Technology and Urban Society

List of Articles

Technology of traditional industry and the role of craftsmen

Author: Koyano, Shogo
Series: Japanese Experience of the UNU Human and Social Development Programme series ; 1
Published Year: 1979
Main Text (PDF version)

I. Traditional Technology and the Role of Craftsmen in Japan's Modernization 1
II. The Development of Traditional Industries in Local Urban Centres 7
III. The Lives and Attitudes of Workers in the Traditional Crafts: A Case Study of Seizaemon Yonezawa and His Son 17
IV Conclusion 28
Notes 31
Bibliography 34


The overall objective of this project is to offer for the reference of developing countries case studies on the social impact of the introduction of so-called foreign technology in Japan and its inter action with indigenous technology in the course of that influx.

The present paper examines the role played by traditional technology and its bearers, the craftsmen, in Japan's urban technology, where. foreign know-how and endogenous skills have co-existed. Man-machine culture now prevails in Japanese urban society as epitomized in large-scale industrial development, while man-tool culture centred on craftsmen working at home has been almost completely shunted aside. As machine-oriented technology developed, man-made devices increasingly came to possess an independent power of their own. Whereas in the culture of men and tools, man was in full control of his tools and worked in harmony with nature, in the culture of machines, material things gradually began to impose restrictions not only on nature but upon man himself. In this context, technology became an antithesis to, instead of a harmonious part of, man's life. I would like to examine what kind of technology harmonizes with man in contemporary urban society and what significance such technology holds.

First, I should like to discuss the subject of Japan's traditional crafts and industries.1 Compared with other countries, Japan has a rich variety of traditional crafts, yet only a few have managed continuously to preserve and develop the ancient skills and crafts. Perhaps one reason for the variety is diversity in the climatic and geological features of the archipelago, a diversity which in turn gave rise to distinct lifestyles in each area, and a wide range of arts and crafts.

The preservation of traditional crafts is closely related to two major factors. First, rural patterns of family life, which provided the base for production of traditional crafts, were dominant not only in rural agricultural society but in the cities as well, and second, such essentially rural lifestyles maintained a close harmony with nature. In fact, the close bond between lifestyle and nature was indispensable for the development of traditional craftsmanship. The raw materials of traditional crafts are earth and wood and metals, all products of nature. In order to preserve the natural qualities of these materials to the greatest extent possible, the craftsman. used very simple tools fashioned, in, most cases, by himself according to his needs. This custom left little room for the introduction of machines that would make mass production possible.

As I have suggested above, most traditional crafts emerged in response to the specific needs of particular regional lifestyles. They employed raw materials indigenous to the area, and the products were rich in regional distinctiveness. Yet this endogenous character did not by any means exclude the usefulness of techniques introduced from outside. For example, foreign technology, once introduced, was adapted and refined over a long period of time to fit the immediate needs of the region. Those industries which adapted and developed to the lifestyle of a particular Japanese locale. could be categorized as "traditional" crafts. I believe it is perfectly permissible to interpret endogeneity broadly in this fashion.

The Japanese susceptibility to foreign elements is also related to the changeability of tradition. Traditional technology is deeply rooted in the natural environment, but also closely tied to the daily lives of the people. Kunio Yanagita (1875-1962), father of the Japanese science of folklore, was one who had a very dynamic view of change in the domestic crafts in Japan. For example, he said, "Many of the old ways we still preserve today were actually adopted not long ago from China or Korea. From dwellings all the way down to food and diet, all have undergone great change since the medieval period." He goes on to state that "our ways of living have been constantly changing from ancient times even to the present. It is safe to say that there is almost nothing in our lives that we do not have the ability to change."2 On the meaning of "tradition" Shoji Hamada (1894-1978), potter and leader of the folkcraft movement in Japan, said:

Tradition is what we possess within us, what is in our lif blood. If we incorporate our inborn sentiments and talents into our work as they naturally are, taking care not to add anything unnecessary, our tradition will survive even if we do not try actively to preserve it.

And he admonished that "We compromise our freedom because our very knowledge of technology enslaves us."3

If we interpret the endogenous nature of tradition in this flexible fashion, it becomes clear how great its role was in the process of Japan's modernization. But this interpretation is very different from the theoriess of S.N. Eisenstadt and others who speak of "pos traditional society" rather than "modern society" and advocate that tradition itself is the force that propels modernization.' Speaking of change in domestic crafts, Yanagita probably assumed that tradition could stagnate and become formalized. In order for tradition to exist as a viable force, Yanagita believed that it must constantly repulse restraint through its own endogenous strength, as well as external stimuli, thereby revitalizing itself free from the danger of formalization. Shoji Hamada's view was much.the same. Neither of them believed that tradition is something static; they felt that moderni ation is propelled by the process of denial, then remoulding of tradition.5 If one believes in the fulfilment of creativity in tradition, their assertion would seem correct.

