Tag Archives: biography

Newspaper article 新聞記事: Moved from Toshima, To Train in Akiu: Maeda from the Izu Islands

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.


Click here for the original article: 記事はこちら


Kahoku shinpō (January 10, 2008)

Maeda makes traditional artworks using reclaimed camellia wood, which is difficult to work with.

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.”

A map of Toshima 利島 off the coast of Tokyo and Yokohama.

“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.



Hiroi-sensei and his apprentices

In this post, Hiroi-sensei highlights his own experiences as an apprentice and the many years he instructed others. He describes the apprenticing process and the years of dedication necessary to become a master top-maker.



Paula Curtis: And to continue, can you tell us a little about your experience as an apprentice?

Hiroi Michiaki: As an apprentice?

Paula: Yes, um, such as, when you were an Edo top apprentice and first began learning it, what was the most difficult thing, for example. Could you explain a bit about that experience?

Hiroi: Ahh… yes. The most difficult thing was whether a top would spin well or not. At the beginning I didn’t know what I should do to make it spin well. That was definitely the most difficult thing. It’s still hard now, though, it’s still difficult. How it will spin, how I should produce it to get different ways of moving; since the many ways it moves depend on the strength of the top. That foundation… making the top so that it spins, that’s the most [difficult]. A lot of years… it takes a lot of years [to learn], you know. Even now it’s the same. That’s really the most difficult thing.

Paula: Even now, um–

Hiroi: Even now.

Paula: Even now, do your apprentices think that is the most difficult thing [to learn]?

Hiroi: Ahh, I don’t know what my apprentices think. I think it’s probably the same, though. And for tops, you know right away. Whether it’s good or bad. No matter how many you make with this shape, if you spin it and watch and it goes rattling about, it’s not a good one. So that’s the most difficult part. I think my apprentices probably have that same worry, even now, worried [about how they spin].

Paula: When did you first start accepting apprentices?

Hiroi: Mm, when was my first apprentice…?  Ahh, it was after we came to Fukuhara, right. Umm it was some years ago… mm, it was some years ago so I’ve forgotten. Quite a while back. It was before we came here, so we came here at least twenty-five years ago, and it was before that, so about thirty years ago, I think.

Paula: How many apprentices do you usually have?

Hiroi: At first it was one. And I mentioned this before, but that apprentice had a lot of friends and brought seven people with him, so, yeah, it was when we were in Fukuhara, so before we came here.

Paula: Um, when Janell came here to learn about these Edo tops, did you have [other] apprentices did you have at that time?

Hiroi: At that time… ah! I already had some apprentices, seven of them. The apprentices from Shiroishi were already here at that time. And in addition to them, um, there were a number of people, umm, who like Landis-sensei came here to learn as a hobby… Amano-san, Jin-san… umm… Suzuki-san, Zanma-san… ahh, also there was Shimamura-san, Watanabe-san… who else was there… Amano-san, Jin-san… Junna-san, Suzuki-san… and… Ah! Today, err? Kyōya-san, was he around that time? When we were in Fukuhara. Kyōya-san…

Mrs. Hiroi: Also there was the Jins.

Hiroi: So, Amano-san, Jin-san, and Zanma-san, Suzuki-san, Kyōma-san…

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah. That’s about it.

Hiroi: That was about all the people doing it as a hobby. Ah, and Landis-sensei, too.

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah. So that’s about it.

Hiroi: Six people doing it as a hobby. And other than them, there were people doing it professionally… Ah, Shinomura-san was doing it for a hobby at first, and from that beginning went pro.

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah.

Hiroi: So other than the seven from Shiroishi that I said before, the people who became professionals were the two from Marumori and today’s Tome. Umm, seven people plus two people, so nine.

Mrs. Hiroi: Mm.

Hiroi: Nine people, these were those aiming at being pros and who were pros. And the other six were amateurs doing it as a hobby. So in all there was ten– ah, there was also Morimoto-san.

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah. There was also Morimoto-san.

Hiroi: Right. In that case there was a lot. Fifteen or sixteen. Heh heh heh. So there was a turnover.


Paula: And were you apprentices usually men? Women?

