先生がいたし。私の里帰りは3ヶ月ごと、じゃなくて3年ごとに3ヶ月だったわ。ホーム・アサインメント(※1)…前は休暇という言い方をしていたけれど最近ではホーム・アサインメントと呼び方を変えたのよね。ホーム・アサインメントの3分の1は自分の余暇。3分の1…3分の2は委員の仕事をしたわ。だから里帰り中には外に出ることが多かった。できる時には自分で運転したものよ。だって自分の車がないときって、行く場所はドライバー次第で、同じ話を何度もしないといけないし。 ほら、誰かの朝食と誰か目的地を運転中の話で、[いつも同じの質問を聞かれたことは]滑稽な気分になったりするでしょ。色んな地域に行くんだけど同じ質問をしてくるから、テープ・レコーダーで返事を録音して再生したかったわよ。でも何度も戻る機会があって、行ったことある地域に割り当てられた。ペンシルバニアでは福音改革派がメジャーでキリスト連合教会ともコネクションがたくさんあった。南東部協議会、北東部協議会、中央協議会、西部協議会。地域ごとにもいくつか…オハイオには協議会もあったけど組合もあったわ。ニューイングランドの方には何かあれば頼れる人もいた。一泊してディナーとランチを取るだけじゃなくて、3日間同じところで過ごして同じ教会に属してる色んなグループの人たちと話せる機会があったの。一度会ったら、それで「さよなら」ってわけじゃなくてね、あらそういえば、日本からの宣教師がいたわ、彼女の名前なんだったかしら。コネチカット州ではグループに入っていくのが少し難しいなと思った、イタリア系の人がコネチカット州の協議会長をしてて、コネチカット・マフィアと呼ばれていたの。私の日程表を送ってきた人もイタリア系の人だったし。それでも、デピュテーション(※2)のために来た宣教師の扱いがうまかったわね。デピュテーションは宣教師の仕事の一つね。教会や宣教師派遣委員会から有給で派遣されて自分の経験を伝える機会がもてるのよ。一度新たに宣教師となる人についての記事か何かを書いたことがあったわ。

(※1 ホーム・アサインメント…宣教師が自国(=ホーム)でデピュテーションなどのアサインメント(=任務・仕事)をする。休暇と併せて里帰りをする)

(※2 デピュテーション…宣教師が教会に訪問して自分たちの活動の報告や働きの紹介をすること)

マリナ: マリナ:えぇと、その。日本にいたときのご友人やお知り合いはみんな日本人でしたか。もしくはみんな外国人か、両方同じくらいなのか。

ジャネル: 最初のうちは同じ配属先の宣教師と仲良くしていたけど…何年も過ごして、語学学校から戻ってからは友達のほとんどが日本人だったわね、宣教師仲間がそれと共ににどんどん減っていったわ。

最後の何年かは、宣教師が3人しかいなくなってた。音楽の先生と他に…もう一人の男性。それと同じ部署にいた女性。でも、彼女は大学にしかいなくて私は中高等学校にいたけど、彼女が病気になって働けなくなってしまったの。私はその時パートタイムだった。2006年が宮城の120周年記念で、私たちが日本に帰る、というか訪問するための資金を学校側が出してくれて行った時に音楽の先生と一緒になってね。日本訪問から戻ってすぐにその彼はカリフォルニアで亡くなってしまった。だから、宮城時代の3人の宣教師のうち生きているのは私だけ。

宣教師の奥さんの誰かが男子校で働いていると思う。ついに中学校を手伝うようになったのよ。彼女は長いこと宣教師委員会から外されていたの。すごく腹立たしかったわ。だって彼女がやってきたホスピスでの頑張りがやっと日本で受け入れられてきたところだったのに。ついに実現するってところで、宣教師委員会は彼女がどの組織にも属していないと言い出したの。4人も子どもを育てて、子どもも彼女も地域に根差しているのに。でも今では中学校で教師をしているから嬉しいわ。でも学校から直接お給料が支払われているから宣教師のリストに彼女の名前はないの。

あと若い子が一人いたわね。でも私たちの宣教師委員会では2人の宣教師をサポートしていて2人とも前任宣教師の子どもだった。1人は京都に、あと1人が仙台だけど、家族がいる関西にほとんどはいるみたいね。