The role of endogenous culture in the process of modernization is significant not only in Japan; its central role in fuelling and motivating modernization is gaining increased recognition in the developing countries as well. In other words, the countries in the category of "late starters" can industrialize only to a limited extent if they are dependent solely on the influence of the advanced industrial nations. There is the growing conviction that modernization must also draw upon the reservoir of endogenous strength and creative power that lies within each traditional culture.6 Japan, too, was a late starter, and in this sense, its experience may be of interest to developing countries today. The question we are dealing with here is the positive meaning of endogeneity and its role in the modernization of societies. The theories and methods used to analyze and probe one society, however, will not necessarily be applicable to other societies. Kazuko Tsurumi, sociologist at Sophia University, asserts that Yanagita's methodology and theoretical framework, modelled as they are on Japanese society, can be applied to cultures outside Japan, to the Third World nations in particular. But I cannot agree; as Tsurumi admits herself, while the Western theories of social change are focused on the "elite," the core of Yanagita's theory is the idea of the "folk"(jomin).7 Yanagita's folk is a concept formulated strictly in terms of the conditions of Japanese society, and like Western "elite-centred" theories, it cannot be applied directly to analysis of the social structure of other Asian countries such as India. Social theory, at least in its formative process, is strongly constrained by the local conditions affecting its proponents.

Among Japan's traditional crafts, many could not adapt to the changes in lifestyles which accompanied industrialization, and consequently they suffer from technological stagnation or are even on the verge of extinction. The Kaga damascene work of Ishikawa prefecture which I will examine below is an example of such slowly stagnating crafts. Some measures are being taken by the government to rescue these arts, such as in the Law for the Promotion of Traditional Handicrafts Industry promulgated in 1974. This law has been instrumental in correcting the over-preoccupation with rapid economic growth and represented part of the effort to give greater priority to local industry. It did, in fact, rescue some industries by creating conditions under which the training of younger apprentices and the development of new products could go forward. However, the products this law designated for "promotion" are limited; and most are already well known across the country or have formed some kind of craft. association The law does not cover innumerable small-scale traditional industries, such as Kaga damascene, which have preserved extremely refined techniques. How can these unsung traditional crafts be maintained within contemporary society?

Obviously it is neither ideal nor sufficient to ensure their physical survival simply through government subsidies and other such financial support. There is a great need to face the harsh realities of change in both production conditions and popular lifestyles. Formalized techniques must be done away with, and the creative spirit inherent in the traditions of these crafts must be revitalized. As Yanagita has said, "That which is still worth preserving after a thousand years may be found in the proposals people will make from now on towards the rationalization and simplification of life." For traditional technology which faces a crisis within machine-oriented culture, the only path for survival may be in this sense of self-denial.

Naturally we must give due attention to the people who carry the burden of preserving traditional craft techniques, the craftsmen who are engaged in and make their living in these ancient handicraft industries. The concept of the craftsman as understood today was established in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Japan, but what is most significant here is the role they played in the course of Japan's modernization.

Yanagita gives particular attention to the watari shokunin (travelling craftsmen) who were the founders of rural settlements. He states that in the beginning of the Edo period, the first to settle in the country side were metal craftsmen, followed little by little by stone workers. Once settled in a rural area, they travelled around the country making their living by working for the farmers in a particular region.8 Thus Yanagita believed that the city and the country were not in conflict; but that the city was, in fact, created by the people of small villages, and that "building towns was the business of farming people from ancient times."9 Yanagita describes the towns as having been built by artisans with the assistance of farmers. This seems to be an important point to remember in analyzing the role of the artisan in the process of modernization. Moreover, Yanagita describes the way dyers themselves opened up new avenues in their craft when the Tokugawa government banned the popular use of certain colours: "Even if a certain colour might be forbidden for use among the common folk, the craftsmen would simply turn their skills towards creating even finer, more distinctive colours."10 Yanagita's account is eloquent testimony to the indomitable creativity of those who were the bearers of artistic tradition.

Thus traditional technology and the craftsman together contributed greatly to the creative development of tradition. It is, however, insufficient to speak of this in the past tense; what is even more important is how this technological tradition can be significant in the context of contemporary mass production industry. Unless we have a convincing answer to this question, the Japanese experience will be irrelevant to developing societies, and they will see no need to learn from it.

I have briefly mentioned how traditional technology can be useful today. That is, to make use of tradition in creation and, as Yanagita asserts, to maintain tradition as a value which, while constantly absorbing new influences, retains its essential purity. The question is, in part, whether craftsmen are actually capable of carrying on the tradition. Insofar as traditional technology requires creativity, the bearers of tradition must be creative. To be creative requires mental flexibility and constant self-enlightenment, which in turn, depends upon the qualities and potential of the individual. Did Japanese artisans actually possess these qualities? If so, how were they reflected in their work and through their daily lives? One of the tasks of this essay is to attempt to cast some light on this question.


Kanazawa and Traditional Industry in the Kaga-Noto Area

The climate of the Hokuriku region is characterized by plentiful rainfall and great seasonal differences in temperature. The high humidity of the region, averaging more than 70 per cent throughout the year, provides conditions particularly suitable to the lacquerware production process. The coldness of the winters cuts short the farming season, and indoor work provides an indispensable source of income for surplus labour during such slack seasons in the cultivation cycle. These conditions encouraged the establishment of crafts such as Wajima lacquerware, Kutani pottery, handmade paper, fine linen fabric and, fish nets in the Kaga-Noto area through local initiative and capital. In the urban areas centring on the city of Kanazawa, however, conditions were somewhat different, and traditional industries developed on the basis of investment by the Kaga domain government and from sources outside the domain.

