The handwork of Edo.

Brush Craftsmen

 

“The customers long ago were also professional craftsmen who used brushes in their work. It is high demands that have promoted the progression of brush making techniques.”

Established in Nihonbashi during the Edo era as the exclusive “brush craftsmen” for the shogun family. Around them were printers of Ukiyo-e woodblock prints and craftsmen who worked with brushes such as wall decorating craftsmen who made folding screens and hanging scrolls. Professional craftsmen are very selective when it comes to the tools that they use. “Brushes that produced uneven strokes or those that couldn’t draw straight lines were returned right away. That’s how craftsmen accumulated their skills,” says Mr. Saburo Tanaka (83 yrs. old). Even today, there is still the insistence on natural materials such as hog and horse bristles and embedding them with traditional techniques that leave them neatly arrayed. This is the same with clothes brushes and cosmetic brushes. The clothes brushes made with smooth and durable high-quality hog bristles are static free, easily sweep away dust, and take gentle care of the fabric.

The cosmetic brushes are known to apply makeup well. The clothes brushes are also popular as souvenirs.

 
 


“The bristles of the brushes are not cut and evened up with knives, but arranged by hand.”
“It is our job to offer precision that lets straight lines be drawn, which is what customers are looking for in work done by professionals.”

Shop Name: Edoya
Established: 1718

 

Hanpen Fish Cake Craftsmen

 

“Quality fish meat turns from light pink to pure white when kneaded. The true craftsman is one who can use such ingredients to produce delicious flavors that cannot be achieved with machines.”

Among the various kneaded fish products that are available, quality Hanpen fish cake is a special treat. In the past, it was even a main dish at high-class Japanese restaurants. The head chef of the Imperial Hotel used it in his dishes as it also goes well with French cuisine. The shop that has been serving this special fish cake, Hanpen, for 362 years is Kanmo. The ingredients that have been shipped from very specific production areas are kneaded over and over again, and ground in a millstone for over an hour. The craftsman who breathes life into the fluffy snow-like bundles is Mr. Toshio Oka. He heaps them into a wooden mold, taps them lightly with a wooden spatula nine to twelve times, and sends in air while forming them into beautiful mounds. “Each mound has its own unique height and shape, but they can’t be too soft or too tough. We all sustain smooth and sweet flavors that spread throughout your mouth and cannot be achieved with the use of machines.”

 
 


“We normally make around 800 pieces a day, but that number can go up to 3,000 towards the end of the year when it gets busy. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get inflamed tendon sheaths (laughs).”

Shop Name: Kanmo
Established: 1688

 

The “Daifukucho (accounting ledgers)” of 1899 and the passes presented when submitting them to the Imperial Court.

 

Sharpening Craftsmen

 

“The amount of force used when sharpening the knives is similar to the force used when pressing down the keys of a piano. The sensation in my fingertips and the sounds of the sharpening stone tells me what the knives want, such as more water.”

Single-edged kitchen knives had already been invented by the eighth century. The typical Japanese kitchen knives known as the Nakiri, Usuba, and Deba took their present form at the end of the Edo era and were developed so far that there is no room for improvement in areas such as shape and functionality. However, they cannot be used anymore, for example, if the edges of the blades start to wear out and get dull. That is where the sharpening craftsman comes in. Mr. Masashi Fukuda of the knife specialty shop, Kiya, which has been in service since the Edo era, begins work with the polishing of his sharpening stone. “I pour water on the horizontal sharpening stone and polish the blade with the water clouded with metal powder that is produced from the friction with the knife. The sharpening craftsman knows what angle the blade needs to slide across the sharpening stone in, the polishing speed, and how much force is required with the sensation in his fingertips,” he says. Sharpening stones with different levels of coarseness are changed three times, and the newly-sharpened knives can cut sponges without making a sound.

The popularity of the high-quality blades ranging from kitchen knives to scissors and carpenter’s tools spreads as far as overseas. There are also many who purchase them as souvenirs.

 
 


“When I sharpen the kitchen knives, I gently place my fingers on the blades as if I were playing the piano, without using any force.”
“Because it is the sharpening stone that does the actual sharpening, I just sit there listening to it doing its job.”

Shop Name: KIYA Nihonbashi
Established: 1792

 

Mikoshi Craftsmen

 

“To make smooth the jobs of the post-processing craftsmen, who must judge the different traits and characteristics of the wood that they work with. It takes at least ten years before one can master the art of wood joinery.”

The souls of the gods are carried in Mikoshi at Shinto shrine festivals. The highlight of the festivals is the Mikoshi Togyo parade, where Mikoshi carried by large numbers of carriers shout out their spirited calls. Miyamoto-Unosuke Shoten, which was established in 1861, makes Mikoshi with wood joining techniques where grooves are cut into the wood and projecting parts are cut out to fit into the grooves without hammering a single nail into the Mikoshi. “This is so that damaged wood that has decomposed down to the detailed parts can be replaced easily when doing restorations and repairs,” says Mr. Hiroaki Asano. The materials consist of logs that are left to dry for one year, and wooden boards that are left to dry for three years. The base is made of durable Japanese zelkova and each craftsman is assigned a special role to work on parts from the large parts, such as the base, up to the parts for decorations as small as the tip of the thumb. Each Mikoshi is made of about five thousand parts. Twenty different kinds of craftsmen such as lacquerers all work on one Mikoshi for an entire year until it is finally completed.

 
 


“The tools we use vary according to what we make by hand.”
“About twenty different kinds of craftsmen specializing in fields such as lacquering and carving are involved until the Mikoshi are created.”

Shop Name: Miyamoto-Unosuke Shoten
Established: 1861

 

Even lightweight Mikoshi to be carried by adults weigh around a hundred kilograms. Their designs can range from those that are lavishly decorated to simple wooden ones. Why not go out to a festival and find one for an exciting experience?

 

Doll-shaped Ningyoyaki Cake Craftsmen

 

“Huge crowds of people gather on days of festivals and the types of visitors vary according to the day of the week or the weather. I look at the direction of the wind and how many customers there are, and adjust my speed accordingly.”

These doll-shaped Ningyoyaki cakes, which are made by baking batter made of wheat flour, egg, and sugar in a cast iron mold, are a famous Tokyo specialty. “The blending of ingredients differs according to the type of cake. You need to know your batter if you want to bake them well,” says a baker of Shigemori Eishindo who makes his own batter. Preparations start at 5:30 in the morning before the baking begins. It takes about one minute to pour the batter into the mold, squeeze jam inside, and bake the cakes while turning the mold over. Baking the batter that becomes the crust thin and filling the cakes with plenty of jam is how they are always baked. It takes proficient skill to bake them golden brown and even all around. Fine adjustments are made in the speed in which the jam is inserted and the level of heat while observing how many customers there are or how much wind is blowing on the furnace. An average of three thousand of these Ningyoyaki cakes is baked per day. Mr. Shigemori may appear to simply be sitting comfortably in his seat, but this veteran baker’s eyes and arms are constantly on the move.

 
 


“The tools that we have been using for many years each produce different sizes and levels of heat. Their different qualities are all inputted in our minds so we are able to distinguish them from one another right away.”

Shop Name: Shigemori Eishindo
Established: 1917