Hiroi: Female apprentices. Umm with Landis-sensei as the first, then there was Jin-san’s wife. And… there was Yamada-san. Umm… female apprentices…

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah… yeah… that was about it.

Hiroi: Is that about it? I thought there was someone else…

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah. There weren’t [that many] women.

Hiroi: Only three? It was three women.

Paula: Going pro…?

Hiroi: Mmm… probably…

Paula: Was there no one?

Hiroi: There was no one who went pro that was a hobbyist, but there are people above pro. But that doesn’t mean that they’re making a living from it…

Paula: About how old were people who became apprentices? At the beginning, at the beginning–

Hiroi: When they first came?

Paula: Yeah.

Hiroi: How old were they? Around that time I think everyone was in their thirties.

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah.

Hiroi: Yeah… it was their thirties. Yeah. Among the men, who was the oldest?

Mrs. Hiroi: Around that time wasn’t there Minoru-kun?

Hiroi: Minoru-kun was so young at that time.

Mrs. Hiroi: Was he that young?

Hiroi: He was still a child.

Mrs. Hiroi: Was he?

Hiroi: Yeah, yeah, was he in his twenties? [Or] in his thirties.

Mrs. Hiroi: Uh, who, who was?

Hiroi: Was he in his thirties? Yeah, everyone was, weren’t they?

Mrs. Hiroi: That’s how it was. Yeah.

Hiroi: The oldest person… ah, was it Watanabe-san? Mm. Watanabe-san was the oldest. He was from a place called Marumori. And he was interesting, I have a story about him. His younger sister’s husband, he was from Marumori. And this sister, the man she married, her husband, he was the chauffeur for the mayor of Marumori. And I was often told that in Marumori they didn’t have any special [local] products, so they wanted me to make something. And at that time, when they said “Let’s make something!” in Marumori, there was one person who made kokeshi, and they asked him if he’d make them something. I spoke with them about it, but ahh– “bring him along”– [no,] I think they said to bring what I’d made and show them to see what they were.

Mrs. Hiroi: Mm. Yeah.

Hiroi: Then I brought my goods, but they were the [amusing] sort you laugh at. And that guy was someone who specialized in making a new kind of kokeshi using unfinished wood; it seems that he didn’t make them himself, but he made the unfinished wood to order, and didn’t have any experience making them himself. And I brought him with me, and at the time, because they came from the town hall… did the mayor come? The mayor, and– ah, no, it was the deputy mayor.

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah. The deputy mayor.

Hiroi: The deputy mayor and… umm, the section chief of the commerce and industry division. I think three people came.

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah. Three people came.

Hiroi:  I wonder if the mayor came… In any case, three people from the town hall came to my home with his younger sister’s husband. And they came saying that they had thought about something that could be the special local product of Marumori, and [asked] whether I had anything good. At that time, uhh, and then, the thing I made was, umm, this sort of… is there a pencil? Umm, this kind of shape… [drawing]  and here there’s… this top with three [other tops] attached.

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah. Three [tops] attached to it.

Hiroi: It’s in this shape, one, two, three. I made this kind of top… and I made this kind of top, but they didn’t understand what it was for some reason. In Japanese, it’s “marui” (round), round and there’s three trees. There are three trees in the round place, so it becomes “Marumori.” [translator’s note: the town’s name, Marumori, is comprised of the kanji for “round” and for “forest.” The character for “forest,” mori 森,  is made up of three of the “tree” kanji (木), making this a pun on three round objects representing trees becoming a “round forest,” or “marumori,” the town name.]

And I made this top and show it to them and the people from town hall were surprised and said, “Ohh, this is great!” So they took it and had the person I mentioned before, Watanabe-san, make it, and it’s [now] sold as Marumori’s special product. They’re [still] making it now. They’re still making it now, though I don’t know where they’re selling it, but I hear it’s still made somewhere. So a few might still be sold somewhere, but I don’t know. I don’t know how they’re selling it. But at that time, for the first time I met Watanabe-san, and the people from town hall said that they definitely wanted me to make him an apprentice and teach him. When he came, he was quite a different age than you, wasn’t he?

Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah.

Hiroi: He was the oldest [of the apprentices]. He also had a lot of experience. Even now there are a lot of shops that have the products he’s made. He might come here directly today. Yesterday he called and he said he might come. He was the oldest.