It is not clear just when the traditional industries of the Kaga-Noto area became established. However, most traditional handicrafts got their.start after the beginning of clan rule and prospered, especially from the beginning of the nineteenth century, largely as a result of the introduction or accumulation of commercial capital. and financial support from the domain government. Traditional industries in which local capital employed surplus farm labour mainly produced items for daily use by local people: Wajima lacquerware, Suzu roof tiles, and Ishizaki zinc tiles from the Noto area, or Kutani ceramics, Ushikubi. silk and farm hats made of Fukase cypress from the Kaga area. On the other hand, the domain provided the capital for production of handicrafts mainly for the use of the samurai class, including gold leaf work, Buddhist household altars, Kaga ayu fishhooks, Ohi pottery, iron kettles for tea ceremony and Kaga damascene.

Among the traditional industries that benefitted from the financial support of the domain were those, like gold-leafing and damascene work, for which the domain government set up workshops and granted craftsmen certain privileges as patronized artisans. In return, the craftsmen were obligated to offer their entire production at or even below cost to the domain. The domain authorities also promoted other industries by making official permission necessary for raw materials supply, production and movement of goods outside the domain, as well as by inviting master craftsmen from other parts of the country.

However, the industries which flourished under the patronage of the domain developed certain basic weaknesses. For one thing, the master craftsmen became overly, concerned with preserving the original form of the art at the expense of creativity. For another, when domains were abolished following the Meiji Restoration, these industries simultaneously lost their sole patron and client, which profoundly threatened their very existence. Only industries that could overcome the problems posed by stagnation and social change had a chance for survival.

Technology transfer was widespread throughout the country by the eighteenth century, and each area tried to innovate introduced skills creatively with local materials. Master craftsmen from outside the domain came to work in many industries, not only those patronized by the clan. While technology came exclusively from Kyoto for those clan-sponsored industries that served the samurai class, skills for producing other articles for everyday use were also introduced by specialists from Kyoto, Tango, Echizen, Omi, Kishu, Hizen and other provinces. The technique of lacquerware was brought in by travelling wood craftsmen.

Table 1 indicates how these traditional industries were established, what they produced, and how distribution was carried out, particularly in the Kanazawa area. For the purposes of this paper, I have omitted those in Noto and the southern part of Kaga. It is part of a chart published in Ishikawaken no dento sangyo [Traditional Industry in Ishikawa Prefecture] by the Ishikawa Prefectural High School Field Survey Group.11

TABLE 1. The Growth and Development of Traditional Industries in Kanazawa

Establishment and Development of Traditional Industries in Kanazawa

Among the traditional industries which became established in Kanazawa, one of the most notable was that of gold leafing. This craft held a central position among, and was very closely connected with., the other industries in the region, including the manufacture of the special rice paper indispensable to the gold leafing process, as well as other products which incorporated gold leaf such as lacquerware, damascene ware, Buddhist altars, Yuzen dyeing and Kutani ceramics. The manufacture of gold and silver leaf was strictly controlled by the Edo bakufu after 1696 and gold leaf was restricted to Edo and silver leaf to Kyoto. Kaga domain had already introduced from Kyoto the technique of pounding out leaf before the official ban and while it stopped for a time thereafter, manufacture was resumed clandestinely during the Bunka period (1804-1818). Such unsanctioned manufacture meant that production was often dependent on inferior and very scarce raw materials, and this led to the development of a very fine and delicate style unique to this area. The gold-leaf pounding tools exhibited at Edo Mura in the suburbs of Kanazawa are evidence that this skill was practised in the area.

During the chaotic period surrounding the Meiji Restoration, gold leafing in Kanazawa briefly declined, but later expanded rapidly because of its excellent craftsmanship and low price. At the turn of the century, Kanazawa practically monopolized the markets for gold leafing in Kyoto and Nagoya. Later, markets expanded abroad and innovations were introduced using leaf pounding or rolling machinery. Nevertheless, the nature of the work itself required that traditional skills be preserved and the basic character of gold leafing as a manual skill was retained. The development of a new vacuum evaporation method has recently brought about the rapid decline of traditional silver leafing techniques, but in gold leafing, traditional skills still thrive and products are highly regarded. The average age of gold leaf craftsmen, however, is over sixty years and it is very difficult to find younger people who can be trained to succeed them.12

Damascene, like gold leafing, is a special technique unique to the traditional industries of Kanazawa. As mentioned above, this is one of the metallurgical arts established under domain patronage. Its origin may be traced back to the Higashiyama period .in the late fifteenth century to techniques of ornamenting sword accessories called sakufu founded by Goto Yuja (1440-1512). An account in Kanazawa kogyo enkaku shiryo [A Historical Record of Industry in Kanazawa] compiled and published by the Kanazawa City Office tells how this technique was brought to Kanazawa.

. . . the Toyotomi clan used this [damascene] technique for decorating various buildings such as the Jurakudai and the Momoyama Castle, and the Toyotomi clan protected, supported and honoured the many fine craftsmen who gathered in Kyoto, Fushimi and Osaka to undertake the work. When the Toyotomi clan was destroyed, there was no longer much demand for these artisans in the capital area, and most left, scattering throughout the country. Among them were fifteen or so who remained faithful to the patronage of the Toyotomi clan and did not want to serve the Tokugawa. They therefore went to serve the Maeda clan [in Kaga] since it had once been closest to the Toyotomi. The Maeda at that time were endeavouring to encourage industry. They called the newly arrived, craftsmen "silversmiths" (shiroganeshi) and provided them with secure protection. Alternating annually, the clan invited the two branches of the Goto family to Kanazawa to make sword accessories and give them the opportunity to educate local apprentices.

