May 19, 2014 [part 1]

Translation of transcript of interview conducted May 19, 2014 with HIROI MICHIAKI
by PAULA R. CURTIS with assistance from MALINA ROSE SUITY

Also present: MRS. HIROI

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Paula Curtis [00:00:003]: My name is Paula Curtis, with my partner Malina Suity. I will be interviewing Hiroi Michiaki at his home in Akiu kōgei no sato for our project entitled “Carving Community Past and Present: The Landis-Hiroi Collection.” Today is Monday May 19th, 2014, at 11:21 in the morning.

Sensei, when and where were you born? Where are you from?

Hiroi Michiaki:  Tokyo.

PC:  Which part of Tokyo?

HM: Ah. In Tokyo, um, today it’s a place called Kōtō.

PC:  Umm, could you talk a little bit about your life as a child and your family?

HM: Mm when I was a child. It was fun, when I was a child. Ha ha ha.

PC:  Why is that?

HM:  It was that I had a lot of friends, and there were a lot of places to play in my neighborhood. Because it was Tokyo’s shitamachi. *

[Tokyo’s shitamachi was known in the Edo period (1600-1868) as an area in which commoners lived, full of business districts, known for a kind of “downtown” atmosphere, and which was in popular imagination the originating place of “true” Edo culture.]

[00:01:20]

PC: Could you explain a bit about your family’s history?

HM: Ah, family. The Hiroi family?

PC:  Yes.

HM: The family of the Hiroi… family… Well, if it’s family, I have parents and siblings, but… [do you mean] the history of the Hiroi?

PC:  Yes.

HM:  Or…

PC:  Well, is okay [to talk about] both?

HM: Well, my family was my father, my mother, and also I had two brothers and a younger sister. My mother and my sister, in the war, they went missing in air raids. Even today their whereabouts are unknown. Right now my younger brother is in Yokohama, and my sister went to Osaka to get married, but she died, died of illness. Now, my younger brother is running around the world… In America… he’s an honorary citizen of Seattle, and it seems he has his own corners in museums in France and Germany. And also in Finland… it seems my younger brother has made it in museums and art museums. But I haven’t gone so I don’t know.

[00:02:58]

PC: And the Hiroi family [line]?

HM: The Hiroi family, it was something. Edo… umm… it was the Sengoku period. Tokugawa Ieyasu’s Battle of Sekigahara… um, Tokugawa Ieyasu won, and when he moved to Edo, on the way from Sekigahara returning to Edo, um, the descendants of the Hiroi family… Mmm. I’ve forgotten where the place was, but in the old days there was a family called “Watanabe,” and they lived in a village called “Hiroi,”  and there they were doctors. And Tokugawa Ieyasu won and returned to his castle, or I should say he was returning to Edo and on the way he made his acquaintance. I don’t know why he made his acquaintance, but [the Hiroi descendant] was invited to come with him to Edo, and it’s said that because he was from that Hiroi village he was called Hiroi and not Watanabe. And he was employed by Tokugawa Ieyasu’s grandson… was it Iemitsu? And for generations he was, what should I call him, the private doctor of the bakufu, in the private residence, he held the highest rank of a doctor. That’s the story. There’s a book published, but, shall I show you the book?

PC: Ahh, that’s right. Is it alright to look at it later?

HM: Yeah.

PC: Okay. Thank you very much.

HM: Umm records… there’s a book of them. It’s the Kan’ei or Kansei period… a reference book. In there [the history] of my family is written. Yeah.

[00:05:03]

PC: Well then, umm, about your family now—are you married? Do you have children?

HM: I’m married, but for some reason we couldn’t have children. Mm.

PC: And, um, your time as a child. What school did you go to? Could you [talk a bit] about your academic background…

HM: School, hm… Umm, we were dragged into the war, so I didn’t go properly.

PC: Where was it?

