The members of Japan’s traditional studio system are often not acknowledged. Historical records do not name the many individual artists involved in the creation of some of Japan’s most renowned artworks: The Hatsune Set of the Tokugawa for example, is thought to have involved hundreds of lacquer artisans in the Koami studio. This fact is often overlooked in the Western prejudice to identifying and deifying individual artists.
As part of our filming of the works of Maio Motoko we were introduced to Mr Yoshida Norihiro, a traditional artisan making the wooden frames which are the starting point for Maio’s screens. Yoshida-san’s studio is also tiny, a combination of traditional hand-made tools and modern machinery.
Yoshida-san, modest and pleased with our interest in what he described as ‘backroom work’, also commented on the tendency to ignore the craftsmen who provide the structure for much of Japanese art work. His skill and accuracy in preparing and planing the timber for the screen framework strengthened our already deep respect for Japanese craftsmanship and commitment to perfection. He hinted at some of the secrets held by traditional craftsmen that cannot be replicated by modern mechanical methods – how to create shoji screens that do not collect dust for example.
In a story sadly repeated all over Japan in traditional crafts, we learned that at the age of 62, second generation Yoshida-san is the youngest practitioner of his craft (shoji, tsuitate, fusuma) in a reduced six-member only Tokyo professional guild, none of whom have apprentices or family members willing to continue the tradition…thus providing even more inspiration for our team to produce a worthwhile documentary.
As with the works of Unryuan (NHK Recently shot a documentary on his studio), interest from outside of Japan is paramount in preserving Japan’s traditional crafts. Perhaps there is a student or craftsperson who would be interested in learning this craft in Japan?
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and perhaps together we may be able to make something happen.