Realization of the Artisan Within
An Orin bell is used when Buddhist monks chant Buddhist sutras. Yoshinori is the 4th generation to succeed his family’s business who specialize in making such Buddhist alter fittings. However, put off by the surrounding pressure expecting him to naturally follow in his father’s footsteps, he decided to listen to his heart and initially chose a different path much different to that of Buddhist alter fittings. After studying International Politics and International History at a university in Tokyo, he became a certified cook and planned to pursue a career in the food industry.
One early morning, after a long night of drinking, he ended up having a conversation with a janitor at a train station. Whether it was just her personality or the effects after a night of drinking, but words just seemed to flow naturally from his mouth and for some odd reason, he began talking about his upbringing. “I just don’t think that making Buddhist altar fittings very cool”, “it’s a very physically demanding job and my father is always complaining that his arm hurts”. Her reaction to his story, however, was not what Yoshinori had expected. She pointed out the beauty behind such a profession which is able to preserve the traditional Japanese culture. The lady went on to emphasize that there are only a few families left nowadays who make Buddhist altar fittings and that not everyone has the opportunity to work in such a business. She told him to reconsider his feelings about his family’s line of work. This was the first time Yoshinori had ever really been asked about his family’s business, and up until that point, he was under the impression that everyone considered this kind of work uncool. As a result, the lady’s positive words had a resounding effect upon him, and given his strong passion to make lots of different imaginative creations within his culinary career, it wasn’t long before Yoshinori found himself going back to his family home.
The Presence of Traditional Industry and the Birth of “Suzugami”
The Takaoka Traditional Cultural Industry Youth Association is a group of next generation craftspeople who will carry on the traditional artisanal skills of Takaoka. While ensuring the preservation of the traditional techniques of metal casting and lacquerware cultivated over a 400 year period, this next generation of craftspeople is also constantly coming up with new and innovative ways to modernize this craft. The group meets on a regular basis to discuss the many topics such as the current challenges they are facing as well as sharing new ideas. This is one of the remarkable strengths of this group. Such meetings would have never been imaginable in the past when fellow craftsmen once competed against each other as rivals. However, with the decrease in sales of traditional products, and the dwindling number of factories open for the business, the relationship between craftsmen has changed from what was once rivalry to teamwork.
“Suzugami”, a plate made from 100% tin, is just one of the innovations that this team has created. The beauty of this plate is that you can freely change its shape, enabling it to be used for a wide range of culinary dishes from soups to desserts. It was through combining the malleable properties of tin with Yoshinori’s sound technical knowledge of hammering that this idea was able to come about. After numerous trials, adjusting both the thickness of the tin and the manufacturing process, it took two years to accomplish the amazing balance of flexibility and functionality characteristic of this tin plate.
Dedication to his Craft
With less than 10 craftsmen in the country who are able to make “Orin” today, 3 of them work here in Shimatani Syouryu Factory. The key to creating the perfect “Orin” is in the tuning. “Orin” is made from 3 sounds, “Kan”, “Otsu”, and “Mon”. “Kan” is the sound the bell first makes when it’s struck, its sound changing depending on the thickness and density of the metal. “Otsu” and “Mon”, on the other hand, possess both long and short wavelengths and the fine-tuning of this balance is created by hammering both the inside and outside of the “Orin”. The work is almost like solving a Rubik cube and requires the craftsperson to hammer both sides of the bell repeatedly.
There are no set rules when finding this perfect balance – the only key being experience and a set of highly-trained ears, sensitive to even the slightest change in pitch. This is the valuable skill that Yoshinori has been able to hone after 17 years of studying under his grandfather.
Yoshinori is a very friendly and open character even upon the very first encounter with him. Whether heading to Yoshinori’s foundry to learn all about the different techniques behind this craft, or just having a long chat over a bottle of sake; either activity is a great opportunity and both are top recommendations.
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