Paula: How many years are your apprentices apprenticed to you before they become independent top-makers?

Hiroi: Umm, in the end it takes ten years. Of course, it takes half a year or a year to learn the lathe. And then there’s a lot to remember. Even for someone like Maeda-kun, who can do it all now, it took ten years. It takes ten years.

Paula: Did you have any foreign apprentices after that?

Hiroi: No, after that, I didn’t any apprentices, but the people who came because they liked it were those that Landis-sensei introduced to me. They were her friends, and Newton-san, Landis-sensei had– what was it? Was he from Shichigahama? Takayama? After she returned to America, Newton-san joined [my workshop]. Newton-san came to my home for a while, but I think he moved somewhere before the [Tōhoku] earthquake. It was that he moved to Okayama or somewhere shortly after, right? So I think he wasn’t around for the earthquake, the tsunami.

And other than him, there was a person from Sweden, a person from Denmark, and– where was it? Was he Japanese? And there was another person. An American. Someone related to [Janell’s] church, I think. And they gave me wooden clogs or something. Clogs from Sweden or Denmark– I thought they were from Holland and they were like “No, you’re wrong!” and “Mine are the real thing.” I have the clogs somewhere, I could find them if I looked. And often when they came, they’d make me cherry-shaped [tops]. They said it was because they loved cherries, [so they made] cherry-shaped tops. If you travel to Sweden and Denmark, they have purple and yellow cherries, not just red ones. So I asked them to [make tops] in all kinds of colors. So they did, and I was delighted.

But they didn’t become apprentices. In that time, ummm… their term [of office], they had to switch jobs, so they had to go back to their countries. So both of them had to go back to their countries at the same time, and I never met them again. And one more person, who was it? Newton-san came every day, didn’t he? Until he moved to Okayama. He came until the earthquake happened. So he must have moved to Okayama just before that. And Landis-sensei brought him. Yeah, and Landis-sensei told him to become an apprentice, and he half-wanted to, but it was impossible for me [to make him do it]. Heh heh heh. He didn’t become an apprentice. He was a handsome person. Heh heh heh. When you met him you were like “Whoooa.” Hahahaha.
















































































ジャネルの独楽: Part 2


Hiroi-sensei and Exhibitions

In this post, Hiroi-sensei discusses his experiences on and feelings about displaying his work in public. He touches on Edogoma being shown at museums around the world and interest from international collectors.




Paula: And, um, regarding your work, do you travel within the country much for work?

Hiroi: Ahh, here–

Paula: For work.

Hiroi: Mm. For work?

Paula: Business trips, etc. Do you go on many of them? For example, well, for selling the Edo tops, doing exhibitions, for example, do you do a lot of that within Japan?

Hiroi: I see. It’s almost all within Japan. After I came here [to Akiu] I haven’t go out much for work, but before I came here, I did. At product exhibitions, here and there. Yeah. The Edo tops were actually the most popular [items] wherever I went.

Paula: About how many times a year [did you go to them]?

Hiroi: Ahh, well when there were a lot–three, four, I did them three or four times a year. Ah! Ahh, I did more than that! Ummm… among those trips, yeah, because my younger brother started going to Tokyo. Every year he put out his goods, so [my trips] were almost all-year round. Tokyo, Osaka. Because my brother went about with [his tops].

Paula: And you said that your younger brother had international exhibitions?

Hiroi: Ah, yes. My brother was called abroad, to America and Europe quite a bit. Thanks to that we were quite popular. So like I said before, he was even made an honorary citizen of Seattle in America. He was even asked if he’d become an honorary citizen in New York, too, but he said he was scared so he turned it down. Mm. That’s how much importance he’s put into [our craft].

And, umm… and he was often called to museums in Germany and France, etc., and went there. I heard they even set up some special spot [for his work there]. In Finland or somewhere he was able to [display his work] in a museum. Americans and Europeans have really appreciated [our work]. It’s a shame, really… it would be good if Japanese people had a fraction of that appreciation. But it can’t be helped.

