Tag Archives: video

Making tops: Now

What does making wooden tops look like? How do they use the lathe to make this kind of art? Below we feature three videos of Hiroi-sensei and his apprentice, Maeda, at work, along with photographs of the present-day Hiroi workshop where Hiroi and Maeda have worked on the lathe throughout the years. The tops are made by placing a block of wood on the lathe and spinning it rapidly while cutting into the wood with metal tools. Paint is applied to the finished top while it spins on the lathe. Maeda has been Hiroi-sensei’s apprentice for over ten years and will inherit Hiroi-sensei’s shop.

You can listen to and read an interview with Hiroi on his own early apprenticeship here.






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。



Janell’s Missionary Work

In this post, our conversation delves deeper into Janell’s duties and thoughts on her work as a Christian missionary in Japan. Jan discusses the Christian population of her college, and how some of her American friends had misconceptions about the goals of her mission.


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


Janell Landis: But anyway, I had the English classes in the YWCA where some of my friends from Miyagi were a part of that. I had people who would ask me as a blue-eyed American my opinion of Japan, to give a speech on that, and I didn’t have blue eyes [laughs] but anyway. It was a women’s group or I actually talked to all Japan women somewhere, sometime. But, those were not as frequent as everyday teaching in school.

But, then I had some very interesting groups coming to my home, once a month. And we made–that was later in my life. We made decorations for all kinds of things, Christmas and et cetera. That group was a group of women who were on the staff of the college. And uh, the school was, for me, was a family. It really was, and these were all my little girls [laughs].

But, I was not asked to start the Christian work, I was just in it in a program that had been founded years before and carried on. When the missionaries had to do the leading for this program or that. But I was just fitting into what the Japanese wanted and needed, and um, I didn’t have to institute anything on my own, but I was able to if I wanted to branch out. So, there was a freedom there that we missionaries from America were given. It was a Japanese church that was, it’s still one percent of the population. It doesn’t get larger. But it’s a faithful part. And I have a prayer calendar I read everyday, and the list has got a lot of social welfare programs, like a home for mothers or babies, or a home or elderly or children and the challenged and so on.

Malina Suity: Were many of your students Christian?

Janell: What?

Malina: Were all of your students Christian, or many of them?

Janell: Oh no no no. No no. I remember the college used to have each year a fair, a celebration once a year that the students themselves took a survey of the students and less than one percent were Christian. But when they took this survey about 10 percent of the students said they would prefer Christianity to Buddhism or Shinto. Now, that wasn’t something they did every year. But that indicated, I always felt that there was a back up much higher than one percent, but many that could not become members. Couldn’t be baptized. And a lot of women when they married, married into their husband’s family. And she was, I can’t say a slave, but she was an underling of the mother and law and sometimes they were not able. I remember occasionally at our church that I attended a woman seventy-four years old finally could get out of the house and come to church.

And there was people like that, men and women who… I remember the story of a man who went to church in a completely far away neighborhood so nobody would know he was a Christian in his neighborhood. And when he died they didn’t know what to do. Um, but if…if um–I also remember one of my Christian men friends. His parents, when he became a Christian, his parents became Christians too and they severed their relationship with their cemetery, their Buddhist cemetery. Now, to give up their Buddhist cemetery was a real step, because that was a normal thing for you to be buried in that cemetery. But they chose to drop that and go into a Christian cemetery. So that was real conversion.

But my job was not particularly to count the heads that I baptized. If I ever write a book about myself I’m going to  write it called it “Heartbeats and Headcounts” because I would come home and the people would say, “How many people did you bring to the Church?” or something. You know, people who always think of mission work as conversion. Our mission work was to share life with people and I learned more from my life there than I was ever able to teach. And anybody that became a Christian became because they themselves made the decision. I can’t make a decision for them.

But with that opportunity of having variety in my life, there was a real good chance to meet a lot of people, not just from Japan, but that…people from India and Thailand. That came to Japan for work or training. The rural institute down in uh North of Tokyo, they’re very close to Utsunomiya, big city. That was especially founded by a Japanese Christian to serve community leaders from a lot of Asian countries. Now it includes people from Africa and South America. And we were able to visit there and I could take students there when they’d have a special program. So, there was a lot of freedom that made it possible to…uh, I didn’t feel restricted by school rules or…as long as you didn’t lead the students astray [laughs] into a wicked life. Why, you had a lot of freedom. 

Malina: What was your first job in Japan?

Janell: Excuse me?

Malina: Your first job in Japan?

Janell: The first job in, that was from 1953 all the way to about ‘85. My job was working in Miyagi Gakuin College and Junior and Senior high. There were several years where I was assigned to the Junior and Senior High and attended their faculty meetings. The rest of the time I was on the faculty of the college and the junior college, teaching English as a second language. That was my first job and my last job in that school.

But then the last ten years of my life in Japan were in connection with the Tohoku, that’s Miyagi, Yamagata, Fukushima prefectures that were Tohoku conference. The prefectures north of us were in the Ou conference. But the Tohoku conference, and I visited churches with puppets and I had English bible classes with members, youth and older. I also worked with the YWCA. They had some wonderful women who were interested in reading the Bible in English. And um, so there were opportunities for visiting kindergartens. And recently, with that tsunami there were some of the kindergartens in the area around the sea that I don’t know if they’re still there. I lost contact with those churches after I came back here in ‘95. But I was visiting some of those churches’ kindergartens. And, um they weren’t very big. The churches themselves didn’t have that many members, but that was part of my program in the last ten years of my life in Japan. I was on the train a lot and in the car.