HM: Umm. The last [school I went to was] Ooshima daini elementary school, wasn’t it. Before that… in Yonezawa there were mass evacuations and school evacuations, so I was in Yonezawa for half a year. I think it was half a year. And I returned to Tokyo and at that time when I returned immediately there were air raids, and families were scattered, and people across the country and walked about from place to place, and I couldn’t go to school properly. Mm.

[00:06:12]

PC: Well, when you were in school, did you have a course or subject you were particularly interested in?

HM: Ahh, I hated studying. Ha ha ha. I only liked gym.

PC: Ahh, I see. Well, um, work, about work, before you became an Edo goma artisan, what kind of work had you done?

HM: Ahh… come to think of it, I did a lot of different kinds, but not for long. What did I do? I did many things. That is, rather than “doing” them, it’s better to say I helped. I worked but I didn’t receive any money.

PC: Was there, umm, a work that you particularly liked to do? You did a lot, but was there one you really liked?

HM: Ahh, in the end the work my family was doing was the best. I didn’t really have another that I liked. Mm.

[00:07:28]

PC:  If it’s alright… If it’s alright, uh, I’d like to talk a little bit about the war time, but, um, about that time, what kind of memories do you have?

HM: What…

PC:  The war time.

HM:  What time?

PC:  The war time. War.

HM:  Ahh when we were at war. The war time. Of course I didn’t do any of that. War. I was absolutely against it. Mm. But even so, everyone was killed. Not one of my classmates is alive. Everyone was killed in the air raids. And the people of my neighborhood, too, all of them, there’s no one left.

PC:  And your family, at that time…?

HM: My younger brother and mother, even now their whereabouts are unknown, but I think they died. Um, when a notice came, it was said you [could] confirm [a death], you know. But I can’t confirm theirs. In the air raids, everyone had burned to death, and it was impossible to tell what was what,, whom was whom…. And since it was said that since their death couldn’t be actually confirmed, we couldn’t get a notice. It was said they were missing (lit. “whereabouts unknown”)…. And even now their whereabouts are, well, unknown.

PC:  Where was your home at that time?

HM: Mmm, properly speaking, in Tokyo, Kōtō ward, Ooshima. It was a place called Ooshima, but it was “Ooshima-machi 3-chōme, #400.” That was our permanent residence.

PC: And what kind of life did you have?

HM: The same. The same as now.

PC:  Which is to say…?

HM: Mm. My father, well, he made many things.

PC: Then, at that time [he made] Edo-style tops, um—

HM: Yeah. During the war, things that “unnecessary,” so-called “luxuries,” were forbidden. And, um, hmm, we received this sheet, like a label. If you didn’t post that, you couldn’t sell [anything]. And they were allotted, how many [you received] per month. So you couldn’t [sell] anything more than that, and furthermore, as if that weren’t bad enough, we were required to make–what do you call them?– military supplies, for use during the war.

[00:10:13]

PC: Ohh… is that so. Did you or your family contribute in some way to the war?

HM:  Not really effort, but everyone, mm, at that time we couldn’t say anything. If we did, the military police would come and we’d be arrested, and if we did something bad it was terrible. And everyone, well, it was that way for all Japanese people. Everyone would say “We’ll win! We’ll win!” and be happy. But, um, there were a number of people who said that there was no way that Japan could win, and they’d be arrested. So no one could say anything, and in their hearts absolutely hated war. And family, workers,, everyone who felt that way withered away, and most died, and there was no compensation. In my home, too, even though everything–my parents and siblings, our property–was lost in the raids, there was no compensation. Not a single word of apology. I want the emperor to apologize, you know. And, um, at Yasukuni Shrine, you know, why does the Japanese Prime Minister visit it? It’s strange, but nothing can be done. I feel a great sense of discomfort about that. Um, more than the people of Korea and China, I get angry [about that].

PC: And, um, just after the war, what were your neighbors’ impression towards America and Americans where you lived?