Metal engraving in Kanazawa developed rapidly and many highl skilled craftsmen appeared in the Jokyo era (1684-1687); eventually the system. of bi-annual invitations to the two Goto families was abandoned. . . . because Kanazawa is located in Hokuriku, far from the centres of the country, Kaga engraving was not much influenced by new trends, thus preserving the old techniques; it has preserved the simple, graceful style of the Higashiyama period and the generous, yet minute, techniques of the Momoyama period. These techniques, known as Kagabori, are maintained and much respected even today.13

As I mentioned above, the Maeda clan set up workshops and provided protection for workers in various crafts. Many workers in damascene were given samurai rank and designated official craftsmen of the clan. A community of damascene workers was established adjacent to Kajimachi in Kanazawa, the quarter for metalworkers. The damascene techniques which developed in this city reached a level of refinement which was never paralleled. The Historical Record of Industry in Kanazawa also contains the following passage:

Damascene craftsmen were called abumi-shi (stirrup craftsmen) and the Maeda craftsmen and their products were reputed to be the best in the country. This group, like the metal engravers, originated in several schools of craftsmen whom the Maeda clan had brought from Osaka-Fushimi. In their method of damascening, the furrow.for the inlaid metal was undercut very deeply in the base, so that the design that showed on the surface is actually only one third of the entire amount of inlaid metal. No amount of vibration or shock could jolt such inlay from its base and this so-called Kaga inlay was in the greatest demand. For the decoration of items such as armour and swords, it was considered the most practical as well as the most beautiful!14

The damascene techniques supported by the domain were mainly used for decoration of arms and armour. Needless to say, the abolition of the domains following the Restoration, not to mention the official ban on the wearing of swords confronted these craftsmen with a crisis of livelihood, and many were forced into other jobs or into unemployment.

The Meiji government took measures to encourage industries and establish new businesses that would provide jobs for members of the former samurai class. The facility in the Kanazawa area set up in 1872 as part of this policy was the Local Development Centre, later renamed the Ishikawa Prefectural Centre for the promotion of industry (1873) and changed again to the Factory for Employment of Ex-Samurai (1880). Efforts to absorb the mass of unemployed ex-samurai were. mostly insufficient, but a copperware company gained national fame when it gathered 51 metal craftsmen into a private enterprise established with local capital in February 1877. The founder was Jun'ya Hasegawa, at that time the mayor of Kanazawa, who had long been concerned about rescuing the damascene craftsmen from unemployment. In addition to Hasegawa, who was president of the company, Genroku Mizuno was head craftsman; Chuzo Hiraoka and Koshi Yamakawa were assistant head craftsmen, and Seizaemon Yonezawa was workshop supervisor. Seizaemon was the father of Yasuhiro Yonezawa, of whom I shall have more to say later.

The copperware company made a name for itself when an incense burner exhibited at the First National Exposition in the autumn of 1877 was awarded a prize for excellence. The following year the company exhibited several works at the Paris Exhibition and became a supplier to the Imperial Household. In 1879, Mizuno set up his own business and Yonezawa succeeded him as head craftsman, a capacity in which he stayed until the company was dissolved in 1894. For Yonezawa's personal career, as well as for the preservation and continuation of Kaga damascene techniques, the creation of this enterprise was a crucial event.15


When in 1889, Seizaemon was made acting president of the copperware company at the age of 39, his second son, Hiroyasu, was born. In that, same October, he moved from the old family home on the banks of the Asano River to a house purchased in Soshukucho. The reasons Yonezawa decided to move, as described by Yoshio Tanaka, reflect the lifestyle of metal craftsmen of that period as well as the character of one individual. (1) The area where they lived was near Hashiba, the centre of the city of Kanazawa, and the homes of many local notables were nearby. The social obligations required by such close proximity were more than Seizaemon as a craftsman cared to bother with. (2) He wanted a spacious workshop in his home for casting and other work. (3) He had a family of eight, which had grown too large for the old house, and it had become uneconomical to maintain such a large household in the centre of the city.

Most of the craftsmen who had been part of the domain-supported workshops rigidly preserved the techniques of the period of clan rule even after they became self-sustaining. A minority strove for creative innovation in their creations, and as a craftsman, Seizaemon was clearly among the latter. Through exchange with other progressive lacquerware, makie and ceramics craftsmen, he continued to polish his skills and to produce works of singular originality and imagination. In the first two decades of the twentieth century many of these works won prizes for excellent craftsmanship both in Japan and abroad in exhibitions such as the World's Fair at St. Louis, Mo. (1904) held in celebration of the Louisana Purchase Centenary, the Alaska-Yukon Pacific Exposition in 1907, the Ishikawa Prefecture Industrial Promotion Contest (1912), the Tokyo Exhibition in 1914 and the Panama‐Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco (1915), an epochal event which continued for 288 days despite the outbreak of World War I. In particular, the silver medal won at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition is testimony to the unsurpassed excellence of metal craftsmanship in Ishikawa prefecture. These awards, as well as those won by Hiroyasu later, were important landmarks in the development of traditional craft technology.

Seizaemon died in 1923 at the age of 73, leaving three sons and five daughters. The oldest son, Sakichi, was born in 1877 and entered the copperware company as a damascene apprentice after graduating from elementary school. He studied Japanese painting from distinguished local teachers and earned the professional name "Osetsu," eventually becoming a designer for the company. Later he moved to Nagoya to become chief of the design section of the Ando Cloisonne shop there. He maintained close professional contact with his younger brother, however, and continued to send many designs for use in Hiroyasu's work until his death in 1946 at the age of 70.

