Category Archives: koma

Newspaper article 新聞記事: Edogoma Spin Around the World 江戸独楽 世界を回る

An automaton top of a man eating dango, by Hiroi Masaaki.

In addition to Hiroi-sensei, his brother, Hiroi Masaaki, has also appeared in newspapers as a well-known Edo top maker. Below is a translation of an article entitled “Edogoma Spin Around the World” that ran December 31, 2007 in the newspaper Nihon keizai shinbun. See the original Japanese article at the link below.

廣井先生だけではなく、弟さんの廣井正昭先生もよく知られている江戸独楽の職人として新聞記事で特集されています。2007年12月31日、日本経済新聞が廣井正昭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: 歴史記事はこちら

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Nihon keizai shinbun (December 31, 2007)

Edogoma Spin Around the World

Creating automaton figures for 60 years and displaying them in 50 countries

Hiroi Masaaki

It has been over 60 years since I began creating Edo tops. My ancestor was a low-ranking court doctor in charge of the emperor’s health, but he, my great-grandfather, made his livelihood out of his hobby of making tops. I am a fourth-generation top-maker. Supposedly during the bakumatsu, the end of the Edo period, when Japan was divided into imperial loyalists and shogunate supporters, my great-grandfather and grandfather took up their swords. I was born into a top-making family, and I think that [the reason] we continued to be poor was that my relatives always fought, like everyone in that period of time. What a pain it was.

There are many kinds of tops, but Edo tops have a particular way of spinning, and there are also those that are automatons, coming to life as they spin. I don’t create just traditional forms [of tops] but also come up with new technical forms. I haven’t counted them, but I’ve probably invented around 4,000 or 5,000 types.

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Hiroi Masaaki

Entertaining Oneself During the War

I was born in 1935. I lived in Oshima, Kōtō Ward (Tokyo) with my mother, father, and three siblings. However, in 1945, my mother and two of my siblings were killed in massive air raids. We were driven out of our home by the fires from air raids, first to Kuramae, then Roppongi and Shirokane, one after another, and barely escaped with our lives.

It was also because of the war that I began to make tops. My friends were all evacuated outside of the city and I had no one to spend time with. One day, my father gave me a foot-powered lathe so I could make tops and other things to play with. I liked working with my hands, so every day I worked on the lathe.

After the war, at the invitation of a toy wholesaler in Kuramae, my family moved to Shiroishi in Miyagi prefecture. In Tōhoku we were able to obtain good-quality lumber. However, because my father had lost his wife and children, his heart wasn’t in his work. So my older brother and I made tops and kendama (cup and ball toys) and sold them on the Sendai black market. It was a time when there were no toys, so they sold quite well.

I finally returned to my hometown of Tokyo at the end of my 20s. I did demonstration sales, and during this time I began to make tops while earning a living . There was a traditional arts boom at the time, which popularized Edo tops, but the production wasn’t valued at all. However, I did find working out automaton devices interesting, so I diligently produced various tops even if they didn’t sell.

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There are also automaton tops where when you spin the top of the head, the dolls eat soba or sweet potatoes.

Fixated on the Mechanisms

There are no diagrams for top-making. For example, a sakadachi (“headstand”) top flips upside down while it spins, beginning to stand on its handle. When I made that, I only had the knowledge of experience that centrifugal force will make the heavy portion will face upward. After that, one makes the shape through trial and error. Brilliant people overseas seemed to understand the mathematical reasoning behind the tops flipping on their heads, but because they’re tops, they have to spin.

When I come up with an idea for an automaton, I don’t ever give up until it’s been realized. There’s one top, “Momotarō” (Momotarō the Peach Boy)—when you pull the string and make it spin, the peach part is supposed to pop open so you can see the little boy— but the peach’s mechanism doesn’t open properly. I thought about it for days on end. I made an adjustment to the placement of the elastic, and when the peach popped open smoothly a bell went off somewhere. It was New Year’s Eve of 1965.

The first of those to value the production of tops [as art] were people overseas rather than in Japan. Twenty seven years ago, I took about 70 of my works to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. I took more traditional-style tops, too, but the curator said, “I’ll only collect items that you designed yourself.”

Perhaps because I gave a dubious expression at that, he said the following: “While it’s important to pass along tradition, there’s no meaning in contemporary artists recreating, say, Greek sculptures exactly the same way they were 3000 years ago. Rather, there is value in contemporary artists creating new art.” That I am able to proudly say today that I am producing tops that are my own work is because of his words to me.

