2016 Snapshot 15 Evening Light

Evening Light
Visiting a place for a long time always offers the opportunity of planning a shot.  In this case it was a matter of noticing that the setting sun would light one side of this street opposite from where I was staying in Wajima back in June 2015.  I noted the time and planned to try and photograph this street half and hour later in order to capture the image.  While the tiles and ridge ornaments are shown off by the lighting, I could have waited for a person to walk toward or away from me.  My intension, however, was to show off the arrangement of roofs.  The web of wires, poles and small transformers pictured only helped to lift the quality of the lighting and design on the left of the street.  Trickery with the camera?  A little but with a purpose—to express something using the light.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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Split and Bend—Bentwood Woodcraft

Given that there are only slight differences in trees and their wood across the world, it is not surprising that the tools and skills to split wood, for example, are very much the same.  It is only the uses to which the timber is put that is different.

In England oak has traditionally been split to be used in buildings.  It is not uncommon even now to come across an old barn where boards of split oak are exposed and have been “woven” one over the other to fill in the spaces between structural timbers.  They were used as laths to be covered with an earth daub, finished with a lime plaster and painted with an ochre, salmon pink or white paint made from natural sources.  In Japan, however, split timber is mainly used for craft items.

Rather like the random “happy accidents” which occur when firing pottery, split timber offers the woodworker a similar spontaneity.  What they have to do is to make a choice on how to use and express the effect revealed by splitting the timber.  It is certainly a matter of “working with the timber”—the timber contributes just as much to the work as the artist/craftsperson.

For Mitsuru Kurata, however, his demands on the wood are to a degree functional.  He wants to bend the wood.  The work begins with a large piece of timber.  One of the preferred woods is hiba or asunaro.

Asunaro is used a good deal in Wajima but is especially good for bentwood items such as lunch or bento boxes, which will show off the quality of the wood and provide a bonus—a delicate aroma.

To split a trunk of Asunaro well, of course needs a skilled eye and hand.  Metal wedges similar to the British cleaving tool called a froe but without a handle are used first to open the slightest of splits.

The first two metal wedges are hammered in.

Next to the rubber headed mallet is a small hand mallet.  It is simply made from where a branch joins a main member and a handle is fashioned by parring away the wood, similar to ones used by foresters in the west.

To drive the wedges deeper into the wood a weighty rubber mallet is used.

The metal wedges are followed by long wooden wedges.

The heavy rubber mallet is used to force the wedges in.

Finally the wood yields and is split in two.

Having split the wood so that the straight grain is exposed, strips of the right dimension need to be prepare.

As if performing some kind of slight of hand, Mitsuru clamps a bent ring of wood to form the side of a bento box.

Seated at the end of a work bench on the floor of his workshop, Mitsuru has everything he needs close at hand….and foot!

Using a draw plane he adjusts the thickness of the already thin timber strip that will form the side of the bento box.

A block of wood made to exact dimensions is used as a former around which the prepared strip of wood is bent.

His hands move swiftly and firmly to bend the strip around the former.

Having shaved the two ends of the strip so that they overlap perfectly, Mitsuru clamps the ends to form the oval side of the bento box.

A minimum of tools are required to make a bento box.  The strips of wood for the sides and lid have a very straight grain, which helps when bending the wood.  The clamps are hand made and held tightly together with a vine and straight U-shaped clip.

Something Mitsuru does not make much now is this large fisherman’s lunch box.  The joins of the bent wood are reinforced with strips of cherry bark.  Just like the bento box, it is a piece of everyday craft, or is it art?

Take a look at Mitsuru’s blog on which there are some more photographs.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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Ceremony—Diatomaceous Earth

Assembled before a memorial column commemorating from where the diatomaceous earth—jinoko—was discovered, the Shinto priests prepare to make their blessing.  Offerings of fish, vegetables and saké adorn the temporary alter.  Thin culms of bamboo help to mark the hallowed spot.
Respect and Reverence
Having lived in Japan for 24 years I often witnessed and experienced how respectful the Japanese people are.  It is so natural that it would seem to be part of their very make-up.  It could simply be called politeness, or good manners.  In essence, however, it can be recognised as various kinds of behaviour expressing respect for and extending beyond their fellow human beings.

The gathering of representatives from the Wajima lacquerware makers and city officials bow respectfully as the priest reads out the blessing.

Regardless of whether they are pets or wild, the Japanese have as much respect for animals as they do for people.  Nature, too, is shown great respect although there are always exceptions.  The litter left by climbers of Mr. Fuji is well known.

Should we regard the tatami mat as something that is shown respect?  In some cases it is treated with such a degree of respect it verges on reverence.

Pellets of the diatomaceous earth dry on racks in view of the proceedings.
One thing for sure.  There can be few if any other cultures around the world that would show respect and revere a type of earth with such dignity.

The Mayor of Wajima, Fumiaki Kaji, respectfully claps his hands three times—firstly to announce his presence to the deity, secondly as an expression of his appreciation and lastly to frighten off any evil spirits.

A little way from the centre of Wajima, is Mt. Komine.  It was from here that a diatomaceous rock was first extracted toward the end of the sixteenth century.  Made up of fossilised single-celled algae with a silica cell wall, the earth is dried and then roasted before being made into a powder called jinoko.  It is mixed with raw lacquer and rice paste to be used as a ground, which helps to give Wajima lacquerware its acclaimed robustness.  This was an advantage and selling point that other lacquerware makers could only dream of.

