Asai Akihisa, a tile artisan
I used to see what tile artisans do when I was a child.
ーWhy did you become a tile artisan?
I wanted to work at a tile shop or design company when I was a six year student at elementary school. “Asada Tile Company” was founded by my grandfather in 1911, and I am the third president.
So I used to see my father’s job as a tile artisan when I was a child, and found it interesting. Then, I entered Osaka Institute of Technology to study architect. Now, I make and sell Japanese tiles, and repair roofs.
ーNot many artisans go to college. Why did you decide to study at a college?
I wanted to study architecture. I wanted to make connections at the same time. I thought it is better to make friends working at similar type of industry if I started to work as an artisan or at a architectural company.
Millions of graduates became design engineers at that college. On the other hand, however, since there were little young tile artisans, this industry seemed decline in 10 years. Seeing such a hard situation, I thought that if I had decided not to become a tile artisan, the technique of tile would have been gone in early future.
That was why I entered our family’s workshop. So I have been working for this workshop since I graduated from the college.
ーI see. What kind of work did you do after that?
My boss didn’t allow me to make products for one and half years. I kept seeing their job instead. My boss didn’t instruct me so often.
He had a traditional way of thinking. He only asked me to watch and learn. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t have taught me anything at that time. But I do understand there reason now.
That is because beginners cannot understand knits just by learning. It is hard for beginners to get what seniors want to say unless they have enough technique. So he didn’t teach me precisely.
I had watched his work for one and half years and after that, I told him that I want to do something. I finally allowed to work gradually.
I wanted to be a full-fledged artisan as soon as possible, so I did any kinds of work. It is said that 10 years needed to acquire the technique in general, but I didn’t have time. I wanted to master that in 5 years. I worked for 16 hours although others worked for 8 hours a day.
I believed I could master the skill earlier by doing so.
ーDid you have a hard time during that period?
That was hard, off course. But I can’t get anything if I don’t do anything. I was disappointed sometimes, too. However, only if you have a clear goal, you could overcome the hard time.
You could change your mind and try it again.
Many tiles started to be made by machines
ーPlease tell us about tile artisans in these days.
Nowadays, we try to make roofs with less work and make them in cheap price. Although only professional artisans could roof tiles in old days, the process became simpler and even beginners can roof these days.
ーWhy does that change occurred?
I guess cost is the reason. If we want to make roofs cheaper, we should not use professionals. In addition, the number of tile artisan is getting smaller.
That’s why many companies have decided to use machines instead of manpower.
Nowadays, machines produce tiles automatically. People just need to place clay on the machine to make tiles. The demand of tile artisan at many workshops got smaller. Engineers started to work more instead.
ーAre most tiles made by machines?
Yes. Most of them are made by machines and artisans make only some special shapes by themselves. But I’ve heard that people try hard to improve machines to make various types of tiles as well.
I personally believe that they should ask us to make complicated shapes, but that’s a difficult question.
The difference between tiles made by machines and made by hand is that handmade tiles are more precise. We make tiles with the great care to make same shapes and strong products.
But machines do not make in the same way. People just want to make cheaper tiles, so the quality is not so good.
We need to bend tiles at certain parts in the process. However, machines bend tiles at wrong parts because these parts is easier to bend.
I personally believe we should not allow that but some artisans do allow. So I wouldn’t say anything about that problem.
Things that are kept for 100 years or 1,000 years
ーYou keep making your original tiles even in such a situation. What do you think is the attracting point to make tiles?
Yes, a lot. Especially, my products will be kept even after I die. The year and producer’s name would be curved on the other side of tiles.
People will know that is my products 100 years or 1000 years after I die. That’s very attracting for me.
ーI find it really cool to curve your own name on products and they will be kept for a long time. So finally, please tell us what you want to do in the future.
I want to make plates with Japanese tiles in the future. I’m thinking that it may be nice to make plates with silk screen, as I made other products using that material before.
Except plates, I’d like to make interiors with Japanese tiles.
Mr. Asai is a son of Asai Ryoji, who gained the Prize of Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry as a tile artisan. Succeeding his father’s job, he is the third president of Kyogawara Kamamoto.
After studying architect at Osaka University of Institute, he started tile making at his family’s workshop at the age of 23.
He is an expert of onigawara (ogre tile) making which requires free style and originality.
He freely uses the technique of Japanese tile which used to be a beauty of function. His products, such as shoki-san (a small sculpture on the roof in Kyoto), sculptures of zodiac signs, and lights, are quite artistic.
Asada Seiga Factory
Their Work: Japanese tile products (tiles at shrines and temples, simple tiles, agre tiles, special types of tiles), and roof construction
Foundation: December, 1911
Address: Fushimi Ward, Kyoto City
Phone Number: 0120-006-546
Official website: http://www.kyogawara.com/
Editor: Kawamoto Kaede
Photographer: Tayasu Hitoshi