マリナ: では、廣井先生との時間について訊いていきますね。

ジャネル: えぇ。いいわ。

マリナ: それでは、廣井先生に初めて会った時のことを話していましたけど、その前に廣井先生について知っていましたか。

ジャネル: いいえ。廣井先生は東京出身で仙台に住むようになったわけだけど、私は先生のことは知らなかったの。アマノさんを通して知って、アマノさんとタカハシさんが手助けするために廣井先生を訪ねていて、二人が廣井先生を見つけたの。新年の番組でインタビューするために凧づくりの職人を探していてね。男の子は凧揚げ、女の子はバドミントンをする。とにかく、凧職人が見つからなくて、ある日本人女性が、小さくて素敵な本屋さんをやってたんだけど廣井先生の知り合いだったの。それで仙台に独楽職人がいると知ったのね。そして廣井先生を見つけたら、具合がよくないことと、生活が苦しいことが判った。だから病院に連れて行って、自分たちを弟子に取ってもらうことにしたの。収入もできて、独楽づくりを再開してもらえるようにね。その頃に、私はアマノさんの奥さんと一緒にあのテレビ番組をやっていた、アマノさんの奥さんが番組助手で日本語担当、私が英語担当でね。まぁとにかく私は、TBSで働くアマノさんとアマノさんのお友達に、番組に出てくれと頼まれたの。それから廣井先生の家に連れて行かれて。廣井先生と奥さんに会ったの、おかしな家で。お店以外に2~3個部屋があって、仕事が終わった後は座ってお茶を飲んだ。

女性は私と廣井先生の奥さんしかいなかったから、たくさん話を聞いたの。楽しかったわ。こたつに入って話し合ってるのを聞くのが楽しみだった。女子中学校、女子高校、女子大の英語の教師で、色々な場面で生徒を引っ張っていく役割になる私としては、日本人男性とテーブルを囲んで彼らの話を聞くのはそれだけで素晴らしいことだったの。だって話の殆どは独楽づくりのことで、キリスト教の学校で宣教師をしているときとは全然違う友情を築けたから。私を仲間の一人としていつでも受け入れてくれたの。

International Friendships

In this post, Janell Landis describes visits home during her time as a missionary, her friends in Japan, and her special relationship with her teacher, Hiroi-sensei.

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Malina Suity [7:20]: How did you communicate with your family back home in the U.S. or any people you might consider to be family in Asia?

Janell Landis: Yes. At that time there was no email when I was…with letters. My mother was very good at writing and my younger sister still, we don’t, neither of us have a computer. She’s very faithful in writing to me so I have to write to her. I’m not getting very good at writing anymore. I’m using white out more than I’m using ink [laughs]. But anyway, I had had communications with my family mainly through letters. There were occasional phone calls, but not many, because there were times when phone calls between India and Japan where you had to make a…Indians had to make a reservation to call me. And the calls wouldn’t go through sometimes. But, in Japan, when I was uh, when they were getting into the technical age..faxes. You can still see in the list of missionaries there many of them still have the fax because that was the connection that made it easy to contact somebody. But now I think they’re in the internet just like we are. Probably, but many of the missionaries still have a fax, because then they can contact the Japanese without the internet.

Malina: Did you often get chances to return to the U.S. you mentioned–

Janell: Yes. Our board had a system, every year in Japan um, for every year you’d get a month or something like. I had five years and then one years furlough or nine months. Because I was a teacher sometimes I didn’t stay the whole year. I would go and there would be somebody to replace me in that school year from April to March of the next year. But I also went home every three months, I mean every three years for three months. One home assignment–they used to call them furloughs but in more recent years they changed it to home assignment. One third of the time was for yourself. One third was–two thirds for the board. And so when I was home in the United States I was often on the road. And when I could I’d drive myself. Because when I didn’t have a car you’re at the mercy of the place you’re going to and you have to tell the same story five times. You know, somebody’s breakfast and somebody drove you there and and it became almost humorous. I would have liked to have a tape recorder and just play it for them because they ask the same questions in various areas. But I had many times I came back and I was assigned to the same areas. In Pennsylvania, the E&R Church was big and the United Church has a lot of contacts in Pennsylvania. The Southeast Conference,  the Northeast Conference, the Central Conference, and the West Conference. And then some places it was just…in Ohio it was a conference but then it had associations. And up in New England I had some very helpful contacts there. Not just one overnight and a supper there and a lunch there, but I’d be in at one place for three nights and doing various groups in the same church for several times. And I’d see people more often than just once because, ‘Oh yeah we had a missionary from Japan, what was her name?” Kind of was harder there in Connecticut to get into that group because the one visit I had there with what they called the Connecticut mafia because the Connecticut chairman was of Italian background and then this man who sent me my schedule was of Italian background. But they were very good at using the missionary who was there for what we called deputation and that was part of being a missionary. Being able to be sent and paid for by the church or the mission board for visiting and having a chance to share. I had some articles and stuff that talked about the missionary coming.