HM: Mmm. At first… it was the first time I’d seen them, so. Hahaha. Americans… Umm… We didn’t know that Japan had lost the war. That is, um, our home  [in Tokyo] was burned down in the air raids, so we came here, umm, deep into Shiroishi mountain, mmm there’s a place called Kamasaki hot springs, [famous for] Yajirō kokeshi, there’s a place called Kokeshi village, but, on the other side of that mountain, there was a small cabin, a small mountain cabin, and we lived there. It was a place without electricity or water. Umm… We were there not knowing at all that the war was lost. And when my father went to the town of Shiroishi, somehow the atmosphere of the town had changed, and when he asked, they said Japan had lost. And um, there, he said that we couldn’t pass the winter in that mountain cabin, and so we came down and moved to the town of Shiroishi, but that time was the first time I saw American soldiers, and man, their Jeeps…! They rode them in and I was like “Ooooh!” and was so surprised. Hahaha. “What is this?” I wondered.

PC: The attitude [towards them], um, what kind of attitude was it? That, um, for example, towards the Americans driving the Jeep.

HM: Ahh… rather than what kind [of attitude]… We were surprised. We were shocked. And when I thought, “These were the people we fought with?” I also thought, “We couldn’t have beaten them, could we?” [laughs] I wondered why we did something so senseless. Rather, I was angry at the top people [in Japan]. Even though they were the elite, even though they should have understood us, why did they do something so absurd, so unreasonable, and kill Japanese people? Well… my home had done that and become the sacrifice, and no one, not the government, not the people connected to that government, no one said  a word in apology; they didn’t compensate us for anything. Rather [than the Americans], I was mad at them.

[00:14:42]

PC: And your impression was what?

HM: To the Americans?

PC: Yes

HM: Ahh, I thought they were incredible. Really, umm… these people who were until yesterday enemies, I [didn’t think] they would be such kind people. And I couldn’t understand why we had gone to war. And um, at that time, in Shiroishi, along the national highway, we had rented the home of a farming family, and there we had set up a lathe, and the American soldiers had, um, pipes, those sailor pipes, and smoked tobacco. We were asked, um, to do those repairs, and my father often fixed them.

[00:15:35]

PC: And, um, after the war, um, how did your life change?

HM: It entirely changed, and it was a terrible time. As I said just now, you know, there was no compensation, and we were, should I say, without means; we had no money, and even though we came here it didn’t mean we knew anyone, and we didn’t know the dialect here either. And there were many [troubles], and there were a lot of issues with the local people and we hadn’t made friends with them, but now I get along with them and they’re very kind. And I was really helped by them. In any case, there were terrible hardships [at the time]. There was nothing to eat, nothing to wear, the winter was cold. Often I thought I was going to die. Heh heh…

PC: Well, since the war period, well, is there a particular historical moment from the time after the war until now that comes to mind?

HM: Historical moments?

PC:  The most influential ones, the moments that had the most influence on you.

HM: Hmmm. Since I first came to Sendai… mmm… there were many, my father worked in many woodworkers’ shops, and was an artisan. And from that he became independent, and rented a house himself and of course put a lathe in it, and worked wholesaling and subcontracting kokeshi. And, ahh around this time kokeshi, souvenir kokeshi that is, they’re different from the traditional style of kokeshi [you see] now. He was able to sell a lot of those.. There was a wholesale shop, and there he subcontracted unpainted objects called shirakiji (blank wood), and worked doing that. And doing that, he said that if he was to make kokeshi he might as well do traditional kokeshi, and he became a person named Wagatsuma-san’s apprentice, and came to [make kokeshi] from the Toogatta kokeshi tradition. And then they were able to sell traditional kokeshi, and it became a kokeshi boom, and they became able to sell them. He took his lathe to Tokyo and [sold them] at performances and department stores. At first he did kokeshi, but kokeshi take a lot of time, so he did tops [instead].

[00:18:40]

PC:  Yes.