Since Hiroyasu's birth, his father seems to have expected that he, rather than Sakichi, would succeed to the family business, as indicated by the fact that he gave one character of his professional name to his second son. Hiroyasu began training in damascene work at the age of eleven, the year after his entrance to higher elementary school. His start in the craft coincided with his elder brother's move to Nagoya. Hiroyasu mainly assisted in the work of his father's workshop, and in this, his younger brother Seiji later. joined him. Seiji was to help him all his life as a metal worker. In addition to metalwork, Hiroyasu studied painting, which is the basis of design. He depended mainly upon his older brother and another senior painter, Keisen Tamai, for the designs of his works, but he often gave them sketches of his own which they refined and developed. He also frequently touched up the designs he received from them before applying them to his work. Hiroyasu studied basic general subjects through a middle school course made available by correspondence from Tokyo, in particular geometry and trigonometry, took abacus lessons and spent considerable time attending lectures and exhibitions as well as taking part in training seminars. This devotion to study continued throughout his life.

At twenty-nine, he married Yoshino, the eldest daughter of a famous scroll mounter named Matsuhei Hijikata. The marriage was arranged primarily through the decision of the fathers, but photographs were exchanged betweek the parties beforehand, a practice rather unusual at the time. Hiroyasu and his parents believed strongly that a crafts man's wife should come from a craftsman's family, and this was also reflected in the match. In fact, the family had earlier rejected proposals of marriage to the daughter of a public servant and to an elementary school teacher.

Hiroyasu was an artist as well as a craftsman. His first recognized work as an artist was a copper Hakusanro [incense burner] presented at an exhibition held in honour of the Crown Prince's visit to Kanazawa in 1916. His first work to receive a prize was a hanging incense burner that won third prize in the craft exhibition the same year. After that, he won one prize after another, not only in Japan but in exhibitions abroad as well. Of these, the most significant were the first prizes received at the Paris World Exposition of Modern Decorative Arts and Crafts in 1925 and the Philadelphia World Exposition two years later. These two prizes were awarded to works made by Hiroyasu himself, and the praise of art critics abroad was very encouraging. Another important achievement was an entry in the Imperial Academy of Arts Exhibition in the handicraft category in 1928. A category for traditional handicrafts, which had long been excluded from the Ministry of Education Art Exhibit, had finally been established by the Imperial Art Exhibition and in the second year since its inception, Hiroyasu's work was chosen for exhibit, along with eight other artists in lacquerware, metalwork, pottery, woodwork and dyein.

Hiroyasu later commented on his selection as follows:
When the news came about the honour, of course, I was delighted. I was brought up in a poor home and we never had any extra money. But I am the breadwinner in the family and it was a real liability to take time out to make a piece to submit to an exhibition. Say it takes two months to make a piece for-two months you can't do work that brings in money.

On the other hand, if you don't submit a piece, you can't establish a reputation. Also, when you want to take part in an exhibition like this, you have to go back and re-study all the different aspects of metalwork. It's a great opportunity to study, but after all. . . .

A piece for an exhibition has to have more than technique-its design is very important. You must, create something original as well as unusual. Last year [1967] I submitted two sets of hibashi [chopstick-like fire tongs] to the Traditional Crafts Exhibition. One pair was made with very refined techniques and involved considerable fine workmanship-that pair was entirely passed over in the awarding of prizes. The other pair was unadorned, and slender, like straight string-beans-they won the prize. Everyone remarked how "modern" that set was. That's the trend of the times. If you want to win, you have to create pieces that go with the times. You have to step away from tradition.17

In other words, winning prizes is rewarding for an artist and an encouragement to his work, but from the point of view of an artisan, the time it takes to make a piece for exhibit is lost for the financially profitable work upon which his livelihood depends. Nevertheless, the craftsman Hiroyasu understood the significance of entering his works in the exhibition: even though it affected his income, he recognized the value of the learning involved in creating works for artistic competition. Naturally the failure of the technically fine, traditional-style damascene hibashi to win a prize was a disappointment to Hiroyasu, but he was aware that the effort put forth to create a design for a truly original, prize-winning piece is by no means in vain. Rather, he recognized the necessity even for craftsmen to "step away from tradition" at times.

As we have seen, Hiroyasu's reputation as a handicraft artist (kogei sakka) thus became well established by the latter half of the 1920s. Professionally it was a very productive and fulfilling period in his life. During this time, a variety of local art‐and craft-related organizations were formed centring on Kanazawa. The metal crafts market, too, seemed to have attained a certain degree of stability. After the Manchurian Incident, however, the country began to mobilize for war, and while the munitions industry flourished under heavy demand, traditional industries were severely affected. Production slowed to a trickle. The number of craftsmen in metalwork gradually decreased and it became extremely difficult to keep the crafts going and train younger people. Hiroyasu even gave up the idea of training his eldest son to succeed him; there was nothing to do but send him to business school.

Later, as the war turned against Japan and the use of metals, especially copper and iron, came under strict control, conditions in the metalworking crafts became unprecedentedly severe. Through an appeal to the authorities, damascene craftsmen were able to sustain a certain limited amount of production, but in 1942 regulations were set up to oversee artistic works in Ishikawa prefecture, and in 1943 an Association for Control of Arts and Crafts was established, which permitted supply of raw materials only to a few, designated craftsmen, including Hiroyasu. The craftsmen not included in this group were forced to give up working or change jobs entirely. As a result, the metalworking community was all but wiped out in Kanazawa. When the opportunity came to revive traditional skills after the war ended, only a handful remained to carry on.