Jan, the Feminist

In this post, Jan discusses how she developed as a feminist, her desire to share her point of view with her students, and her unique position as an unmarried American woman in Japan.


Malina Suity: [1:00:42]: When you were working as a teacher at Miyagi, what were your–did you have any particular duties other than just teaching classes? What were your classes like?

Janell Landis: Um, well. The classes were, as I said, were sometimes with junior high school girls. And that was about fifty kids in one room and reviewing the English studies that they had with their Japanese teachers. They had me twice a week and the other teachers every day. And so it was back up for the Japanese teachers, and then that was true in senior high too. In college, I was given an opportunity with the juniors and seniors to have these elective courses. And then I attempted to really concentrate on some of the issues that women would face. And that’s when my feminist years developed. And I saw some of the girls develop too. And one of them ended up being, working on the wonderful program north of Tokyo that was involved with educating workers from other Asian countries and for commuting to work and so on. [1:02:09]


Malina [1:09:50] You mentioned your development as a feminist and working with women’s issues. Can you describe your experience as a woman in postwar Japan?

Janell: Yes. Uh, it was, my own conversion was when I was going with a group of people from New Jersey to what they called the God Box. To a Riverside area where the national church of these mainline denominations was located. And I went into a drug store while we were waiting for the car and I bought the first magazine of Ms. and that changed my life. And I didn’t see…what was your question again?

Malina: Um

Janell: I’m ready to get off of it.

Malina: It’s uh, being a woman in Japan.

Janell [1:10:58]: Oh, a woman in Japan. Well, because of that conversion in the States when I went back. I had the privilege in some of these elective classes to show what women were doing in other countries or so on. So, I myself branched out. But I had a reaction of one of my female Japanese teachers, she thought I was degrading the men. And uh, like I was anti-man. And that really hurt me in a way. I didn’t ever feel like I would, that I would, ever degrade my fellow men that were working on the faculty. I was cautioned then, to be careful not to be too demanding.

But um, like I said, being a single woman. I was my own self and I think I got a little bit different treatment than a wife would. And she would have opportunities that I didn’t have. But I never begrudged the difference. Each of us is given a walk and we have to walk our walk, own walk. We can’t imitate somebody else’s trot, but uh. I never felt…well let’s see I can’t say never. There were times when being a woman in postwar Japan might have been more difficult. But, being an American woman, being a single woman. [laughs] I had some freedoms that my Japanese women didn’t have. I was always–In the first years when things weren’t as progressive, I never got invited to the weddings. But after how many years there, it was like, if they had the American teacher there that was a real special thing. I got took to so many weddings and their parties. But, it was rarely that we were in the weddings. Many of them were held in a Shinto temple, but we were having the wedding parties in these big hotels or these big wedding parlors. And they’d spend a fortune and give everyone a present and so on. But I, in the latter years, I was one of the people they called. [1:14:02]

For more information on Ms. Magazine and the impact it had on women like Jan, read this oral history from New York Magazine.

Photograph of Janell and English Department staff at Miyagi Gakuin via Janell Landis.









ジャネル:いいわよ。そう、あれは、ニュージャージー州から来た人たちとニューヨークのゴッド・ボックス※を何て呼ぶかってことについて話していたときだったわ。主だった宗派の教会があるリバーサイド地域へ向かったときね。 車を待っている間に私は薬屋さんに寄って、初出版の『Ms.』という雑誌を買ったのだけど、それが私の人生を変えたの。当時は分からなかったけど…質問はなんだったかしら?





でもそうね、さっき言ったけど、独身女性として。私は私自身でいることができたし、誰かの奥さんっていうのとはちょっと違った扱いをされたわね。きっと誰かの奥さんだったら独身の私が得られなかった経験があったんでしょうね。でもその違いを嫉ましく思ったことはなかった。人はそれぞれの道が用意されてて、自分自身の道を歩まないといけないんだもの。他の人の道を真似して歩んだりできないんだから。でも、まぁ。私は絶対に…まぁ、絶対になんて言えないのよね。戦後の日本で女性として生きることは時に困難なことだったかもしれないわ。でも、アメリカ人女性として、独身女性として。私は日本人の女友達よりも自由だったわね。私はいつも– まだ世の中が積極的に進歩しているとは言えなかった最初の数年間、誰も私を結婚式に招待しなかった。でも歳月が過ぎれば、アメリカ人の先生がいることがすごく特別なことみたいな扱いになった。結婚式やらパーティーにたくさん呼ばれるようになった。でも、結婚式自体に行くことは滅多になかった。ほとんどが神道の寺社で執り行われたけど、結婚式のパーティーは大きなホテルとか式場でやってたから。大枚をはたいて披露宴をして、みんなにプレゼントを配ったりしてた。でも私は、何年経っても、呼ばれる側の人間だった。

※ゴッド・ボックス: ニューヨーク州、マンハッタンのリバーサイド通りにある19階建てのオフィスビルで、アメリカにある主だった教会や宗教関連の非営利団体がオフィスを置いているため通称ゴッド・ボックスと呼ばれている


ジャネルのようなアメリカの女性たちに大きな影響を与えたMs.誌の誕生についてはこちらのNew York Magazineに載るオーラルヒストリーの特集をご覧ください。