HM:  Then, in Tokyo, they said that along with Italy they were going to gather kokeshi. “Native toys” (kyōdō gangu) were [being gathered] here and there in Japan—if it’s Aizu, for example, they have the Akabeko (red cow). People came [here] that were collecting those kinds of native toys and kokeshi. Mmm I was doing tops, but at that time, since I was in Sendai I wasn’t doing Edo tops, but those called Sendai tops or Miyagi tops. Because they were [being sold] at goods shops in Sendai and Miyagi prefecture. And when I did that in Sendai [I made] Sendai tops, and when I was in Miyagi prefecture I did Miyagi ones, tops called Miyagi tops. And they were popular, since they were spinning right in front of you. The people who came to gather the native toys said something like “Where are you really from?” and I said “Actually I’m from Tokyo.” And they were like “Ahh of course!” They said, of course, we thought that in Tokyo, too, long ago there were lots of toys called “Edo tops (edogoma)” but no matter how much we looked, we couldn’t find them. When they said “Have you made them?” I said something like “My family has traditionally done them.” He said, “Ahh! I found them!!” and there was a clamor about it in Tokyo, saying they finally found Edo tops. And my younger brother went to Tokyo. My brother got married in Tokyo and has done Edo tops there ever since. When he has a chance he makes Edo tops here in Sendai. Well, in Sendai, too, to a certain extent we made Edo tops, but people here didn’t understand about them, so even if we sold them they didn’t sell well.

PC: Did your family expect you to continue business as a top-maker?

HM: Mm, that was the only thing to do. Somehow I sold the the tops., Like in the past, I thought I might not be able to eat, but in Sendai, just like back then, I wasn’t understood, and I couldn’t sell anything. And I went to Tokyo and it was a situation like I just described, and so I was able to sell my tops there. Though, at that time, rather than Edo tops I actually was working hardest at making the traditional kokeshi.

PC: When did you become an independent Edo top maker?

HM: Hmm… when was it? I don’t remember exactly. Mm… I didn’t really become aware of [when I started working independently, because] I was helping my father. And at some point I started using the lathe. So I don’t exactly what year, what month, what day–it wasn’t like that.

[21:45]

PC: About how many years were you an apprentice?

HM: Mmm, I don’t really know that either… It happens before you know it. At some point I was helping my father and working with my brother, and the three of us came to work together. What year, month, day–it wasn’t  set. So I don’t really know how long [I was an apprentice].

PC: This is a bit similar to the previous question, but when did you first come to Sendai?

HM: When I first came to Sendai… Shōwa–What year was it? Twenty-three. It must have been Shōwa 23 (1948).

PC: What was your life like there?

HM: Mmm that time… we rented a room in someone’s house. Rented [just] a room. So how would [you say] we lived, I wonder? Somehow it’s weird to think of it as [properly] living there, but my father was working hard. And… at any rate we went back and forth all over within Sendai. We hadn’t been there long, so [we went] here and there. So even within Sendai we lived in a number of places… One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. We moved seven times.

PC: That was before you were married?

HM: Before.

PC: And after you were married…?

HM: After I was married… umm… After I was married… Ahh. It was once or twice [that we moved]. To here. Umm… in Higashiguchi, Higashi… We got married at the town Higashi shichiban, and moved to Fukurobara, and here. It was twice [until] we were here.

PC: In Sendai, well, what sort of memories do you have of the various places [you lived]? Are there any that stand out?

HM: Mmm I have unpleasant memories, you know. (laughs) There were two places. Really terrible ones, two places where I was bullied, awful places I experienced. But after that, they were all enjoyable. Especially after I was independent. Umm… I had many friends, and it was nice that there were many people my age. It was really fun. In one place, for some reason in one place almost all of the kokeshi makers in Sendai gathered together, and I lived independently and felt like it was a neighborhood community, and there were lots of people doing the same work so it was nice. Even now looking back on it, it was a really a great time [in my life]. And that [time], the son of the sensei who taught kokeshi-making back then, he’s alive now, and even now he’s always saying “That was the best time, wasn’t it?” It was really great.

PC: Was the attitude towards America and the West different in Sendai than in Tokyo?

