Toda Kazuo, a qualified tatami artisan
Succession Decided at a Family Meeting
ーPlease tell us the reason why you became an artisan of tatami.
This store was opened by my grandfather about 130 year ago. My father was the second president and I am the third. At first, I was not ready to take over this business. I wanted to go to the college after graduating the high school.
But my father wanted me to keep his father’s shop; he did not want me to close the store. So I started to help his work, although he promised that I could keep doing other activities as my hobby at the same time. That was when I was 19 years old.
I had worked for the shop as “a helper,” without thinking about taking over the business in the future. One day, however, a meeting was held among my relatives. We discussed who should be the third president in the future there, and we decided that I would be the one. We took time to make that decision.
ーIt isn’t usual to decide the successor at family meeting. Didn’t you think that you want to refuse that position?
I did. I wanted to go to a college. My mother also wanted me to continue studying, since I was the only child. She disagreed with working after graduating high school.
She thought I should go to college first. However, my father and grandfather knew someone who did not succeed a family business after graduating from college, so they disagreed with going to college.
They wanted me to start working after graduating high school. I thought there was no choice but to succeed, so I made the decision.
ーI see. As you said, some people say that it is better to learn the basic skill after graduating from high school. So did you train at first?
No. I didn’t have to go somewhere for training. I could train at home. That time was actually a turning point of mechanization in our industry.
ーThat was a turning point. Did you feel it is a hard work?
Many people quit hand-sewing and started to use a machine, but we still continued hand-sewing. We would not sew tatami well at first. We use a special needle.
Although tatami is much stiffer than cloth, the method is quite similar with sewing cloth; poke a needle back down through tatami and back up through tatami again. We often poke back down and up for 60 times to make edge of tatami.
It is easy to know the method in your head, but it is difficult to sew correctly. At first, I was three times slower than other artisans. I made mistakes again and again, and gradually gained skills. There were many artisans in other workshops too, so I saw their work and learned.
Tatami Artisans Worked Together
ーWhat did you do at that time?
At that time, there were cleaning days and we cleaned our district on a regular basis. On sunny days, they take their tatami out to dry in the sun. They pat tatami with a bamboo stick and bring them back to their houses.
And many people wanted to change their tatami on that cleaning days. We had to take old tatami out in the morning, and finish placing the new one in the evening.
We didn’t have enough artisans to manage that work. So other artisans used to come from different workshops and helped us. We managed our work by helping each other.
ーThat’s true. Does it mean that tatami artisans used to cooperate together?
Yes. Since there were still constant demand at that time, we often worked together. We helped other tatami artisans, too.
By doing so, we experienced many things and learned faster. I learned a lot by working with other artisans. In addition to this, we used to practice by using old tatami. Then we sold them at low price.
ーHow about now, in contrast?
In old times, parents used to teach children that this is a tatami shop, that is a plasterwork shop, and so on. Nowaday, however, young people do not learn like that. That’s why many people don’t know where they should go when they repair their tatami.
These people often ask house constructors to introduce tatami artisans, and constructors contact us after that. Then we visit customers to give advice or repair their tatami.
Create Something New with Tatami
ーWhat would you like to do in the future?
The hexagonal tatami chair in our workshop was actually my idea. I made this by making triangle shapes with rectangle packs filled with expanded polystyrene.
We spent a lot of time to make this, because we improved it again and again. We made tatami coasters, too. My grandfather used to make a carpet for bathroom with scraps of tatami, and I was inspired by that memory. You could use this tatami coaster as the rest of teacup or plant pot.
Ceramists use this at their exhibition, too. There are various sizes, so you could use in many ways. I would like to continue making something new, even small things, by using tatami.
Toda Kazuo, a qualified tatami artisan of the first class, appointed to Kodai-ji Temple
1968 Get a qualification as a tatami artisan of the first class
1969 Get a qualification of an instructor for job training
2006 Designated as a traditional craftsman of tatami
【About the WorkshopA】
Toda Tatami ten
1886 The first president opened “Toda Tatami ten(Toda Tatami Shop).”
1961 The second president succeed to the name
1966 The third president succeed to the name
Toda Tatami ten
Komatsu-cho 140, Yamato Oji Shijo Sagaru Yonchome, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto
Editor: Nishino Mana
Photographer: Tayasu Hitoshi