The war brought Hiroyasu much personal sadness, including the death of his eldest son of a disease contracted at the front and the loss of his older brother Kosetsu (Sakichi) as well. His second and third daughters were married, but the husband of the third daughter died soon thereafter. With the support of his wife, Yoshino, however, he overcame these tragedies and went on to produce many fine works, and earned prizes at a wide variety of exhibitions, particularly after 1949.

In 1968, at the age of eighty, Hiroyasu was designated an Intangible Cultural Treasure of Ishikawa Prefecture and in 1972, the Agency for Cultural Affairs chose him as an Intangible National Treasure. He died in October that year at the age of 84. Concerning his selection as an Intangible National Treasure, Yoshio Tanaka writes,

The selection was made without considering the fact that metal working is the most physically taxing of all the handicrafts. Hiroyasu was forced to bear the extremely heavy burden of the honour at the age of 84, and his death soon after being designated an Intangible National Treasure is vivid proof of the weight of that burden.

According to Tanaka, there were about 14 damascene workers in Kanazawa in 1939. If all other, craftsmen in metal-related crafts were included, there were more than 20 active in metalwork. During the war, the majority went to work in the munitions factories and only Hiroyasu'and one or two others remained actively working in damascene. After the war was over, most who had left the profession had lost the desire to return to the metalworking craft, leaving only a very few to see to the revival of the craft.

The situation was the same in the makie and lacquer crafts, although many more craftsmen now sought to work as artists. The number who presented their works to exhibitions rapidly increased. Tanaka says that most of them were originally professional artisans, and conflicts arose over whether they were craftsmen or artists. As I have suggested before, the craftsman manufactures quantities of goods for sale to an unspecified clientele through wholesale dealers. The artist, by contrast, produces one piece at a time on commission for particular, specified customers. Yet the masters of traditional technical skills were producers of individual handcrafted pieces and in this sense they belong to both categories. Two difficulties arise from this trend, however: first, as craftsmen become more like artists, there is the danger that the craft community as a social group bound by certain traditional norms will eventually cease to exist. There is also the fear that the "traditional" skills and standards which are the distinguishing mark of the craftsman may gradually be displaced by the artistic goal of originality and creativity and eventually lost. The first question is one of changing social norms and moral values. The second concerns the value and nature of technology itself.

Of course, the norms which guided the craftsman in the past cannot be expected to be appropriate to the conditions of modern or contemporary society. The breakdown of these traditional norms is inevitable, but the "craftsmen's ethos," which values fundamental rationality above all else, is bound to persist, above and beyond such norms. This ethos is not bound by "traditionalism" in the narrow sense of technique alone, and true traditional technology is sustained and kept alive precisely because of its creativity. The artist and the craftsman are often one and the same, and Hiroyasu was a good example of persons who demonstrated the compatibility of the two. As long as craftsmanship is alive in the mind of the artist, we need have no fear that the "craftsmen's ethos" will collapse.

A more detailed investigation of Hiroyasu Yonezawa's dual role as artist and craftsman, can tell us much about this "ethos." Hiroyasu left a total of 69 volumes of his diary, written between the age of 18 (1906) and a few months before his death at 84 in 1972. Most of it is written in small notebooks, and the contents are not well organized. Roughly the diary consists of detailed writings on daily events (31 volumes), notes on his work(27 volumes) and journals of his travels (11 volumes). Many of the volumes are a mixture of all these kinds of accounts. In addition, there are some letters and a record of Hiroyasu's conversations with Yosio Tanaka and others. His diary is not always easy to decipher but his writing is vivid and rhythmic.

Hiroyasu was married in November 1917. A notation in his diary on January first of the following year states:

Until last year, it was enough that I apply myself to house hold tasks as directed by my father and mother. But over the past year, my life has completely changed. In October my father was taken ill, and the responsibility for our business fell entirely and heavily upon my shoulders. Also, since I was married in November, I became the effective head of the household, and naturally that means I have the added worry of family finances as well. The entire burden, not only of supporting the household from now on, but of sending money to my older brother [in Nagoya] and looking after all matters concerning Seiji [his younger brother] and my adopted brothe in law, as well as seeing to the other important matters of the household, has fallen upon me. There is no one else to take care of all these affairs, so I can only steel myself for the task.

Among the things which required Hiroyasu's attention, the foremost was the household. He was the second son, but as mentioned before, the eldest son had moved to Nagoya to work as a professional designer. In response to his father's anxieties concerning a successor, Hiroyasu had established his own household, although he continued to live with his parents. While legally it involved only the creation of a branch family, this action also settled the matter of inheritance. The problem of succession was one of the reasons that Hiroyasu's marriage was delayed until he was thirty. But Hiroyasu was apparently less concerned with the continuity of the "house" than with its financial state. The home where his parents lived was in fact Hiroyasu's dwelling, but he was not the sole heir; he was bound by custom to divide the value of the house and land (\1,200) among himself and his brothers. Accordingly, he was obliged to allot \400 each to his older and younger brothers. This was the burden he was referring to when he became the effective head of the household and the object of the need to "steel" himself for the task. Nevertheless, his attitude in dealing with these problems was thoroughly pragmatic.