Even our neighbors, the Koreans, have said as such. Some time ago, on Korean television there was a cultural broadcast that came to collect data. And what they said when [they came] was, “Are the people at the craft village receiving protection from the state? For example, have you been named a living national treasure?” It turns out there was a place similar to our [craft village] close to Seoul, and the artisans there were what Japan calls “living national treasures” but for Korea. They asked “Is this place the same as there?” and when I said “No, everyone here is individual. The prefecture [helped us] make the village, but everyone is individual and has debts, and set it up themselves and supports themselves,” they were shocked. “Ahh, that’s too bad!” they said. (laughs) Even though artisans are the treasures of a country. They said “Korea won!” (laughs) It was mortifying. (laughs)


Paula: This is about Sendai again, but, what are your interactions with the local community like? Do you do special activities or exhibitions?

Hiroi: Ah, in Sendai?

Paula: Yes.

Hiroi: After I came here… After I came here I didn’t really do any, but before that… before I came here… for many years, three or four, I wonder? In front of the station there was– it’s not there anymore, but– there was a Jūjiya department store, and at the department story for three or four years every year we did an New Year’s exhibition and sale. Jūjiya was a small department store and not that many people went to it, but this Edo top exhibition, it was only at New Year’s, and people lined up for them. We hung up a huge curtain and everyone was really delighted. Jūjiya was the first time I did [an exhibition] in Sendai, and to have people lined up into the night on New Year’s, it was really something.

And for three years [we did it], and the fourth year I came here, and they asked me to do it a fourth year, but I’d moved here, so I think I couldn’t do it. Then Jūjiya went bankrupt. Heh heh heh… And now… what did the store become? I think they turned it into something. Ah, it merged with Daiei… I think it merged with Daiei. Anyway, the store isn’t there anymore. The department store. Jūjiya was the one I did grand exhibitions at for three years, and after that… after that I didn’t really do any. After that there were sometimes kokeshi-maker or product exhibitions, but we always did that as a group. There weren’t many. Then I moved here, so. But even if I didn’t do that kind of thing, people who liked [the tops] requested them and lots of people came to the shop, so there was no inconvenience to selling them. And after moving here, since moving here people came steadily [to the shop].


Paula: And did you have any chances to do an international exhibition?

Hiroi: Ahh… international. I don’t really… don’t really know. Umm… there were some things. Not direct [opportunities], but people who collected [the tops], umm… where was it? Not America. Somewhere in Europe, France…? Ahh, Germany. A German museum… they said they would do an exhibition. [They asked] if I’d contribute what I had and exhibit them. Just exhibit them. After that a German person came, and it was the museum person, and they saw my works and bought a number of them.

After, the interesting thing was that in France– where was it? Uhh, the sister city with Sendai. Hm? What was it called? Umm… what was it… eh? I’ve forgotten the name. The sister city with Sendai… uhh… wait, Rennes, Rennes…? Rennes?? Rennes, I think it was called Rennes. I don’t really remember the name. It might be Rennes. He said the mayor [of Rennes] was collecting tops. And he wanted Edo tops, and for cultural exchange artisans from that city, people from Rennes, had come from Rennes to Sendai. And a number of Sendai city councillors had come with him to the craft village. And they went there and from here I could see them talking [to the artisans]. And this one red-faced, enormous man pointed at me and was saying something over and over. And everyone restrained him and kept shaking him off and he rushed off in quite a hurry, and I was really shocked and thought, wow, we’ve become important. They’d say “Ohhh!” and that they wanted my howling top, and such. And the interpreter said said that he’d come here and collected tops, and that he had a number of Edo tops, but no matter what the cost he wanted a howling top and he’d heard that they were made in Sendai, so he definitely wanted to come. But he’d tried to come here and everyone had held him back, so he had gone out of his way to go out. And did we have howling tops? And just at the time I had some howling tops, so I gave him one as a gift, and he was really happy and went back [to France]. That sort of thing happened.


Paula: And when was that story about France and Germany? What year–

Hiroi: Ahh… that was some time ago. Ten… fifteen or sixteen years ago, I think. It’s been fifteen or sixteen years. After… wait, it was early than that. Twenty years ago…? Ahh… Mm. When I did a museum exhibition was about twenty years ago.

