Ishida Shoichi, a Bamboo handicrafts artisan
It was my destiny to be the second-generation president.
ーFirst, how did you get into this business?
I am the second-generation president of our company. When I was young, I was actually reluctant to take over this work. Considering that my father was physically weak, however, I had little choice but to take his place.
Unlike nowadays, it was not easy to choose the job that I really want to do at that time. People, including parents and acquaintances, used to persuade me to take over the family business.
So, when I was 18 years old, I thought it was my destiny to choose this job and started to work seriously. Since then,
I have worked for 62 years.
ーSo, did you work as “training” at the beginning?
Yes, I did. I worked with my father here. The period of training was not that hard for me. It was rather fun, since there were other apprentices learning together.
When I was 35 years old in 1964 (Showa 29), I succeeded the name of Chikubisai. After that, I trained four apprentices and taught at a college.
ーYou had taught in Traditional Arts Super College of Kyoto (TASK).
I’ve heard that you also have taught at Kyoto Seika University.
I worked in Seika University until 73 years old. TASK is a college that cultivates craftspeople of tomorrow. I has been a teacher at the college since its foundation, so 22 years has already passed since then.
I teach twice a week, and work in other days. Usually, I get orders from customers, especially from tea utensils shops, retail stores, and wholesalers. Ordinally people sometimes come to our shop, too. Recently, we have more and more orders of lighting fixtures and bags.
ーI see. Are there many students who want to be artisans like you?
There are few people who take over this job. I have to say most of them quit in the end. Even my son decided not to succeed my job, because this is not profitable.
So we won’t have the third-generation president. However, I want someone to inherit the traditional art, so I teach students who really want to acquire the skill. I think we should cultivate young people if they hope to learn.
Although there are students who want to do this job, it is difficult to live by weaving bamboo.
Weaving with Wide Variations
ーWhat kinds of bamboo do you use?
There are about 1,800 kinds of bamboo in Japan and South East Asia. Japanese bamboos have a rhizome under the ground, and grow from a joint. But when you go to South East Asia, you would see a stock.
We use madake, Japanese timber bamboo, the most often. Madake has enough flexibility, as it has quite a lot of fibers inside. Because of that, it is durable enough to bend the bamboo.
ーI see. It looks you have a lot of weaving variations.
I guess there are more than 100 ways of weaving bamboo. It is hard to remember each method, of course. There are some basic weavings, such as ajiro-ami and mutsume-ami, and we can add much more variations by applying these basic weaving styles.
Therefore, we can say that basic of each weaving method is always same. We can make more than twenty ways of weaving from only one weaving method. Because of this, we have a widely varied weaving styles. So I am sure there are more than 100 ways in total. We can make other variations, too.
ーI bet you can make a lot of things since you have so many ways of weaving. I’m surprised at wide variations.
People who see my weaving for the first time may think so. Some people think that we weave only something like colanders.
These craftworks seem to be quite same at first glance, but actually they use different weaving methods. If you look at them carefully, you would find that we use a different weaving method at the center of the product and change to another weaving style.
We need to follow “the law” when we change the weaving style. In this law, we “skip 5 meshes, take 1, and 3 meshes.” By following this law, we can naturally change the weaving style. We need to think this kind of things when weaving, too.
Bamboo Craft is My Hobby.
ーYou have worked as a bamboo handicrafts artisan since when you were 18 years old. What do you think is the attractive point of bamboo handicrafts?
First, it is fun to create products out of nothing. For me, the process of making something one by one from one bamboo is a lot of fun.
It is rather interesting than attractive. Although I didn’t like this job at the beginning, I gradually hooked on it. I have already considered my work as my hobby now.
ーIt is great to consider work as your hobby. But you couldn’t think so at the beginning, could you?
It is an unglamorous job, so honestly speaking, I used to dream of having more unusual job. I had something I want to try when I was young.
Honestly speaking, I was forced to be a bamboo handicrafts artisan, considering the lives of my family. I worked for living. I needed to earn money because I was struggling to live on at that time. I started to enjoy my work when I was about 40 years old.
ーWhat made you interested in this job?
I got married when I was 22 years old, and supported my wife and a child. As supporting educational expense of kindergarten to university, earning enough money was the first thing I had to do for a long time.
After that, I could be finally calm and relaxed after 40 years old. In this stage, I was able to find out that this work is interesting.
ーI see. I’ve heard that you are working on new projects such as creating clothes with bamboos.
Did you find anything through these experiences?
Naturally, bamboo is a kind of plant, so there is a limit to change the shape. We could shave thinly, but it does not have enough durability.
Since bamboo is a plant, it is easy to be carbonized. Also, we should not process by force if we want to make durable goods. We still need to accept what the bamboo like to be when we make products.
We want to make products which are exactly same as our plan. But bamboo does not always do what we tell it to do, if we process it by force.
Bamboo wants to stay in the original shape even if we bend it. If we make something with natural material, it is essential to talk with the material while making. I guess people who can work like this is in a mental state of enlightenment.
Want to Make a Bamboo Teahouse
ーAs the final question, what would you like to do in the future?
I would have many ideas when I was young, but it is difficult to put them into action now, because I am getting old. Still, I want to make a bamboo teahouse.
You know, we have bonito single-hook fishing. In single-hook fishing, they soak a sardine as a bait. In fact, containers which keeps sardines are made of bamboo. I was quite surprised at the bamboo container when I first saw it.
Then, I thought it could be possible to make a tea room with bamboo, because bamboo can even be the containers for sartines. So I really want to make it in the future.
Started training under the guidance of Chikubisai the first when he was 18, and has mastered everything about bamboo weaving. After the death of Chikubisai the first, he succeed its name in 1964 (Showa 39).
Since then, he has polished his skills by himself and mastered some traditional weaving methods such as karamono-utsushi and jidai-kago.
He also creates original bamboo products. He was recognized as a distinguished artisan of traditional industry of Kyoto (Professional Artisan of Kyoto) in 2009 (Heisei 21).
Nichome, Yamato-oji Higashi-iru, Matsubara Street, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City
In this interview, we talked with a bamboo artisan in Higashiyama Ward. We saw their workshop soon after we entered the shop, and were able to see their work there.
It was interesting to see the process of making goods by weaving bamboos. Also, I thought Mr. Ishida could say the word “ I have already considered my work as my hobby,” because he has experienced his work for a long time. We sincerely thank Mr. Ishida for his cooperation.
Editor: Nishino Mana
Photographer: Tayasu Hitoshi