In his relations with others, Hiroyasu was consistently reasonable and warm, and in many ways far ahead of his time, as in his treatment of his wife. In the late twenties he went often to the cinema and to plays in Kanazawa, invariably taking his wife with him. She also accompanied him on his study trips. In the social climate of those times, such behaviour required considerable courage on both their parts. He often asked his wife her opinion of designs and sought her advice on his works, and was not hesitant to solicit her comments even before guests. His frequent letters home while travelling on professional business reflect his deep affection towards his family as well as a mature sense of reason.

Like most craftsmen residing in Kanazawa, Hiroyasu took lessons in tea ceremony, flower arranging and No singing. The following observations in the December 3, 1919 entry of his diary are rather unusual for a 31 year-old craftsman:

In the evening I went for my tea lesson. . . . In the tokonoma there was a calligraphy piece by Baishitsu; narcissus, winter chrysanthemums and acorns were arranged in a bamboo vessel on the two-tiered shelf. The scroll today. contained a line followed by a haiku by Basho saying,

"The wealthy merchant pleasures in the pocket but suffers in spirit. The petty vendor suffers in pocket but glories in the spirit.
At year's end,
When debts must be settled,
The sunny amber of the humble vendor's
Candy is a comforting sight."

To this Baishitsu he had added his own haiku:

"Not too wealthy; not too poor.
Moderation makes for comfort on
A cold winter's night."

The Yonezawa family religion was Jodo Shinshu [Pure Land] Buddhism, but at the household alter, the sutra customarily read was one of the Zen sect, while Seizaemon's personal faith was apparently Shingon Buddhism. Hiroyasu shared his father's open-minded approach to religion and seems, to have made it a regular custom, even a hobby, to visit temples dedicated to Kannon (the Goddess of Mercy). The entries in his diary between about 1912 and 1926 are filled with accounts of such visits. He participated in traditional religious ceremonies celebrated by metal craftsmen, but at busy times was flexible and might not necessarily take the day off from work.

In daily life and in work, Hiroyasu's activities were influenced by an unfailing and voracious curiosity, as evidenced by his incessant participation in exhibitions and seminars. His frequent travels, careful study of landscapes and ancient artifacts as well as his visits with professional colleagues all over Japan all had a direct and indirect impact on his work. His diary shows that, even at times when low income made family finances tight in the late twenties, he took frequent trips to the Kanto (Tokyo) and Kansai (Kyoto) areas. He went to Tokyo mainly for exhibitions, and to Kyoto and Nara to visit famous old temples. He often went to the Shosoin to study the pieces kept there for ideas to use in his own work. The expenses for such trips were handled entirely through the frugal and careful budgeting of his wife.

He had a wide range of friends in many fields of metalwork, including Genroku Mizuno who was regarded as the mentor of all metalworkers, Kanji Miyazaki in casting, Sekko Oshita in makie. He was continually occupied in organizing craft guilds and in negotiating between parties involved in disputes within the profession. He was also active in non-professional associations with neighbours. Even before the chonaikai [neighbourhood associations] were officially formed, he had served as a coordinator for community activities. When the association was finally established, he was elected its first chairman. In 1932 he was asked to become a fund-raiser for soldiers who had been mobilized in the China War and their families in the neighbourhood. For his outstanding efforts in fund-raising that year he was awarded a letter of commendation from the mayor. In 1942 he was again awarded a letter of commendation from the mayor for his cooperation in the enforcement of an ordinance concerning permits for establishing new enterprises. He also organized a goodwill association among the surrounding communities based in his own district, Soshukucho. Its official functions included petitioning authorities and serving as consultant to local government on matters concerning public morals, sanitation and roads. Hiroyasu was elected an executive officer of this association.

Hiroyasu's deep involvement in these non-professional activities clearly shows, that his life as a craftsman did not isolate him from the community around him. He was not an aloof artist. He was a warm, sympathetic personality, yet restrained and reasonable. He was generous with others but very strict with himself. Bursts of artistic passion must have occurred which inspired his works. But what controlled that passion was the rationality of a technician and the humility of a craftsman. In Hiroyasu, the "craftsman's ethos" was a, product of his daily work and constant search for new techniques, and it was that very ethos that led to his consistent refusal to become completely an artist. His diary vividly portrays the craftsman's ethos.


In Japan, people began to turn their attention to traditional craft techniques, especially the handiwork of skilled craftsmen, when they became disillusioned with the flood of mass-produced, standardized products of modern technology. Foreigners, too, began to show interest in traditional crafts, although from a somewhat different perspective, as reflected in the following article:

Visitors from China and other foreign countries have recently been coming in great numbers to observe Japanese automobile factories. It is worth noting, however, that what amazes them much more than the formidable, modern machinery, is the skilfulness of the workers scurrying nimbly over the car chassis moving down the assembly line, as they quickly and accurately affix numerous and various parts. The visitors are amazed at their skill and devotion to their work. They say, "Machinery can be easily bought, but we cannot buy this kind of skill and devotion." [Mainichi Shinbun, 21November 1978.]

Obviously what is significant here is not so much the traditional skills or techniques of the workers but their "devotion," which is the intangible, elusive "craftsman's ethos" I have been attempting to describe. Needless to say, explaining this "ethos" presents problems. First, how does it relate to "tradition"? The craftsman is responsible for the preservation of traditional technology, but in modern society stubborn adherence to tradition for its own. sake leads only to a dead end. Through creativity, exemplified by individuals in whom the qualities of skilled craftsman and artist are compatible, the dead end can be avoided, for such creativity alone enables the craftsman to overcome the stagnation of tradition and to revitalize it in conformity with contemporary needs. But this can only occur when individual craftsmen compete openly with their skills and actively communicate with their colleagues, rather than working in self imposed isolation. One cannot acquire "living" technology in solitude; and tradition can only be maintained by virtue of cooperative effort.