The Sendai museum. I’ve done an exhibition of these Edo tops before. What was amazing at that time was the museum exhibited all of the tops, and we asked Landis-sensei if there was something she’d use to describe the Edo tops in one word in English, and it was the first time I’d heard her use the word unbelievable [anbiriihaburu]] And the museum wrote above its entrance “Unbelievable Edo Tops.” And before long it was on television, so at the time they started saying unbelievable. It might be because of Landis-sensei that the word unbelievable spread throughout Japan at the time. Heh heh heh. Until then no one knew about that kind of thing. It was said that that word fit Edo tops perfectly. I thought, “Yeah, that’s the sort of thing they are.” It was right about… and Landis-sensei also… ummm that time was… seventeen or eighteen years ago, after all. It was after that museum exhibition, wasn’t it? When the mayor from Rennes came. Seven, seventeen or eighteen years ago.

After that, a person who was the curator of the Mexican National Museum [also] came. She was a really high-spirited person. She was fussing was like “WOW!” [over the tops]. Always “WOW!” She was so animated. It made me so happy. It was a woman. She said was from the national, Mexican National Museum. I was so delighted. I don’t really remember what came of it. Hahaha. She made a clamor and was dancing about. Heh heh heh. I thought “Amaaaaazing!”
































仙台市の博物館、博物館でね。この江戸独楽の、展示をやったことがあるんですよ。そのときに、あとすごかったのは、あの博物館全部この江戸独楽を飾って、でそのときにランディス先生に、あの英語で、一言でこの江戸独楽を表現する、何か言葉ないかってんで、そのとき初めてランディス先生に「アンビリーバブル (unbelievable)」って言葉を聞いて。であの博物館の入口にでっかく「アンビリーバブル (unbelievable) 江戸独楽」って書いてあった。それからね、間もなくしてからテレビだのなんだので、この頃アンビリーバブルって言うようになったのね。そのときは、だから、日本でアンビリーバブルって言葉流行らしたのはランディス先生かも分かんない。へへへ。それまで、そういうこと知らなかったものね。だっけ、江戸独楽がその言葉にぴったりなんだって言われて。あぁそういうもんなだ、と思って、いたんですけどね。えぇ…ちょうど、んだから、またランディス先生が・・・うんと、あんときは…うん、やっぱり十七・八年前、前かな。その博物館で展覧会やった後だもんな、レンヌの市長が来たのは。で十、十七・八年前ですね。



Hiroi and the Life of the Artisan

In this interview segment, Hiroi-sensei describes the life of a woodworking artisan and the difficulty of maintaining Japanese traditional arts in the modern world.



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

Hiroi Michiaki: 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)

Paula: (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?

Hiroi: 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.

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

Hiroi: 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.

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

Hiroi: 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].

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

Hiroi: Ahh. Yeah.

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

Hiroi: 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.




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ジャネル・ランディス:まぁとにかく、宮城にいる友達も参加しているYWCAっていう団体で英語を教えていたの。私のような青い目のアメリカ人から見た日本について、どんな感想を持ってるのかスピーチして欲しいって頼んでくる人がいたけど。私の目は青くないのに。あはは。あれは女性団体だったかしら、どこかで日本の女性たちに向けて、話をしたことがあるの。でも、毎日 学校で教えるのに比べれば頻度は少なかったわね。





ジャネル: いえいえ、そうじゃないわ。大学で年に一度お祭りか何かがあって、その時に学生が自分たちでアンケートを毎年取っていたのを覚えているけれど、そのアンケートでキリスト教徒の割合は1%にも満たなかったのよ。でもアンケートでは10%くらいの人が神道や仏教よりもキリスト教を好んでいることも判ったの。まぁそんな内容のアンケートを毎年やっていたわけではないけど。でも、キリスト教徒になりたくてもなれない、その1%を越えた人たちが私を支えてくれてると いつも感じていたわ。洗礼を受けれなくて。日本の女性は結婚すると、夫の家に入るでしょう。女性は、奴隷とまでは言わないけど、義母にこき使われてたりして、洗礼を受けれなかった。私のいた教会で、やっと家から出て教会に来ることができたっていう74歳の女性に度々付き添ってあげたのを覚えてる。