It is then perhaps little wonder that this powdery rock is so greatly venerated.  It warrants a Shinto priest to be summoned to bless the source at a ceremony attended by representatives of the lacquerware industry as well as the Mayor and other city officials.

Representing the lacquerware makers, Shin’ichi Shioyasu addresses the gathering, all of whom have respectfully turned to face him.

Treated like a deity the source is shown all due respect.  And rightly so.  It means so much to the lacquerware makers in Wajima.  To me it is things like this that set Japan and its people apart and should make us all more attentive as to how and why we should show respect and reverence.  Sadly even Japan is not perfect.  But living there certainly made me reflect on so much.  I hope I am a better person for it.

A report on my presence at the ceremony in the Hokkoku Newspaper, explaining that I was in Wajima gathering material for the blog, from Noto.

Want to know more about diatomaceous earth?  http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/degen.html

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

Do feel free to pass on the address of this blog to anyone you think will be interested.  Or share it on a social media site.  Should you wish to leave a comment, please do so by clicking on the comment mark at the bottom left of this or any of the other posts.   If you have found this blog interesting, why not become a follower.  Thank you.


2016 Kitamae Shipping—five

The fascia of this contemporary “sea chest” styled cabinet is a gem—wonderful metal fittings over a piece of zelkova wood, which has been finished with true lacquer.  The wood has the figuring of a burr and is termed tama-moku.  Photo courtesy of Ryohei Kido.

Dedication Personified
All serious craftspeople are dedicated.  That goes without saying.  But amongst so many Ryohei Kido’s degree of commitment and dedication is something special.

This chest flirts with tradition in a meaningful way, without being a simple reproduction.
Photo courtesy of Ryohei Kiko.
On leaving University he began working for a regional newspaper as a journalist.  It was then that he become interested in tansu—the chests which have now become so popular outside of Japan.  But it was the sea chests in particular that interested Ryohei.

He bravely decided to pursue a new career after meeting a maker of fine interior fittings.  Soon after becoming an apprentice, however, his sensei, Yoshio Yotsuya suddenly passed away.  What was Ryohei to do?  He had a family to support but was determined to learn woodworking skills.

On opening the front door of this kakesuzuri sea chest, a number of drawers are revealed but there is much to frustrate the would-be thief.  Locks are not the only irritation.  Photo courtesy of Ryohei Kido.

While engaged in some formal training at two different firms making timber household fittings, he continued to visit stores to increase his knowledge of tansu in general and funa-dansu—sea chests—in particular.

Returning to the same stores, he gradually became more and more familiar with the chests of his passion and, at the same time, got to know the store owners, who began to understand just how sincere and passionate Ryohei really was.  Eventually store owners began to ask him to do some repairs and thus “the sea chests became my teacher”.

What is seen hides what is cunningly concealed.  This is a relatively simple example of how boxes can be hidden in such a way as to thwart and foil a would be thief, not only in finding them but in extracting them, too.  Image courtesy of Ryohei Kido.

At first he began by making the more simple kakesuzuri sea chest—a combined safe and stationary chest.  It was not unusual for such chests to have hidden compartments and drawers, so making such devices was something that Ryohei had to study.

He later began to make larger chests, either with hidden compartments of a type he had seen before, or to actually develop his own ways of concealing spaces and boxes within the body of a chest.  For one of his customers he even had to make a video to demonstrate how to access and use the concealed compartments he had devised.

This larger sea chest could be carried ashore for the Captain, who would do business with local merchants at the port of call.  Photo courtesy of Ryohei Kido.
It was not just the woodwork skills he had to acquire.  Ryohei also made a point of making all the metal fittings too.  Like the wood, these are coated with true lacquer, heat being used to effect the bond between the two materials.  Nails and locks also had to be made.  With no previous experience of working in metal, it was his wife, Akiko, who took on some of this work.

The locks and keys are individually made by Ryohei, with the assistance of his wife.
Photo courtesy of Ryohei Kido.
Although more recently Ryohei has concentrated on the making of sea-chest-style pieces, he is far from a slave to tradition.  He is inventive and adapts what he makes to suit modern conditions, while still stylistically flirting with historical styles and methods.

This simple sword chest would not look out of place in the modernest of interiors with its simple lines and beautifully finished fittings and figured zelkova wood.  Photo courtesy of Ryohei Kido.
In complete contrast to the precision and glowing artistry of the his sea chests, Ryohei has also explored another form of cabinet making.  This is a knock-down chest made of boards which still bear the scares of a traditional Japanese broad bladed saw.  Photo courtesy of Ryohei Kido.

His Nomad chest displays other interests.  It has a character that could not be further from that of the sea chests—not showy but still highly appealing.  It was inspired by a piece of Afghan furniture.  He used a traditional Japanese panel saw to cut the boards and expressed the scares left by the saw using several applications of true lacquer.

Resolute and determined, Ryohei continues to make exciting pieces of furniture—traditions are respected and moulded to satisfy his passions and contemporary life styles.  Whatever he does he remains dedication personified.

If you would like to see more of Ryohei’s work, please copy and paste iwate.info.co.jp/funadansu/ or enter 木戸良平 (his name in characters) for images of his work.  Alternatively go to his FaceBook page https://www.facebook.com/seachest.hakoya/.

All images courtesy of Ryohei Kido 

Do feel free to pass on the address of this blog to anyone you think will be interested.  Or share it on social media.  Should you wish to leave a comment, please do so by clicking on the comment mark at the bottom left of this or any of the other posts.   If you have found this blog interesting, why not become a follower.  Thank you.