From then on, I was invited to share Japanese culture with people overseas and traveled around the world, taking my tops with me. I’ve probably been to about fifty countries by now. I think of tops as toys but to people in other countries they’re seen as art. From the perspective of a craftsman, shaking hands [with such a person] is somehow embarrassing.

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The Tops in People’s Hearts

When this article is published on New Year’s, surely I’ll be in my studio  turning the lathe. For complicated mechanisms, sometimes it can take as many  as 10 days to produce them. Even though I’ve been on this path for 60 years, that’s nothing to boast about. If one cannot do their craft skillfully, that is nothing but failure.  The idea that tomorrow I will be able to make even better tops tomorrow than I did today—that is what has kept me going for such a long time.

A top that’s well-done has a vertical handle that stands up straight and doesn’t wobble in the slightest when it turns. When it [spins so well] that the top appears perfectly still while spinning, I call this “sleeping.” When I look at a “sleeping”” top, the words someone once said to me come to mind: “There is a top in our hearts. If the axis doesn’t wobble, your life is on the right track.” On New Year’s Day, I’d like to examine my own heart’s top as I see children playing with theirs.

— Hiroi Masaaki

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バテレン当て独楽

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

タイトル:

バテレン当て独楽 (bateren ategoma)
priest roulette-style top

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バテレンがテーマの独楽。16世紀にカトリック教の宣教師が日本に来始めた際、キリシタンはポルトガル語のPadre(パードレ)から派生し、父・神父を意味する言葉であるバテレンと呼ばれた。宣教師が渡来した初期の頃である当時、日本に来たのはほとんどがポルトガルからのイエズス会修道士であった。廣井先生は16世紀のバテレンのひだ襟のフリルを大袈裟に表現し、ローマ数字を描いて当て独楽の土台にした。当て独楽は独楽遊びの一種である。独楽の軸を回すと、バテレンの長い鼻が土台にある数字に止まるようになっている。

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廣井道顕:うんと、これがね何だっけな。ええと何つったっけな。バテレン。うん。バテレンの当て独楽。ランディス先生にバテレンって何だかって聞いたっけ、分からないって言われたんだな。なんか昔あの、キリストの人をそう呼んだみたいですよね。

ポーラ・カーティス:はい。十六世紀。

廣井:あぁ、十六世紀。えぇ、そんな昔なんだ。ふうん

ポーラ:はい。十六・十七世紀。

廣井:あぁそんな古いのね。

ポーラ:はい。

廣井:でランディス先生分からないわけだな。へへへ。ああそうなんだ。その頃、のやつをこう、作ってたんだよねの当て独楽でゲームするやつね。

 

 

バテレン当て独楽 (priest roulette-style top)

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Title:

バテレン当て独楽 (bateren ategoma)
priest roulette-style top

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This top depicts a priest. When Catholic missionaries began to enter Japan in the sixteenth century, they were known as bateren バテレン, a word that comes from Portuguese padre, “father.” Most of the first missionaries entering Japan during this time were Portuguese Jesuits. Here, Hiroi-sensei has depicted a sixteenth-century priest with exaggerated frills at his neck to form the base of the roulette-style top, which features Roman numerals. A roulette-style top is a kind of game. Someone spins the handle at the top, and the priest’s long nose lands on the winning number on the base.

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***

Hiroi Michiaki: Umm what was this? What is it called? A bateren [priest]. Yeah. It’s a bateren roulette-style top. I asked Landis-sensei what a bateren was, and she said she didn’t know. It’s sort of what Christians used to be called in the past.

Paula Curtis: Yes. In the sixteenth century.

Hiroi: Ahh, the sixteenth century. That long ago? Hmm…

Paula: Yeah, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Hiroi: Ohhh it’s that old?

Paula: Yeah.

Hiroi: Then Landis-sensei wouldn’t know, huh? Heh heh heh. Ahh I see. It’s someone from that time period, and I made a roulette-style top game from it.

 

 

Media Post: Hiroi at the Workshop メディアポスト:工房での廣井先生

These photos show Hiroi-sensei, Mrs. Hiroi, friends, and apprentices spending time in the workshop in the early 1980s.

1980年代、廣井先生と夫人、ご友人、お弟子さん。工房にて

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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.