そんな人がたくさん、男性も女性も。ある男性がね、自分がキリスト教徒だと地元の人に知られないように、地元から遠く離れた教会に行っていたのも覚えてる。その男性が亡くなったとき、周りの人はどうしたらいいのか分からなかった。もしも、それで、もしも…あの…そう、私のキリスト教徒の男友達でもいたわね。彼がキリスト教に改宗したときに、ご両親も一緒に改宗したの、元いた仏教のお寺とは縁を切ってね。お寺と縁を切るのは大きな一歩よね、だって自分が当たりまえに入るはずだったお墓を捨てることになるんだから。そのご家族はお寺じゃなく、キリスト教の墓地を選んだわ。そして本当に改宗した。でもね、私の仕事は何人 洗礼させたか競うことじゃないのよ。

もし私が本を書くなら、タイトルは『Heartbeats and Headcounts (鼓動の数と頭数)』にするわ。帰ると尋ねられるの 『今日は何人教会に連れて来れた?』とか。人を改宗させることが宣教活動だと考えるような人たちもいるのよ。宣教活動は人々と生活を共にすることなのに。日本の暮らしを通して、私が誰かに教えたことよりも、ずっと多くのことを私は教わった。キリスト教徒になった人がキリスト教を選んだのは、その人たちがそうすると決断したからよ。私が彼らの代わりに決断してあげることなんてできないじゃない。

私の人生は変化に富んでいたから、たくさんの人たちに会う機会があったわ。日本だけじゃなく…インドとかタイとかね。職探しや職業訓練のために日本に来た人たちよ。東京の北の方にある田舎の施設で、宇都宮という大きな都市にとても近い場所だったけど。ある日本人キリスト教徒が設立した、アジアの国々にある地域で活動するリーダーたちをサポートする施設があって。 今ではアフリカや南アメリカからも人が来るようになった。いつでも訪問できたし、特別に何かイベントをするときには私の生徒を連れて行ったりもできたの。本当に自由にさせてもらってたのよ。だから、そうね、学校のルールに縛られてる感覚もなかったし…まぁ子供たちを間違った方向へ導かない限りはね。あはは。あぁ、本当に、自由にいろいろやってたこと。






Janell’s Life of Entertainment

In this post, Janell describes how her gift for impersonation and desire to entertain led to her meeting Hiroi in Sendai.


Janell LandisYou see, it all comes down to my puppets. And you haven’t gotten–[47:27]

Malina Suity [47:30] I was going to ask you about your puppets. You mentioned working with puppets in America, as well. When did you start–

Janell [47:45] Well I started when my brother went–and my family–I was working in the summer camp, cooking, and helping to clean up and stuff. And my brother and sister and my mother and father went to New York City to visit my older sister who was working for Exxon, or Esso at that time, in the Rockefeller Center area. In the basement there, in one of those malls, he found little monkey puppets. And so he bought two and he gave me one. And that’s what started me with the puppetry. That was back in, hmm, ‘40– see, I graduated from college in ‘48, and this was before college. So around ‘45, ‘46 I started. I used to do imitations and impersonations.

One time I heard on the radio, Fred Waring had one [a comedy bit] where you push buttons and change the stations and then you get a funny connection. And I had a routine using spoons pushing the button and going from one to the other and I had ZaSu Pitts and Bette Davis and roosters and all kinds of stuff.

So that was what started me, and then, when I got the puppet I started with puppets then. And I have them [still], they’re getting ready, I’m going to have a little show coming up next month. But, I have them separated as to the ones that I started with, and then, when I was in Japan I met a wonderful woman who was really creative and she made me twenty-four puppets. Rabbits, and a bear, and an octopus. All kinds.

Malina [49:50] What was her name?

Janell [49:51] Her name was Michii Sato. And she’s gone now, but she was a wonderful friend. One of the teachers at Miyagi, Mr. Ishii, he was a teacher of Japanese and at one time the head of his department there too. He introduced me to her when I first went to Sendai after language study. And she made me a grandma and a grandpa, wonderful puppets uh, and started with that.

And when I was on a TV show for a year, teaching homemakers English with Mrs. Amano’s help, uh, I had three other puppets she made me. A boy and a girl and a mother. And after every show, thirty minute show, at the close we would review what we went through with these puppets so the children would talk to their mother and answer.  So, then I was asked by a man in our church in America if I could use puppets and do a Sunday school program, you know for a yearly program, but anyway at that time Michii Sato made me twenty four puppets. And I never got to use them to make that.


