Tag Archives: kokeshi

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.








ポーラ:(laughs) その、まぁあの難しいことが、もちろん、多いと、おっしゃいましたが、まぁあの時間とともに、ま、多少変化しましたか。何が難しいか、あのその、ビジネスとか、売るのとか。














廣井: そういうのがあると本当いいんですけどねえ。残念なことに日本にはまだそういう制度ないし。もうちょっと、偉い人がさっきも言ったように職人に、えぇ、こう、目を向けてくれれば、少しは、伝統的なものとか、技術が、残るんじゃないかな。で、若い人も、職人に、結構職人になりたい若い人いるんですよね。でも、職人の世界って難しい。で職人っていうのは頑固でなかなか。こう、馴染めないっていう、そっちのイメージの方が多くて恐ろしがってね、へへへ。なかなか『やりたくてもなぁ・・・』っていう人結構多いんですよね。だから、そういう人たちにね、もっとこう、スムーズに馴染んでもらって。育てたいな、と思っていたんですけど。ええと、去年ね、ええと一年半、仙台市で、この工芸の里で、後継者の育成をしようっていうことで市の、市がお金を出してくれて。で五人、入れたんですね若い人を。



Hiroi’s early experiences as a woodworker

In this interview segment, Hiroi-sensei describes his early experiences as a woodworker in Sendai selling kokeshi dolls before he settled on reviving his family’s tradition of making Edo-style tops. He discusses the difficulties his family had selling their goods, despite being discovered as the last surviving family in Japan that made Edo-style tops.

This clip has been slightly edited from the original interview for clarity. A transcript of this clip can be found below. And a full transcript of our interview with Hiroi can be found here [forthcoming].


Young Hiroi-sensei.
Young Hiroi-sensei.

Hiroi Michiaki: Hmmm. Since I first came to Sendai… mmm… there were many [moments that stay in my mind], 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].

Paula Curtis:   Yes.

Hiroi:   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.

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

Hiroi:    Mm, that was the only thing to do. Somehow I sold the tops. Like in the past, I thought I might not be able to eat, and 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.

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

Hiroi:   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.

Paula:    About how many years were you an apprentice?

Hiroi:   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].

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

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

Paula:    What was your life like there?

Hiroi:    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.

Paula:   That was before you were married?

Hiroi:    Before.

Paula:    And after you were married…?

Hiroi:   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.

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

Hiroi:    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.




テーマを明確にするためオリジナルのインタビューを少し編集したクリップとなります。このクリップを文字に起こしたファイルはこのページの下にあります。廣井のインタビュー全文はこちらにあります [ 準備中  ]。


Young Hiroi-sensei.

廣井道顕: うんとね。はじめは仙台に来てからー・・・あのう・・・いろんな、あの、木地屋さんの所で親父が働いていて、職人やってて。であのう、そのうちにね、この独立って、自分で、あのう、うち借りて、でやっぱ轆轤をつけて、で問屋に行って、こけしの下請け、をやってたんですよ。で、あーその頃もこけしを、お土産のこけしね、今の伝統のこけしと違うやつ。それがいっぱい売れて。で問屋があって、そこで、その「しらきじ」っていう絵の描かない、しらきじを請け負って仕事をやってたんですけども。そのうちにあのう、同じこけしやるんならば伝統こけしをやったほうがいいって言われて、そこにいる我妻さんっていう人の弟子にしてもらって、遠刈田系の伝統こけしっていうのをやるようになったんですよ。であのう、伝統こけしが今度う売れ、いっぱいブームになって、売れるようになって、であのう、東京へ、轆轤持って実演に、デパートに行って。で最初こけしをしてたんですけど、こけしだと時間がかかるから、あのう、独楽を、やったのね。


