These are photos of Hiroi-sensei taken by ariTV, a high-quality internet-based television station supporting the promotion of events and cultural traditions of the Sendai area.
Hiroi-sensei has also appeared in newspapers as a well-known Edo top maker. Below is a translation of an article entitled “Sendai: This Person and That Person – Hiroi Michiaki” that ran May 14, 1982 in the newspaper Shūkan Sendai. See the original Japanese article at the link below.
Click here for the original article: 歴史記事はこちら。
A woodworker who makes Edogoma
Gifts for Children
May is the season of children who sprout up like bamboo shoots. It seems impossible that the main event of the month, Children’s Day (May 5), has passed. But as luck would have it, the Museum of History and Folklore of Tsutsujigaoka opened the exhibit “The Production and Performance of Tops,” and the air is full of excitement from the invading children. Even though the exhibit is titled “production and performance,” the children have lined up to turn the lathe and paint the tops. That said, the children are engrossed and soon the husband and wife instructors have no spare time tmo rest. Hiroi Michiaki (48) and his wife, Kyōko, who set up a workshop in Fukurohara, Sendai, are the instructors. “What? A workshop? It’s not really that kind of thing, it’s a shabby old house,” Hiroi said. At the Citizens Festival in Nishikoen last fall Hiroi’s craft demonstrations were .
“I think it’s been about a year since I started the workshop. As for apprentices, right now I have seven pros and six amateurs. Among them is an assistant professor from Miyagi Women’s University, Landis-san, an American, and there are only two women. There are lots of top (koma) experts within the prefecture, but my [workshop] is Edo-style tops. And of course, my wife is helping, too.”
A tradition spanning three generations
Tops date back as far as 1,000 years ago
“Koma (top)” is written in kanji as 独楽. They’re exclusively thought of as children’s toys, but there are also high-quality tops that [spin] along a drawn sword or the edge of a fan, or which, when rotating at great speed, have the legendary figure Ishikawa Goemon [appear to] leap out of an iron pot. These trick tops are generally the traditional “Edo-style” tops. Flashy tops are characteristic of the Genroku period (1688-1704), but among historic tops, recently excavated ancient and medieval tops have been in the news lately.
“We know from written records that, since ancient times, tops were playthings, and this is substantiated by the actual items having been unearthed. If you divide them up into two [categories], there are ‘outside tops’ and ‘inside tops.’ Outside tops are like Sendai tops, tops used on the ground and that were exclusively used by boys, and inside tops were used by people of all ages and genders on tatami mats. If you divide them into types of play, there are those you spin using both hands, rubbing tops (momigoma), twisting tops (hinerigoma) spun with the tips of the fingers, and string-release tops (itobikigoma).”
Hiroi has Foreign Apprentices in his Workshop, too
Enjoying playing with tops
“If you divvy up tops even further, there’s flower tops (hanagoma), sumō tops (sumōgoma), vegetable tops (yasaigoma) like eggplants or cucumbers, spousal tops (meotogoma), roulette tops (ategoma), buzzing tops (unarigoma), howling tops (narigoma), two-tier tops (nidangoma), three-tier tops (sandangoma), throwing tops (nagegoma), fighting tops (kenkagoma), gambling tops (bakuchigoma) umbrella tops (kasagoma), chasing tops (okkakegoma), etc.”
According to records, there are over 200 types of Edo-style tops. According to Hiroi, among the string-release tops, there are some that look like they lift people up and spin. He deftly spins a spousal top made by one of his apprentices. Pinching the shaft of the top on the second tier and spinning it, the wife [seems to convey], “Well, honey, I’m going out!”
And if you [place] the tops onto each other again, they spin well together, and it looks like he’s going, “Yes, honey, have good evening!” and goofing around. There are also tops that are specifically meant for gambling, and these are often called by the kanji for koma. In an age of parody, when these tops are spun, it’s for the enjoyment of adults.
[Many of] these historic Edo-style tops were destroyed in the Taishō earthquake of 1923 and the air raids of 1943-1945, and the woodworkers scattered in all directions. Hiroi Michiaki is one of those people.
According to the Traditional Kokeshi Artisan Register, Hiroi was taught by his father Kenjirō and Agatsuma Kichisuke.From a young age he learned woodworking from his father, androm 1955, he learned painting from Kichisuke. During the Tokyo air raids, he relied upon his artisan colleagues and evacuated to Miyagi Prefecture, and after that set up a workshop in Sendai. [Today], he devotes himself in earnest to creating tops rather than kokeshi.
One family of wooden-toy artisans
Though slightly old, there are several features on the Hiroi artisan family, including the Bunka Publishing Bureau’s Japan’s Wooden Toys, edited by Kan’o Shinichi, and the special issue “Tokyo’s nostalgic wooden toys” in (銀花)Quarterly 30. The former was published in 1976, and the latter in 1977.
Hiroi Michiaki’s younger brother, Masaaki (44), is also who active in making traditional Edo-style tops in Ebina, Kanagawa. The writing in the article by Hosoi Tokiko from Ginka’s editorial department and their regular female reporter is beautiful.
Putting together Hiroi’s story and what the reporter has written, the Hiroi family is one family that has continued for over two hundred years and three generations throughAsaaki, Kenjirō, Michiaki. Hiroi Michiaki’s grandfather, Asaaki, was employed as the doctor of a Tokugawa shogun, and after the Meiji Restoration, their family “took the pulse of their esteemed [employers].” That they enthusiastically became Edo-style top makers for generations is interesting.
Now, let’s spin some tops.
These tops depict a miniature garden. Hiroi-sensei has created a small house surrounded by trees, and each individual piece can be removed to become a top.
Hiroi Michiaki: And this is, umm, ah, a miniature garden. This is called making a miniature garden, you create lots of them in boxes. This one is done with tops. This is a house, and there are lots of trees around it, and all of these can be taken off and become tops.
These photos show Janell’s collection of tops in the display case she kept in her home in Tennessee for many years. These photos were taken in 2013 when Janell was interviewed for the Carving Community project, and the tops are now held by the Morikami Museum.
This piece depicts young women, known as saotome 早乙女, doing rice planting. Traditionally, young women would go out into the rice paddies to plant seedlings in the fields during the rainy season, often wearing red waistcloths and straw hats. Although most rice planting is done by machine now, some places in Japan continue to celebrate this traditional method. Here, the hats and bodies of the figures can be removed and turned into tops.
Hiroi Michiaki: What is this? Ahh, this is rice planting. This isn’t a top, but, –ah, here, wasn’t there another piece here? This. Um, long ago, this is paddy fields and rice planting, and, ahh, ah, ah, isn’t it right about this time of year? A number of people do this, and these are people who are planting the rice, saotome (young female rice planters).
Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah.
Hiroi: Were they called saotome? In the past, the rainy season was later than it is now, so when it was rainy, they would plant the rice. So in the paddy fields a number of girls would line up and they’d wear these red waistcloths and plant rice. The top is shaped like that. It’s the same [as that].