True creativity requires strong, individual character as well as a willingness to learn from others. The foundation of such creativity is mastery of tradition. From that foundation creativity develops through the constant challenge of exposure to new and different things.

The curiosity which is peculiar to artists can replenish such creativity through travel and participation in exhibitions. At the same time, exposure to new and different experiences must be evaluated with discernment and insight gained through rigorous self-discipline. The ability to distinguish the genuine from the fake and seek the pure while discarding non-essentials is the mark of the creative craftsman.

Rationalism goes hand in hand with being a good citizen, for the rules of life as a citizen restrict many aspects of both an artist's and a craftsman's behaviour. Rationalism, in fact, must be the guiding principle of life as a citizen. The formation of voluntary organizations among neighbourhood people or workers, as well as concern for promoting the welfare of residents through volunteer activities must be based on the rationalism in thought and action of those who undertake such activities. It is precisely this "spirit'' that I have attempted to illustrate through the life and thought of damascene worker Hiroyasu Yonezawa.

The "spirit of the craftsman" is, needless to say, closely connected with traditional technology. Such technology defines the craftsman's way of living, creating an attitude which is peculiar to the craftsman. That attitude, in turn, can also influence technology and stimulate its revival. This kind of technology can sometimes be transferred, but the necessary skills are deeply rooted in regional traditions. The region to which the technology is transferred must provide the social and cultural conditions that will allow transplanted technology to take root. These conditions are the culture base upon which the "spirit of the craftsman" is nurtured. Just as in its native area, transferred technology must be maintained without stagnation or atrophy; it must constantly be stimulated and nourished to maintain its freshness and dynamism. Here the role of the craftsman as the bearer of technology again becomes vital. When those who carry on the living spirit of tradition work actively in modern society, their technology also gains modern significance.


1."Traditional crafts" are handicraft industries that were established prior to and up until the close of the Edo period (1600-1868); those that engage in production on a piecework basis rather than on a standardized or mass production basis; those industries that utilize traditional technology appropriately adapted to local living conditions; and those that are still being carried on today in some form or another.

"Traditional industry," by contrast, has a slightly broader meaning and includes industries with mass production methods. The major Japanese traditional crafts are listed in the table below. The source of this table is Nihon no dento kogei [Japan's Traditional Crafts] by Akinao Hojo, 1978.

TABLE 2. Major Traditional Industries

2. Kunio Yanagita, "Mukashifu to toseifu" [Ancient and Modern Styles] Teihon Yanagita Kunio shu: Momen izen no koto.

3. Shoji Hamada,"Dento no uketorikata"[Understanding Tradition] in Gekkan bunkazai, January 1966, as quoted in Akinao Hojo, Nihon no dento kogei, pp.178-179

4. Eisenstadt, S.N.,"Post-traditional Societies and the Continuity
and Reconstruction of Tradition," Daedalus: Post-Traditional Societies, Winter, 1973, pp. 1-27.

5. This view, with which I am in complete agreement, is emphasized in "Introduction" to Kazuko Tsurumi and Saburo Ichii, eds., Shiso no boken - shakai to henka no atarashii paradaimu [Adventures in Thought: A New Paradigm for Social Change], 1974, pp.2-6.

6. This assertion is the main theme of the following essay: Guerreiro Ramos, "Modernization: In Search of a Possibility Model," Willard A. Beling and George 0. Totten (eds.), Developing Nations: Quest for a Model, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1970, pp. 22-64.

7. Kazuko Tsurumi, Hyohaku to teiju to Yanagita Kunio no shakai hendoron [Kunio Yanagita's Theory of Social Change: Drifters among the Settled] 1977, pp. 113-114. However, I agree with her view that Yanagita's theory of the jomin (folk) is not out of place even today in Japanese society.

8. Kunio Yanagita, Meiji Taisho-shi sesahen [Changing Lifestyles in the Meiji and Taisho Periods], Shinpen Yanagita Kunio shu, vol. 4, 1930, pp. 15-16 and p. 180.

9. Kunio Yanagita, Teihon Yanagita Kunio shu: Toshi to noson [City and Countryside], vol. 5, p. 249.

10. Kunio Yanagita, Meiji Taisho-shi sesohen, op. cit., p. 16.

11. Ishikawa Prefectural High School Field Survey Group, ed., Ishikawaken no dento kogyo [Traditional Industry in Ishikawa Prefecture], 1977, pp. 29-34.

12. Ibid., pp. 297-301.

13. Kanazawa City Office, ed., Kanazawa kogyo enkaku shiryo [A Historical Record of Industry in Kanazawaj, 1905, pp. 61-62.

14. Ibid., pp. 62-63.

15. I am indebted for information on this copper company to Yoshio Tanaka's Kaga zogan shokunin Yonezawa Hiroyasu no hito to sakuhin [A Damascene Craftsman of Kaga: The. Works and Personality of Hiroyasu Yonezawa], 1974, pp. 20-23.

16. This portion closely follows the account given by Yoshio Tanaka in Kaga zogan shokunin: Yonezawa Hiroyasu no hito to sakuhin, op. cit.

17. Excerpted from Yoshio Tanaka, Hyakuman goku no shokunin [Craftsmen of Kaga Province], 1968, pp. 52-54.


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