HM: No, in Tokyo, Americans… well, in Tokyo I didn’t meet any Americans. It was after I came to Sendai [that I did]. Because it was after the war. Like I said before, because I was living in the mountains without knowing the war ended. So I didn’t meet any Americans in Tokyo, and after the war, I was in Sendai. And in particular, [it was only] after I met Landis-sensei that I became close to Americans.

[00:26:28]

PC: Why was it that your experience getting to know Americans—well, was that the first time? Or, did you have other American friends?

HM: Ahh… there weren’t any others. I had met a few [Americans]. Umm… to make something for them, that is. Mm, that was about it, and I can’t really say that I became close to them. Even if I wanted to become friends with them I couldn’t. And also, at that time I was still poor, and I was putting all my effort into making a living. Mm, Americans were like an unattainable goal, hahaha. They’d do something and I’d be like “Whoaaa, amazing!” And when I met Landis-sensei, it was because we had a chance [to meet] on a television [show].

PC: Did you often introduce those Edo tops on that television program?

HM: Yes, yes. I often did it.

PC: Was that an NHK program?

HM: I did it on NHK, too, and all of the Sendai broadcasting stations. I did all of them. I did broadcasts for the entire country on NHK and also local ones. I’ve done a lot of local shows and NHK shows, too. Also Tohoku Broadcasting. Mmm, even now I’m doing Miyagi Television’s OH! Bandesu program. They let me do that TV show a number of times. Even now I’m good friends with a man named Wakigaya-san from Miyagi Television, and Amano-san from Tohoku Broadcasting, he was a producer, I think. And Amano’s wife was a student of Landis-sensei. That was the relationship. And he said, “Next time I’ll introduce you to an American.” And then because there was free time, on a New Year’s TV program, this was a New Year’s TV program. And [Landis-sensei] and I did it together, and they told us they’d introduce us. Did we meet before that? Before the television show… hmmm… before the television show… ah, I had heard of her. Because they said they would introduce us, and we didn’t have a chance [before that]. And [they said] they’d have us do [the TV show] together. Mm, it was from that time.

PC: What sort of television show was it?

HM: It was a New Year’s show, and, err… what kind of things did we do? In any case it was things that were good luck for the New Year, and it was a show that also did Edo tops… I think. I don’t remember in detail what we did. What I remember is that the announcer kept getting things wrong and was corrected a lot. (laughs) I think Landis-sensei knew the whole time. Heh heh. We talked about it a lot.

PC: And let’s talk a little about Akiu. When did you start living at Akiu Craft Village?

HM: It was about twenty-five years ago.  That was from when it opened, but some years before that, about three years, ummm about twenty–eight years ago, I guess. I was asked “We’re going to make something like a craft village in Miyagi prefecture, so won’t you join us?” And many [artisans] came together and talked, came to the prefecture and talked. In the town it had gradually become difficult to do our work, you know? Because it was loud, or the garbage would pile up, it was said to be a nuisance, and so it became difficult to do our work, and the topic came up that we wanted leave the town and make a place where no one would say anything [about it] to us. And not just people doing the same occupation, but people of many different types of work joined us. And we negotiated with the prefecture and it slowly moved along. Akiu wasn’t the city of Sendai, it was the town of Akiu. And [we negotiated with] the town of Akiu, with Akiu and the prefecture, and there was a mountain, so we made it there, and it was said that we should all move there. There were about twenty, twenty of us at the beginning. And gradually we ended up with about twelve houses in the end, I think. We had the land for twelve homes, but in the end about eight were constructed and there were four open lots. And after one more person came, and that person bought and combined two lots. Even now there’s two left. Umm… in the end, when we opened—huh? Wait. Did Tsuruko-san buy it after we opened? There were eight houses when we opened, eight people. And two or three years later another house went up and we were nine houses. And now it’s nine houses. And it’s been the same ever since.

[00:33:08]

PC: What kind of specialties did the other artists have?