Malina: Um, what, um. Were your acquaintances and friends in Japan mostly Japanese people or mostly foreigners or was it a mix of the two?  

…….

[14:20]

Janell: I think in the beginning my friendships were mainly the missionaries that were aligned with…but as the years went on and I came back from language school my friends were mostly Japanese and the number of missionaries became less and less too.

In the last couple years, there were only three of us missionaries. The music teacher and another–a man. And a woman who was in the same department. But I, for some of that she was only in the college and I was in the Junior-Senior High, but then she became ill and couldn’t work and I was still part time then. And the music teacher we were together in 2006 for Miyagi’s 120th birthday and the school paid for our coming home to Japan, I mean coming back to Japan. And um then shortly after he came back from that visit he died in California. So, I’m the only living one that was in that Miyagi period where [there were] the three missionaries.

I think there’s one of the wives of a missionary who’s serving the men’s school. His wife is finally helping in the Junior High. She was dropped from the mission board for a while and that made me very angry. Because she was just getting to the point where her work with hospice was being taken up in Japan. And just before that got off the board, the mission board said she wasn’t connected to any organization. She raised four kids there and they were all in the neighborhood and she had neighborhood children in her home. But now she’s teaching in the Junior High and I’m glad for that. But she’s not listed as a missionary because her salary is coming from the school.

And I think there’s another young person there too. But our mission board is down to supporting two missionaries and they’re both children of former missionaries. One in Kyoto and one, one was in Sendai but he’s going on with his family to the Kansai area too. 

Malina: So, now I think we’re going to shift over to, um your work with Hiroi Sensei.

Janell: Yes. Uh-huh.

Malina: So how–you mentioned how you first met him, had you heard about him before?

Janell: No. No. He came from Tokyo and settled in Sendai but it was–I didn’t know he was there. It was through Mr. Amano’s connection, he and Mr. Takahashi helping Hiroi sensei and visiting for this particular, they discovering him. They found, like I said, they were looking for a kite-maker to interview on one of these New Years programs because flying kites is the big thing for boys and playing badminton is for girls. And anyway, they didn’t find a kite-maker but a woman who was running–a Japanese woman who had a nice book store was acquainted with Hiroi-sensei.  and she found that they had a top-maker right there in Sendai. And that’s when they found him and he was not well, and he was not making much money to live on. So they got him into the hospital and got him taking them on as apprentices. So they could get some money to him and assisting him in getting back to making tops. And around that period, I had been on that program with Mr. Amano’s wife and she was my associate and using the Japanese while I was doing the English. But anyway, he and his friend from the same company, TBS, asked me to be on this program. And they took me to the home of Mr. Hiroi. And I met Hiroi-sensei and his wife in a very strange house. They had one or two rooms besides the shop and we’d sit around the table and have tea after we finished working.

[31:28] And many times his wife and I were the only women, and so we listened a lot. And it was fun. I enjoyed those times in the kotatsu and listening to the discussions. For a teacher of English who was with college and junior high and senior high school girls, and in many ways being a leader for them, it was just wonderful to be able to sit around a table with these Japanese men and listening to what they were talking about. Because a lot of the times it was about making the tops, but the friendships that developed in that area were some that were quite different from being a missionary in a Christian school. But I was always accepted as a valid person. 

 

Media post メディアポスト: Hiroi & co at Shimin Matsuri 市民まつりでの廣井先生たち

Hiroi-sensei and his apprentices participated in many local community events. Below are photos of them selling their top and kokeshi products at Sendai’s Shimin Matsuri, a local festival, in the 1980s.