ポーラ・カーティス: はい。

廣井: そしたら、東京であのう、こけし集めるってイタリアと。郷土玩具っていうのが日本にあちこちにあのう会津だったらあの赤べこってありますよね。あぁいう郷土玩具をや、こけしを集めてる人たちが来て。えぇぇ独楽やってるけど、あの時はね、あのう、江戸独楽でなくて仙台だからっていうことで、仙台、ま、仙台独楽とか宮城の独楽とかって名前で。というのはあの、仙台市の物産店とか、宮城県の物産店で行ってたんもんですから。で仙台で行った時は仙台の独楽、宮城県で行った時は宮城、宮城の独楽っていうことで、やって。で人気があって、目の前ですぐできて回りますからね。で、それ見てた人が郷土玩具を集める人が、『お前、生まれ本当はどこだ』なんて言われて「いや東京です」と。「やっぱりな」っていうことになって。ほんであの、東京にも確か昔、江戸独楽って独楽の玩具がいっぱいあったはずなんだけど、いくら探しても、見つからない。って居たんだけど。「お前んとこでやってたことあるか」って言うから、「うちは代々、やってた」っつったっけ。「あぁ!見つけたー!」っていうことになって、そしてあのう東京で大騒ぎになって、江戸独楽見つかったっていうことで。であのー弟が東京へ行くことになって。で弟は東京で結婚して、でずうっとあのう、江戸独楽づくり。それがキッカケでこっちもこっちで仙台で、江戸独楽づくり。まぁ仙台でも江戸独楽、ある程度作ったんですけど、こっちの人にや分らないから、売っても売れなかったんですよね。


ポーラ: で、ご家族は先生が江戸独楽の職業を継いで続けることを思っていらっしゃったのですか。

廣井: うん、それしかなかったからね。えぇ・・・。だその、なんとか売って、昔通りに、食えないかなぁと思っていたんだけど、仙台では全然その通りで、あのう理解されなくて、売れなくて、で東京行って今言ったような状態で、それから売れるようになったんですけども。でその時あのう、江戸独楽よりもむしろそのこけし、伝統こけしの方一生懸命やってたんですけどね。

ポーラ 独立の江戸独楽の職人になった時はいつでしたか。

廣井: えぇぇ・・・いつだった。はっきり覚えってないよね。うん・・・。いつの間にかだからね、親手伝ってて。でいつの間にか轆轤のるようになってて。だからはっきりいつ何月何日何年のっていう、そいつはないんだね。


ポーラ: 弟子としての、ま、それは何年間ぐらいだったと思いますか。

廣井: んーそれも分んないなぁ。いつの間にかだからね。いつの間にか親手伝って親と一緒に、ま弟も一緒に、三人して仕事しているようになったかな。それが何月何日何年のなにって・・・決まりないからね。だからちょっと分らないよね、それはね。言われても。

ポーラ: これはあのう前の質問とあのう、少し同じところありますが、はじめて仙台にいらっしゃったのはいつでしたか。

廣井: 初めて仙台に来たのはね。ええと。昭和・・・何年だ。二十三年・・・。昭和二十三年だな、確かな。

ポーラ: で、どのような生活されましたか。

廣井: んーその時は・・・人の家に間借りっていうのしてたの。部屋、借りて。だからどういう風に暮らしたのかなぁ・・・。となんとなく暮らしてたって言うと変だけれども、親父が一生懸命なんか、仕事をやってたんですね。んで・・・とにかく転々と歩いたから仙台市内をね。長くいなかったから、あっちこっち。だから仙台だけでも、何か所くらい行ったんだろう・・・一か所、二か所、三、四、五、六、七。七回場所変え。

ポーラ: それは結婚する前でしたか。

廣井: 前。

ポーラ: 結婚してから・・・

廣井: 結婚してからは・・・ええと・・・結婚してからは・・・。あぁ、一回、二回だね。ここよ。ええと・・・東口んとこに、東えー東七番町で結婚して、袋原に移って、それからここだから、二度目ですねここ。

ポーラ: あの、仙台の、ま、色々なお住まいについてどのような思い出がありますか。特に目立つのはありますか。

廣井: うんと嫌な思いしたのはね。(laughs) 二箇所あるね。ものすごく嫌な、いじめられて、とんでもない目にあった場所が、二箇所あるね。後はみんな楽しかったですね。で特に独立してからは。あのう・・・仲間がいっぱいいたし、同じ年代の人たちが、いっぱいいてね。ほんと楽しかったの。一箇所なぜか一箇所、仙台中のこけし屋さんのほとんどが集まっている場所に、あのう独立して住んでいて、で隣近所って感じで、同業者の人がいっぱいいて。あーその時は今でも楽しいですね、思い出すと。でそこの、だからその、こけし教わった先生の息子さん、今、いるんですけど、この間も「あの頃が一番楽しかったなぁ」なんて、つくづく言ってたから。楽しかったですね。