Malina [55:45]: And you mentioned doing a TV show? How did you get into that?

Janell: That was through the man that later, after that, he’s the one that got into contact with my top teacher. But when I was teaching at Miyagi in the college, I would have juniors and seniors taking a course, not compulsory. What’s the word I’m searching for? A course that elect–you elect. This one–that year I had a woman named uh, what was her name before marriage? After she graduated from Miyagi she married Mr. Amano who was working for the TBS radio and television station. And um, they asked me, they asked me to have this program for housewives. It was half an hour everyday, Monday through Friday, and Amano-san’s wife, my former student, was my associate. She would use the Japanese to translate and I would always be speaking in English. And she could use English too. So, it was funny, they asked me…they set, up until they set a date and then I thought I was finished, but um, they wanted to keep it on. And I had only gotten permission for one year from my school representative. I said, I couldn’t continue that program more than one year. But the way they had said it sounded, to them it sounded, like forever, but to me it sounded like the end.

It was at that time then, that Amano-san, Mr. Amano, and his associate at TBS asked me to do this program for New Year’s with Mr. Hiroi the top maker. And that was 1981, we taped it and then it was broadcast on the 3rd of January 1982. And then I was accepted by Mr. Hiroi as an apprentice. And from that time I worked first in his home on the lathe, and then he got me in contact with a man who made a lathe for me.

Jan’s Cultural References:

See ZaSu Pitts in action: view a video of her singing “Your Mother!” in 1934’s RKO Sing and Like It

See Bette Davis in one of her iconic roles, as Julie in William Wyler’s 1938 Jezebel, a Warner Brothers film. 

Listen to Fred Waring introduce the song “Buckle Down, Winsocki” from the musical Best Foot Forward on Command Performance in 1942, right around the time Jan would have been listening. 

Photographs of Janell and her puppets via Janell Landis.













ジャネル:それは、あとで、ある男性を通じてなんだけどね、うちの学校の校長と知り合いだった人なんだけど。宮城の大学で私が教えていたときに、3,4年生のクラスを教えていたの。必修ではないけど。何というの?自由クラス。自分で決めてやるクラスよ。[選択科目。] あの年の女生徒で、えーとあの人の旧姓って何だったかしら?宮城大を出た後、その子はTBSラジオ・テレビ局に勤めていたアマノさんと結婚したの。それで、そう、訊かれたのよね、主婦向けの番組をやらないかと訊かれたの。30分の番組を土日以外毎日、アマノさんの奥さんは私の元生徒なのだけど、彼女が番組助手で。アマノさんは日本語で訳したりして、私はずっと英語で話すの。アマノさんも英語が話せるし。おかしな話なんだけどね…番組が終了する日を決めて、それまでやったら 私はもう終わりにすると思ってた、でも、アマノさん達は番組を終わりにしないで続けて欲しいと思ってたの。1年だけって約束で番組をやらせてもらえるように学校に許可を取っていたから。私言ったのよ、1年以上は続けられませんって。でもアマノさんたちの言い方だと番組は永遠に続くって感じの言い方で、私にとっては終了するって響きだったのよ。

ちょうどその時期に、アマノさんのご主人とTBSにいる彼の助手が、廣井先生という独楽職人と一緒に新年の特番に出て欲しいって頼んできたの。あれは1981年だったわね、撮影しておいたものを1982年の1月3日に放送したの。それから廣井先生が私を弟子にしてくれたのよ。それからは、廣井先生の家にある旋盤を使って習い始めたけど、その後 私用の旋盤を作ってくれる人を紹介してくれたの。


ゼイスー・ピッツ:1934年の RKO Sing and Like Itで“Your Mother!” という歌を歌っているヴィデオ

ベティ・デイヴィスの最も有名な役:『黒蘭の女』のジュリー、 ワーナー・ブラザーズ、1938年

フレッド・ウェアリングが『Best Foot Forward 』というミュージカルの歌「Buckle Down, Winsocki」を「Command Performance」(1942年)のラジオ番組で紹介する。これはジャネルが聞いているころからのもの。

Photographs of Janell and her puppets via Janell Landis.