廣井先生と弟子がよくコミュニティーのエベントに参加していた。以下の写真で、廣井先生たちが80年代の仙台市民まつりで独楽・こけしなどを売っている。

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Newspaper article 新聞記事:Craft Village Calls for Four Apprentices

Hiroi-sensei has appeared many times in Japanese newspapers. Below is a translation of an article entitled “Craft Village Calls for Four Apprentices” that ran November 11, 2012 in the newspaper Kahoku shinpō. See the original Japanese article at the link below.

廣井先生は多数の新聞記事で特集されています。2012年11月11日、河北新報が廣井先生についての記事を掲載しました。以下のリンクでアクセスできます。

Click here for the original article in Japanese.

日本語での記事はこちら

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Craft Village Calls for Four Apprentices

Kokeshi, Edogoma, Sendai tansu, Tea Utensils

Sendai and Akiu Engage in Job Creation Projects

Sekino learns painting from kokeshi artisan Suzuki (left)

At workshops in “Akiu Craft Village” in Sendai’s Taihaku Ward, four people in their 20s and 30s have become apprentices. In order to address the lack of successors to their crafts, artisans have welcomed and supported the country’s emergency job creation situation.

They also hope to borrow the energy of these young people to revitalize efforts to increase the dwindling number of visitors who come to Akiu Craft Village.

“A Chance to Train a Successor”

Both the Ganguan Kokeshi Store and the Onkomaya Hiroi Edo tops workshop have acquired two apprentices. The Sendai tansu shop Kumandō and tea utensil Umoregi* shop also have taken on apprentices.

Sekino Akiko (age 39, Taihaku Ward), a part-time instructor at an elementary school in Sendai who has become an apprentice at Ganguan, began visiting Akiu Craft Village once or twice during months off starting three years ago. Sekino decided to become an apprentice, saying, “I would like to open a workshop and convey to children how wonderful wooden toys are.”

On the 7th of this month, Sekino began learning to paint. By using kokeshi artisan Suzuki Akira (52)’s models as reference, Sekino is starting to learn how to paint eyebrows, eyes, and noses. Sekino worried, “Starting the brushwork is incredibly difficult”; to which Suzuki responded “Your own feelings are passed through the brush and appear in the work,” communicating the importance of being aware of your own state of mind while working.

Sales are in a slump, and more than half of the 9 shops at the Craft Village have no apprentices. The partnership of artisans, alarmed by this, solicited the apprentices using project assistance from the government that can guarantee at most one year and five months’ wages for them.

“It takes a short while to come into one’s own as an artisan, about a year and a half,” said Hiroi, the head of the project partnership, “but it would be great if we had a chance to train the artisans of the future.”

In addition to taking those who come to Akiu Craft Village on tours, Sekino will be making new kokeshi characters and has an important position in building up interest in the Craft Village.

Dyeing and Weaving Atelier Tsuru is also recruiting apprentices now. People who would like to apply can do so through the job placement office or contact the Association representative at 022 (398) 2770.

*Translator’s note: This is an error. The Umoregi shop sells items crafted from bogwood and the Kobokusha Store sells tea utensils.

 

Janell’s Tops: Part 3

While Janell was an apprentice to Hiroi-sensei, he encouraged her to produce tops that dealt with themes related to American folk culture and lore that reflected both her background and the art and culture of her new home through traditional Japanese crafts. The photos below show tops Janell made in the 1980s. There are both western-themed tops and traditional Japanese tops.

Newspaper article 新聞記事: Moved from Toshima, To Train in Akiu: Maeda from the Izu Islands

Hiroi-sensei and Maeda-san have appeared many times in Japanese newspapers. Below is a translation of an article entitled “Moved from Toshima, To Train in Akiu: Maeda from the Izu Islands” that ran January 10, 2008 in the newspaper Kahoku shinpō. See the original Japanese article at the link below.

廣井先生と前田さんは多数の新聞記事で特集されています。2008年1月10日、河北新報が廣井先生についての記事を掲載しました。以下のリンクでアクセスできます。

Click here for the original article: 記事はこちら

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Kahoku shinpō (January 10, 2008)

Maeda makes traditional artworks using reclaimed camellia wood, which is difficult to work with.

