バテレン当て独楽 (bateren ategoma) priest roulette-style top
This top depicts a priest. When Catholic missionaries began to enter Japan in the sixteenth century, they were known as bateren バテレン, a word that comes from Portuguese padre, “father.” Most of the first missionaries entering Japan during this time were Portuguese Jesuits. Here, Hiroi-sensei has depicted a sixteenth-century priest with exaggerated frills at his neck to form the base of the roulette-style top, which features Roman numerals. A roulette-style top is a kind of game. Someone spins the handle at the top, and the priest’s long nose lands on the winning number on the base.
Hiroi Michiaki: Umm what was this? What is it called? A bateren [priest]. Yeah. It’s a bateren roulette-style top. I asked Landis-sensei what a bateren was, and she said she didn’t know. It’s sort of what Christians used to be called in the past.
Paula Curtis: Yes. In the sixteenth century.
Hiroi: Ahh, the sixteenth century. That long ago? Hmm…
Paula: Yeah, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Hiroi: Ohhh it’s that old?
Hiroi: Then Landis-sensei wouldn’t know, huh? Heh heh heh. Ahh I see. It’s someone from that time period, and I made a roulette-style top game from it.
Hiroi-sensei 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.