HM: Umm… ah, it’s easiest to understand if you look at the pamphlet… You’ll see here. Ahh this is a kokeshi maker. The one next door to here. And this is us. And this is that one.

These are tea ceremony utensils. He makes tea ceremony utensils. And then there’s– like the one over there, the cabinet next to the toilet– Sendai [style] cabinets. Next to [the tea ceremony person] there’s a man who does this carving. Across from him is the woman who came later [after we set up Akiu Craft village], who does textiles. She joined us after. And next to her of course is a kokeshi maker. That person is originally from Akiu and made kokeshi in Akiu. He’s the only person originally from here.

And next to him is a bogwood [carver], and he’s also now the only person in the entire country [who has that skill]. He’s called a “bogwood artisan” [umoregi saiku]. This is something particular to Sendai… there’s something called “brown coal” (lignite) that [is formed] before it becomes coal, and wood that is buried in and mixes with that brown coal– it comes from the brown coal class [of materials]– what should I call it? It’s more or less this is wood that has been buried and carbonized. If you carve it into things it’s gorgeous, so it’s a famous thing from Sendai, and there used to be a number of artisans [who carved bogwood], but now there’s only one.

And this [other] one is next to him, and he’s a, you know, sensei of traditional kokeshi. When I was taught [kokeshi making] it was Wagatsuma-san. Is he in this area now? So, for people of the same craft it’s two houses, two kokeshi makers, or is it three? Ahh. There’s three doing kokeshi. Oh, I also did it, so it’s four. Well, at any rate there’s a lot of kokeshi makers. Mm. Other than the kokeshi makers there’s one, two, three, four houses. Mm five? And there were four places that did kokeshi, but not just kokeshi but other pieces that were made using the lathe, well, including Edo tops, and there were four of them. And that’s nine.

PC: What are some of the biggest difficulties you have encountered working as an artisan?

HM: The most difficult thing… it’s nothing but difficult things, right? (laughs) There’s nothing that’s easy. Saying which one is most difficult– it’s all difficult. On the other hand, the thing that makes me most happy is when people who buy my tops enjoy them. If they go “Woooow!” I’m so happy. Other than that, every day I’m suffering. (grins)

PC: (laughs) Those, well, difficult things, of course you said there are a lot of them, but did they change a lot over time? What was difficult–doing business? Selling them?

HM: Well, the difficulty of being an artisan, the more you do it the more difficult it becomes. Other than that, selling them, I’m bad at selling them. So, yeah, I’m always at a loss.

PC: Do you feel that artisanal professions are in danger of dying out? Why do you think that is?

HM: Ah! Yes. This is the thing that troubles me most. Umm… why it is that Japan takes artisans for granted. If there are no artisans, I don’t think that they can even established Japan’s large businesses, but for some reason artisans are looked down upon and taken for granted. Umm…  people in administration also think little of artisans and don’t support us. I’m not saying we want [more] support, but I think we want them to value us more.

But Japan right now is developing only this one [type of] skill, and maybe the bottom, you’d call it, artisans are definitely at the very bottom [of those priorities]. Artisans make things [to be used], and at this time [those things] are made in great quantities, so large companies are established. And if those artisans gradually disappear, someone will say “Let’s [make] this thing,” and they probably won’t be able to. So there are a lot of artisans of different occupations, but in any case I want those people who are artisans to be valued more. That’s my wish.

PC: Do you have a lot of apprentices compared to the past?

HM: Ahh, yeah. So, um, this is, well, as for why apprentices increased, it’s because I was doing traditional kokeshi, umm… and there were a number of people doing kokeshi. So there were a lot of people who gathered to do that. And I was painting kokeshi, and selling them, selling them to collectors, and people were saying difficult things to me like “that’s wrong,” “this is wrong,” and I was very troubled, but I did my best at it, and became able to [make them] to a certain extent.