Moved from Toshima, To Train in Akiu: Maeda from the Izu Islands

“I want to become a woodworker using camellia wood in my hometown”

Akiu Craft Village in the Taihaku Ward of Sendai City and the Izu Islands near Tokyo are forming a closer bond. A man from Toshima has moved to Akiu and is training in traditional crafts. Given the opportunity to use reclaimed camellia wood from the Izu islands during his training at Akiu Craft Village, in the future, he hopes to return to his hometown as a woodworker specializing in their local camellia wood. For Akiu, they can also greatly increase the assortment of products they make, and their craftspeople have responded warmly, saying, “We this to become a bridge between Akiu and isolated islands of the Pacific.”

This man is Maeda Ryōji (26). While working a part-time job at a gas station in Sendai, he commutes to the “Komaya [Top Shop] Hiroi” workshop and is learning how to make tea cups, saucers, and tops.

The Hiroi workshop is managed by Hiroi Michiaki (74), one of the seven artisans of the Akiu Craft Village Work Association.

Maeda, after helping with his parent’s fishing business, worked at a company in Tokyo. In spring of 2004, he came to sell camellia oil at a product fair in Akiu Craft Village, where he by chance met Hiroi and developed an interest in traditional arts. In fall, he moved to Sendai.

Maeda says that his dream is “to master [everything], from methods of sawing to the making of ten types of edged tools using the lathe, then become the only woodworker in Toshima.”

In 2004, at the suggestion of local planner Aizawa Yū (51, Izumi Ward), the Work Association began a project to create new traditional craft pieces using reclaimed wood from Toshima. They received a donation of camellia wood from Toshima village and began their exchange selling kokeshi and accessory cases they made from it.

Compared with dogwood and other trees used for wooden toys, camellia has numerous hidden knots in the wood and becomes extremely hard when dried, making it difficult to work with. The products made from camellia have a particular texture and tint to them that give them a high-quality feeling.

Aizawa has said, “I thought we would join forces—Toshima, which had an issue with disposing of its old camellia wood, and the Craft Village, which was looking for a new challenge. We would be happy if Maeda became an independent craftsperson and inherited our traditional craft techniques.”

A map of Toshima 利島 off the coast of Tokyo and Yokohama.

“I don’t think there are any woodworkers in Japan that use camellia. I want to guide Maeda so he can readily become an independent artisan,” Hiroi said enthusiastically.

Toshima 利島 is located 140 km south of Tokyo. The population of the island, which spans about 8 km in circumference,  is around 300 people. More than half the island is covered with around 200,000 camellia trees, whichproduced about 14.5 kiloleters (3830.5 gallons) of camellia oil from their seeds a year in 2006–an estimated 60% of all of Japan’s camellia oil.

 

Hiroi-sensei and his apprentices

In this post, Hiroi-sensei highlights his own experiences as an apprentice and the many years he instructed others. He describes the apprenticing process and the years of dedication necessary to become a master top-maker.

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Paula Curtis: And to continue, can you tell us a little about your experience as an apprentice?

Hiroi Michiaki: As an apprentice?

Paula: Yes, um, such as, when you were an Edo top apprentice and first began learning it, what was the most difficult thing, for example. Could you explain a bit about that experience?

Hiroi: Ahh… yes. The most difficult thing was whether a top would spin well or not. At the beginning I didn’t know what I should do to make it spin well. That was definitely the most difficult thing. It’s still hard now, though, it’s still difficult. How it will spin, how I should produce it to get different ways of moving; since the many ways it moves depend on the strength of the top. That foundation… making the top so that it spins, that’s the most [difficult]. A lot of years… it takes a lot of years [to learn], you know. Even now it’s the same. That’s really the most difficult thing.

Paula: Even now, um–

Hiroi: Even now.

Paula: Even now, do your apprentices think that is the most difficult thing [to learn]?

Hiroi: Ahh, I don’t know what my apprentices think. I think it’s probably the same, though. And for tops, you know right away. Whether it’s good or bad. No matter how many you make with this shape, if you spin it and watch and it goes rattling about, it’s not a good one. So that’s the most difficult part. I think my apprentices probably have that same worry, even now, worried [about how they spin].

Paula: When did you first start accepting apprentices?

Hiroi: Mm, when was my first apprentice…?  Ahh, it was after we came to Fukuhara, right. Umm it was some years ago… mm, it was some years ago so I’ve forgotten. Quite a while back. It was before we came here, so we came here at least twenty-five years ago, and it was before that, so about thirty years ago, I think.

