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