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?
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!”