There is a company that has pioneered a completely new artistic genre by combining traditional handicrafts with a unique subsect of anime culture. Green sand and self-hardening are two very different techniques used during the metal casting process, and both requires their own respective types of sand and mixtures of materials. Therein lies a huge advantage as this enables a craftsman to suggest the most suitable casting method to utilize to correspond with the needs of a client in regard to intricate design work and low-volume production methods. Taking the seat at the head of this enterprise as the fifth-generation president is Shiro Dougu. So where did it all begin for Shiro, a craftsman who never rests on his laurels and constantly challenges himself?
Opulently Using Every Last Artisanal Technique
The Traditional Industry Youth Association in Takaoka is a gathering between a group of artisans under the age of 40, who are actively involved in the manufacture of local craft products. The beginning of the initiative started when a group of young anime lovers got together and wanted to start working on a project that was separate from the crafts they regularly create at their jobs. The project wasn’t something to get praise and recognition from nor was it a business venture to make money out of. It was simply something that would allow them to create what they want to create. “Use everything we’ve learned to create something great” was their mantra. From this passion came a truly unique take on the design of a Japanese warrior helmet, traditionally decorated in Japanese homes during Maytime in celebration of Children’s Day. The motif behind the helmet was inspired by a popular anime series and was crafted using a fusion of artisanal techniques cultivated within Takaoka’s copperware and lacquerwork industry. The contrast of the rough, grainy surface juxtaposed against the delicately polished, mirror-like reflective sections of the helmet makes one question how such a diversity of expressions can be achieved from metal. Furthermore, the most exquisite design was achieved by combining the special shell-inlay methods characteristic of Takaoka with staining techniques using a concoction of unique dyes and charcoal.
After signing a contract with the copyright holders, the young men took their creation to a one-day event generally reserved for the exhibition of plastic models and figurines. It was then that the artisanal techniques featured within the helmet awed onlookers, surpassing all expectations. Stories of the helmet quickly started to spread around the internet and various news sites like wildfire. The helmet became such a hot talking point that it was even picked up by a variety of television stations, too. The artisanal techniques of a small subcontracting company, which would seldom gather much interest, started to attract a great deal of attention. The employees at this close-knit company were all in high spirits with each interview.
From Computers to Casting
Originally, Shiro spent the majority of his childhood hooked on anime and computer games. When the Nintendo Entertainment System first came onto the market, he would play video games from morning to night, much to the frustration of his parents. His interest in computers continued to grow, specializing in Computer Science in his post-graduate studies. In contrast, his eldest brother, who worked at a metal casting foundry near Tokyo, pursued a career which would continue the Dougu family’s long history with metal work. Furthermore, it is also expected in Japanese culture that the eldest son should carry on their father’s business. However, the family would soon be thrown into discord one particular New Year. The eldest son confessed that he did not want to carry on the family business. In place of the New Year merriments, a solemn silence echoed around the Dougu household.
“I didn’t have the heart to let the family business end with my father,” Shiro says. With his heart full of the feeling of wanting to carry on the family business for one more generation, Shiro decided to dive head first into the world of metal casting. Only 24 at the time, this decision was considered to be a rather late start compared to traditional craftsmen. Everything was completely new to Shiro who had zero knowledge of metal casting and the industry. Though he entered the family business in order to one day take over as president, Shiro was fraught with anxiety.
An Encounter with Traditional Industry Youth Association, Growing as a Leader, and Looking Towards the Future
The turning point for Shiro was his encounter with the Traditional Industry Youth Association. Within this group, the numbers of artisans who had specialized in completely unrelated fields to the craft industry was much higher than Shiro had anticipated. This washed away any anxiety and insecurity that Shiro had previously felt. Coming more and more au fait with the industry at the age of 30, something happened which Shiro would remember for the rest of his life.
The Traditional Industry Youth Association would regularly host meetings with its members in order to discuss the craft industry within Takaoka, in addition to planning future ventures and events. However, there were some occasions when the amount of attendees would be very few, due to the craftsmen’s prior commitments with work or, at times, when the contents of the meeting had little relation to their own specific line of work. It was at one of those meetings that one of the senior craftsmen spoke to the younger members about the ripple effect that the absence of members has upon the whole association. This non-attendance places an added burden onto the rest of the association who are then responsible for filling in the gaps, along with increasing the amount of allotted work assigned to each member when planning new ventures. As little as the extra burden may be, this then impacts the main duties of the craftsmen, which may then, as a result, cause a domino effect of inconvenience to work-affiliates, clients, and ultimately the end user.
This was a particular incident which resonated with Shiro who initially thought that the extent of the problem of his non-attendance affected no one but himself, enabling him to not only discover the deep significance of responsibility, but realizing the importance of looking at his work within its entirety. It was with this in mind that he came to ponder the specific responsibilities of the employees at his own company. Shiro even felt a change of heart in regards to letting the business end with him. Instead, he found himself now wanting to improve and strengthen the company by passing the craft onto the next generation. This change in consciousness, along with the desire to challenge himself, inspires Shiro to continue creating.
Initially, Shiro was in two minds when it came to selling the warrior helmet. This was due to the fact that he was unsure about the kind of reaction the helmet would receive from those around him in regards to the fusion of traditional craftsmanship with anime memorabilia—an concept with no precedent, which had never been seen before within the metal casting industry. By just giving his idea a try, this innovative venture has been positively received and gained much support. In addition, the fruits of Shiro’s labor are truly superb. Following the tailwind of this success, the team at Shiro’s factory is now working on many more creations that combine traditional handicrafts with Japanese sub-culture. “All will be revealed later this year. It’s going to be awesome!” It is with this closing statement that I see a special twinkle of excitement glittering in Shiro’s eyes.