Paula: How many apprentices do you usually have?

Hiroi: At first it was one. And I mentioned this before, but that apprentice had a lot of friends and brought seven people with him, so, yeah, it was when we were in Fukuhara, so before we came here.

Paula: Um, when Janell came here to learn about these Edo tops, did you have [other] apprentices did you have at that time?

Hiroi: At that time… ah! I already had some apprentices, seven of them. The apprentices from Shiroishi were already here at that time. And in addition to them, um, there were a number of people, umm, who like Landis-sensei came here to learn as a hobby… Amano-san, Jin-san… umm… Suzuki-san, Zanma-san… ahh, also there was Shimamura-san, Watanabe-san… who else was there… Amano-san, Jin-san… Junna-san, Suzuki-san… and… Ah! Today, err? Kyōya-san, was he around that time? When we were in Fukuhara. Kyōya-san…

Mrs. Hiroi: Also there was the Jins.

Hiroi: So, Amano-san, Jin-san, and Zanma-san, Suzuki-san, Kyōma-san…

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah. That’s about it.

Hiroi: That was about all the people doing it as a hobby. Ah, and Landis-sensei, too.

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah. So that’s about it.

Hiroi: Six people doing it as a hobby. And other than them, there were people doing it professionally… Ah, Shinomura-san was doing it for a hobby at first, and from that beginning went pro.

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah.

Hiroi: So other than the seven from Shiroishi that I said before, the people who became professionals were the two from Marumori and today’s Tome. Umm, seven people plus two people, so nine.

Mrs. Hiroi: Mm.

Hiroi: Nine people, these were those aiming at being pros and who were pros. And the other six were amateurs doing it as a hobby. So in all there was ten– ah, there was also Morimoto-san.

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah. There was also Morimoto-san.

Hiroi: Right. In that case there was a lot. Fifteen or sixteen. Heh heh heh. So there was a turnover.

[7:13]

Paula: And were you apprentices usually men? Women?

Hiroi: Female apprentices. Umm with Landis-sensei as the first, then there was Jin-san’s wife. And… there was Yamada-san. Umm… female apprentices…

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah… yeah… that was about it.

Hiroi: Is that about it? I thought there was someone else…

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah. There weren’t [that many] women.

Hiroi: Only three? It was three women.

Paula: Going pro…?

Hiroi: Mmm… probably…

Paula: Was there no one?

Hiroi: There was no one who went pro that was a hobbyist, but there are people above pro. But that doesn’t mean that they’re making a living from it…

Paula: About how old were people who became apprentices? At the beginning, at the beginning–

Hiroi: When they first came?

Paula: Yeah.

Hiroi: How old were they? Around that time I think everyone was in their thirties.

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah.

Hiroi: Yeah… it was their thirties. Yeah. Among the men, who was the oldest?

Mrs. Hiroi: Around that time wasn’t there Minoru-kun?

Hiroi: Minoru-kun was so young at that time.

Mrs. Hiroi: Was he that young?

Hiroi: He was still a child.

Mrs. Hiroi: Was he?

Hiroi: Yeah, yeah, was he in his twenties? [Or] in his thirties.

Mrs. Hiroi: Uh, who, who was?

Hiroi: Was he in his thirties? Yeah, everyone was, weren’t they?

Mrs. Hiroi: That’s how it was. Yeah.

Hiroi: The oldest person… ah, was it Watanabe-san? Mm. Watanabe-san was the oldest. He was from a place called Marumori. And he was interesting, I have a story about him. His younger sister’s husband, he was from Marumori. And this sister, the man she married, her husband, he was the chauffeur for the mayor of Marumori. And I was often told that in Marumori they didn’t have any special [local] products, so they wanted me to make something. And at that time, when they said “Let’s make something!” in Marumori, there was one person who made kokeshi, and they asked him if he’d make them something. I spoke with them about it, but ahh– “bring him along”– [no,] I think they said to bring what I’d made and show them to see what they were.

Mrs. Hiroi: Mm. Yeah.