My name was published in kokeshi books, too. And at that time, I realized, “Ahh, in my home there was something even more precious than kokeshi.” There were a lot of kokeshi makers, and they would definitely survive [in the future], but the Edo tops of my family, there was only one house [that made those] in all of Japan. All of the world. The ones who inherited that were only me and my younger brother. Kokeshi [makers] weren’t like us, who were only one family, there were had hundreds, thousands. I realized that it would be impossible to revive it and leave it behind [after we died]. So I thought to myself that I had to increase our apprentices. And young heirs to kokeshi maker families… they came to me, and those young people said “Can’t we make a living not just doing the kokeshi from before?” and “I want you to teach me other things.”

At that time, there was another person here like Maeda-kun whom I was teaching. He was the son of a kokeshi maker, someone from Obara Onsen, he was someone famous, and this was his child. He was named Yūsuke, Honda Yūsuke. That was in Shiroishi, and the young sons of the kokeshi makers of the Yajirō [style] lineage came together and I had seven [apprentices]. And since Yūsuke said “I’m learning [Edo top making] right now at this place,” everyone else said they wanted to, too. And so they [all] came saying, “Will you teach us?” It was like asking if it’s true and going “It’s true!” And he was saying “Come with me everyone!” Those seven came to Shiroishi and I ended up teaching them.

Well then, my goods are different from kokeshi, and there’s a lot of different kinds, and you have to want to enjoy yourself, so first it was like “If you come to my home, it’s not work, it’s more like fun.” And everyone was like “Whaaat!” and was really surprised. Heh heh heh. One person really took that seriously and messed around and found a girlfriend and got married. Haha.

Now, for kokeshi, the Yajirō line is the best one, but he couldn’t really make tops well. He’d been learning for almost half a year but couldn’t make them. And kokeshi, well, his parents were kokeshi makers, so, first, first it was best for him to do kokeshi [instead of tops]. So he put all his efforts into kokeshi. And everyone else was doing tops. And of course I wondered if their parents were angry, if they were complaining. I thought, “I’m teaching their precious heirs unnecessary things!” Surely they must have been mad. But their parents all came and said “Please take care of them,” and bowed their heads to me. All seven. Contrary to it all, I was the surprised one. “Ahh this is serious,” I thought, and put my all into teaching them. I think usually one person can remember about a hundred types [of tops].

PC: Umm, about these artisanal occupations disappearing, what do you think should be done about that? So that they become more popular?

HM: Ahh. Yeah.

PC: Do you think there’s anything that can be done?

HM: I think it would be really good if they were popular. It’s regrettable that in Japan there’s not a system for that. Like I said before, if important people would take note of us artisans, wouldn’t a bit more traditional things and skills survive? And young people becoming artisans–you know there’s quite a lot of young people who want to become artisans But the world of artisans is difficult. And artisans are quite stubborn. And people are scared of that popular image, that they can’t get used to that [sort of life]. Heh heh heh. there are quite a lot of people who say “I really want to do that…” So I thought [it would be good if] it was easier for those people to become accustomed to it. I thought [to myself] “I want to teach them.” Umm… last year, a year and a half ago, in Sendai, our Craft Village, we wanted to do successor training, so the city gave us money. And five young people came.

And, ah– the city gave us wages. And we got quite a bit of money as an honorarium, too. It went on for a year and a half and it ended in March of this year. In the end those who stayed on were one person with Kotake-san, and Maeda-kun here with me, and another person, Misa-chan, a girl. Three of them were left. I think that if something like that [program] went on a little longer we’d have more young people come. And if they did it without such strict conditions. This time around, the conditions weren’t so tough, and that was good. Five people came and three stayed. I think that’s a huge success.

And doing something like that again, not just with the city, but with the prefecture, the country, if they did that, I think the number of young successors really go up. And, well, among the same artisans, places with money, they can steadily support young people themselves. Places like mine that don’t have any money, because of that people like Maeda-kun are doing part-time jobs but also want to learn, so they come [to us]. I think people like that can become the real thing. So I think that if [the government] extended its hand more to places like that, more young people could be trained, and I feel like Japan, too, would be a richer place for it.

[script to be continued]

 

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