Mr.Daisuke Nishiyama, a Gold leaf artisan
We worked and worked but we couldn’t meet the demand at that time.
Nice to meet you, Mr. Nishiyama. Your workshop is located in the alley of Nishijin area. Have you worked here for a long time?
Nice to meet you, too. Actually not. When I was small, our workshop was located in a different place. Then, we moved to this area later. Although I work alone now, there were actually a lot of people working together in the past. According to someone, I used to help their work when I was a boy, too. I joined a different workplace once, but I came back to my parents’ home in the end. It was about when I was about twenty-five years old.
Why did you come back here even though you got another job?
I think that was because I used to help their work from my childhood, and also because this was my boss’s job. It was the bubble years at that time, and there were so many work to do. No matter how much we worked, we couldn’t meet the demand. Since we were in such a busy situation, I have never recognized the work as “training.” When I started this job in earnest, my salary was actually higher than usual office workers. It was also another reason why I chose this job.
Nobody could expect the slump of demand.
You had so many work during the bubble years. How about now?
The economy is extremely bad now. I would say it is the worst. Firstly, the material is expensive. We buy our material from a material shop, mainly gold leaf, silver leaf, and Japanese traditional paper, washi. My job is to paste the gold leaf onto washi. After pasting, I will bring it to a cutting store. They cut the paper and it will be like threads. These threads are called hikihaku. Hikihaku will be used by textile shops.Fundamentally, hikihaku we make here is the material of Nishijin textile.
Oh, that was a surprise.
Since hikihaku needs a lot of time and effort, the profit rate is quite low. Considering this, some people decided not to use hikihaku anymore, and changed the way of making. They copy the colour and design of hikihaku obi and make obi slash. But even this one could not make a profit, so people started to quit this, too. The current situation is like this. We don’t have the demand, and we can’t find the successor in this hard situation.
It sounds difficult to succeed indeed. You might have the problem of the lack of young people.
I am already fifty, but I’m the youngest of all. The average age of our trade is over sixty, which means that our industry cannot last with one or two stores. We have to maintain this industry as a whole. Now, the whole of the industry is not in a good situation. Nobody wants to take over our industry, and we also don’t want to hand over it in this situation. My shop doesn’t have a successor, neither. I could not imagine the slump of demand. I am sure nobody could expect this situation. We all thought we can make a living as gold leaf artisans even in a recession.
We need the network of the profession.
You are working with designers even though the gold leaf industry is in a tough situation as you said.
Yes. We can’t keep on this job just by using gold leaf as the material of obi sash. We need to do other things at the same time. So I’m seeking the possibility of gold leaf now.
Have you found any possibility?
I realized the possibility in skin. On one project, I put gold leaf on the processed skin. Like skin, we are figuring out many materials and seeking a possibility of gold leaf. We want to sell the new items in various kinds of places. We don’t really work outside. There are always people weaving textile by using our product. So orders pour in without doing sales promotion. I would say we are passive. So it is hard for us to disseminate something by ourselves. It could be possible if there were people cooperating us.
I see. As the final question, could you tell me what do you think is needed to overcome the slump of demand and maintain this industry?
I think the network between the profession is a key. We don’t have a strong connection until now. We hesitated to disclose the technique. So we even didn’t know about the material the other artisans use. However, we can’t keep doing the same thing in this situation. We need to cooperate each other. I strongly feel that we need to work as a big community to maintain our industry.
Nishiyama zosaku shoten
2, Murasakino Higashifujinomoricho, Kita-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 603-8223, Japan
Nishiyama zosaku shoten website
about the writer