Hiroi: Then I brought my goods, but they were the [amusing] sort you laugh at. And that guy was someone who specialized in making a new kind of kokeshi using unfinished wood; it seems that he didn’t make them himself, but he made the unfinished wood to order, and didn’t have any experience making them himself. And I brought him with me, and at the time, because they came from the town hall… did the mayor come? The mayor, and– ah, no, it was the deputy mayor.

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah. The deputy mayor.

Hiroi: The deputy mayor and… umm, the section chief of the commerce and industry division. I think three people came.

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah. Three people came.

Hiroi:  I wonder if the mayor came… In any case, three people from the town hall came to my home with his younger sister’s husband. And they came saying that they had thought about something that could be the special local product of Marumori, and [asked] whether I had anything good. At that time, uhh, and then, the thing I made was, umm, this sort of… is there a pencil? Umm, this kind of shape… [drawing]  and here there’s… this top with three [other tops] attached.

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah. Three [tops] attached to it.

Hiroi: It’s in this shape, one, two, three. I made this kind of top… and I made this kind of top, but they didn’t understand what it was for some reason. In Japanese, it’s “marui” (round), round and there’s three trees. There are three trees in the round place, so it becomes “Marumori.” [translator’s note: the town’s name, Marumori, is comprised of the kanji for “round” and for “forest.” The character for “forest,” mori 森,  is made up of three of the “tree” kanji (木), making this a pun on three round objects representing trees becoming a “round forest,” or “marumori,” the town name.]

And I made this top and show it to them and the people from town hall were surprised and said, “Ohh, this is great!” So they took it and had the person I mentioned before, Watanabe-san, make it, and it’s [now] sold as Marumori’s special product. They’re [still] making it now. They’re still making it now, though I don’t know where they’re selling it, but I hear it’s still made somewhere. So a few might still be sold somewhere, but I don’t know. I don’t know how they’re selling it. But at that time, for the first time I met Watanabe-san, and the people from town hall said that they definitely wanted me to make him an apprentice and teach him. When he came, he was quite a different age than you, wasn’t he?

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah.

Hiroi: He was the oldest [of the apprentices]. He also had a lot of experience. Even now there are a lot of shops that have the products he’s made. He might come here directly today. Yesterday he called and he said he might come. He was the oldest.

Paula: How many years are your apprentices apprenticed to you before they become independent top-makers?

Hiroi: Umm, in the end it takes ten years. Of course, it takes half a year or a year to learn the lathe. And then there’s a lot to remember. Even for someone like Maeda-kun, who can do it all now, it took ten years. It takes ten years.

Paula: Did you have any foreign apprentices after that?

Hiroi: No, after that, I didn’t any apprentices, but the people who came because they liked it were those that Landis-sensei introduced to me. They were her friends, and Newton-san, Landis-sensei had– what was it? Was he from Shichigahama? Takayama? After she returned to America, Newton-san joined [my workshop]. Newton-san came to my home for a while, but I think he moved somewhere before the [Tōhoku] earthquake. It was that he moved to Okayama or somewhere shortly after, right? So I think he wasn’t around for the earthquake, the tsunami.

And other than him, there was a person from Sweden, a person from Denmark, and– where was it? Was he Japanese? And there was another person. An American. Someone related to [Janell’s] church, I think. And they gave me wooden clogs or something. Clogs from Sweden or Denmark– I thought they were from Holland and they were like “No, you’re wrong!” and “Mine are the real thing.” I have the clogs somewhere, I could find them if I looked. And often when they came, they’d make me cherry-shaped [tops]. They said it was because they loved cherries, [so they made] cherry-shaped tops. If you travel to Sweden and Denmark, they have purple and yellow cherries, not just red ones. So I asked them to [make tops] in all kinds of colors. So they did, and I was delighted.

But they didn’t become apprentices. In that time, ummm… their term [of office], they had to switch jobs, so they had to go back to their countries. So both of them had to go back to their countries at the same time, and I never met them again. And one more person, who was it? Newton-san came every day, didn’t he? Until he moved to Okayama. He came until the earthquake happened. So he must have moved to Okayama just before that. And Landis-sensei brought him. Yeah, and Landis-sensei told him to become an apprentice, and he half-wanted to, but it was impossible for me [to make him do it]. Heh heh heh. He didn’t become an apprentice. He was a handsome person. Heh heh heh. When you met him you were like “Whoooa.” Hahahaha.

[25:50]