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.
Hiroi-sensei has appeared many times in Japanese newspapers. Below is a translation of an article entitled “Looking Forward to the Creation of “Akiu Products” that ran April 20, 2004 in the newspaper Kahoku shinpō. See the original Japanese article at the link below.
Looking Forward to the Creation of “Akiu Products”
Steady Work on Making a Forest for Kokeshi
Sendai City/Akiu Craft Village Collaboration
In an attempt to promote the local woodworking industry, Sendai City is embarking on a “kokeshi forest”-making project in the town of Akiu’s Taihaku ward. In collaboration with Akiu Craft Village, painted maple and dogwood saplings will be planted; those trees will become the pulpwood for traditional craft goods. Their aim is to eventually have kokeshi that are entirely made from “Akiu Products,” and to facilitate that, a planting event, for which city residents can volunteer, is planned for May 5  .
Pulpwood trees to be planted this year, too, on May 5
Dogwood trees are native to the Akiu area, but the region is very marshy, making logging work very difficult. Because of this, Hiroi Michiaki (age 70), an artisan of Akiu Craft Village who makes kokeshi, is supplied with woodchips made by the lumber workers of Miyagi Prefecture’s Kunomori Ward for his work.
However, for a number of years lumber imports have been increasing and the amount of woodchip production has gone down; dogwood preservation, too, is becoming more difficult. Planning the pulpwood through their own supply efforts, Sendai and Akiu began the “kokeshi forest” project in May of last year. The city-owned forests near the Craft Village are roughly 6 hectares, and they plan to plant about 10,000 saplings over the course of 6 years, finishing in 2008. In one year, they have planted 1,400 dogwood trees.
It’s projected it will take roughly 15 to 20 years for the trees to grow into usable materials, but Hiroi-san has said, “If the next generation of artisans is able to use local dogwood to make kokeshi and other goods, I would be happy,” and is watching over the saplings affectionately.
The planting event, sponsored by the joint Sendai and Craft Village project, will be held on the 5th and is recruiting volunteers to help the artisans plant 1,500 saplings in the city-owned forest area. They also plan to hold cultural exchange events, with woodworking workshops and atelier tours.
The Sendai City Agriculture, Forestry, and Public Works Division stated, “Through the collaboration of the artisans and city residents on this forestation project, we hope to assure the continuation of traditional arts and to deepen our residents’ understanding of forestry and woodworking traditions.”
There are 100 volunteer positions available on a first come, first serve basis. To volunteer, contact the Sendai City Agriculture, Forestry, and Public Works Division’s Forestry Branch at 020 (214) 8264.
As a part of building the Akiu Craft Village and its community, artisans working there have each of their homes, workshops, and shops together in one building. In the following photos, we see Hiroi-sensei and Mrs. Hiroi in their shop, “Onkomaya Hiroi,” where they sell their tops, along with some photos of Hiroi-sensei’s work on display. New tops are always appearing in the shop, as Hiroi-sensei and his apprentice design new works, create seasonal tops, and recreate old favorites.
ミノ虫飛び出しの中の独楽 (minomushi tobidashi no naka no koma) bagworm larva leaping out top
This top depicts a bagworm larva, the larval stage of the bagworm moth. They are sometimes called “case moths” because their caterpillars build little protective cases in which they gestate. As they emerge, bagworm larva pop their heads out of their case to eat the leaves of the tree they inhabit. In Japan, their popular image is related to the top of their case looking like a straw raincoat. Bagworms are often used as a subject for seasonal haiku in the fall. For this top, Hiroi-sensei depicts a bagworm popping out of its case, which is attached to a tree branch.
Hiroi Michiaki: And what was this? Ahh, we talked [about this]. The bagworm larva? The bagworm larva doesn’t have a body.
Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah.
Hiroi Michiaki: Bagworm larva dangle [from branches] like this. From here. It’s a top with that sort of shape, one that leaps out. The bagworm inside jumps out, and it’s wearing a bowtie.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.