Stroll in the town of craftsmen

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Kazuo Kamikawa
Tokyo-style Silverware: Silversmith

Kazuo Kamikawa succeeded to the name "Sosho" from his father, and received many awards, including "Higashi-Kuninomiya Bunka Hosho," or Higashi-Kuninomiya prize, and "Takuetsu Gino-sho," or superior workmanship prize. He is affiliated with the Hirata school, of which founder is Zennojo Hirata, a smith who distinguished himself as a master craftsman in the late Edo Period.

As a silversmith

Could you tell me about the reason you became a craftsman?

  • My father was a craftsman, so I took over his job. Since I was born to a family of craftsmen, I played beside my father since my childhood. I began to seriously learn silverware making after I graduated from junior high school. Although I knew general processes of silverware making, I should work as an underling. I began by visiting outsourcees as a messenger. In the past, there was no car, so I was pedaling around all day.

How many years have you done this job?

  • I have done this job since I was 16. I am now 68 years old, so I have done this job for 52 years.

Have details of your job changed?

  • It has changed a lot with the times. When I learned silverware making, kettles and small teapots were mainly made. Later, there was a golf boom in Japan, so many trophies for golf were ordered. I made those trophies all day and year round.
  • The reason kettles are not sold well is that electric kettles and plastic bottles become widespread. You do not need to boil a kettle. However, water boiled in a kettle is more delicious. Compared to iron, silver has better thermal conductivity, so water in a silver kettle boils faster. Although there are a variety of kettles, such as a brass kettle, water boiled in a silver kettle especially tastes better.

Tokyo-style silverware

Have new methods of making silverware been devised?

  • It is not devised. It should not be devised. I mean, a traditional way of making silverware is the best way. If I do not keep the traditional way, good silverware cannot be made. It is impossible to make silverware in a new way. After all, I should make use of acquired skills to make beautiful silverware. A difference between silverware made in the Edo Period and the present day is that it is now partially processed by machine. Silverware can be made by hammering out by hand, but there is a technique called "Herashibori,"or spinning, which is done by machine, so it is one of the differences.
  • (Spatulas and wooden models which are used in the spinning process)

What is the difference between Tokyo-style silverware and silverware made in other regions?

  • In terms of silverware, Tokyo is the most thriving region. There are many craftsmen in Taito, Bunkyo and Arakawa Cities. When many craftsmen are concentrated in the cities, hardware shops also come to the cities. Craftsmen can easily buy a variety of tools at the shops. Although craftsmen can work in other areas, it is better to live in those cities.
  • Although this is just a digression, gold leaves have been made in Kanazawa. In the past, the Edo shogunate strictly controlled gold leaf production. One gram of gold weighs as much as 1-yen coin, and it stretches to several square meters. Such a technique exists only in Kanazawa. Since gold leaves could be easily obtained in Edo, craftsmen could use them to make crafts. In this way, cultures and histories in producing centers have reasonable grounds.

How long does silverware last?

  • For example, how long do you think does this silverware last? Glass products are broken, but this silverware is just dented instead of being broken. Dented silverware can be restored by hammering it. I think silverware lasts for at least 1,000 years. Silverware has been unearthed from ruins that dates from 3,000 BC. It is about 5,000 years before present. So silverware is anything but one that will last a lifetime.
  • Some people ask me to fix old kettles, but some of them cannot be fixed. It is not a matter of materials. In the case of old kettles on which patterns are deeply engraved by gravers, some of them are worn out and have some holes. I cannot fix those kettles.

What are the characteristics of silverware?

  • Aside from the value of silver itself as a valuable material, what is good about silverware is that, if you drink something out of a silver cup, it tastes differently. It becomes mellow and mild, and always tastes good. If you drink vinegar out of a silver cup, you feel it is very tasty. A glass cup does not change the taste. I wondered if the taste really changed, so I once asked the Taste and Aroma Strategic Research Institute located in Hodogaya (now relocated to Kayaba-cho) to study silverware. As a result, it turns out that the taste actually changes. It is numerically proved. I got a stamp of approval.

Manufacturing processes

Could you tell me about the manufacturing processes?

  • First of all, I obtain silver ingots. Then, I ask a smelter to melt the ingots and make silver materials with proper width and thickness. I draw a circle on the materials with a pair of compasses, and hammer out them. Finally, I decorate them with patterns.

What are the traditional techniques?

  • For example, in a technique called "Uchikomi Zogan," I use a coping saw to cut a gold plate into a shape of ginkgo's leaf, and weld it to a cup, and then flatten out it by hammering it. Then, I engrave the a pattern of ginkgo's leaf on it using a graver. Since it is not interesting if I do the same thing on the opposite side, I weld a gold plate, and weld a silver plate on it. So the cup has a trilaminar structure. When the silver is hammered, it turns white. However, I make the gold faintly appear by filing the surface.
  • I emboss this cup with a pattern by denting the perimeter of the pattern with a graver. When you look at the inside, you will notice the dent.

  • This cup is made on the subject of bamboo. A bamboo joint is actually straight, but it is not interesting, so I slightly deform it. A Chinese character "Fuku," or good luck, is depicted on the bottom of the cup. If you drink sake out of this cup, you must feel happy. This is also a sense of humor. I hammer out it one by one. It is a technique called "Gozame Moyo-iri," or rush mat pattern. Gozame exists only in Japan. There is no Gozame in Europe and America because cultures of tatami mats do not exist there. This kind of technique has been developed only in Japan. Things can be conceived in this way. The point is that, since products vary according to times, it is not possible to make a living by employing just one technique. Therefore, products that I have made entirely differ according to times.

  • There is another technique called "Kiribame." For example, I cut out a shape of ginkgo's leaf from a silver plate. Then, I inlay a different metal in the leaf-shaped hole. This is also a technique unique to Japan.

Carrying on craftsmanship that has been handed down for 11 generations

What point is worth doing as a traditional craftsman?

  • Nothing is worth doing in this job. I have just worked as hard as I can. However, well, I am slightly different from other craftsmen. I am the 11th descendant of the founder, so when I will go to Heaven after I die, I want to be praised by my ancestors. If I do bad things, it would be terrible. If I do so, I would disgrace my ancestors. Since I feel this way, I am different in this point from other craftsmen. If I become unable to make a living from this job, I have no choice but to quit this job, and nobody would help me. I work every day, and make a living, so I should manage to be well under way. It is difficult to keep running the family business.

Kazuo Kamikawa

"Jinrin Kinmo Zui," a picture book, published in the Edo Period. Roots of silverware are revealed.
(Owned by the National Diet Library)

An elaborate silver kettle. This is the only piece of work by Kamikawa's father, which remains in Kamikawa's hand.

What is Tokyo-style silverware?

In medieval Europe, in order not to be poisoned, people used silver tableware, taking advantage of the property of silver, of which color changes when being sulfurated. In this way, silverware has closely been related to lives of people from old times. In Japan, since silver coins were struck at a silver mint, which was located in present Ginza, in the Edo Period and silver accessories were popular among people in the Genroku era, a period when the economy developed and prospered, Tokyo has thrived as the center of silverware production

As a family of craftsmen

Kazuo, a father and master, three sons and a daughter are engaged in making traditional crafts.

We are a family of traditional craftsmen. Now that we work as traditional craftsmen, we dedicate ourselves to make traditional crafts. One of my ancestors is Zennojo Hirata who is famous for silverware production. I am the 11th descendant of Zennojo.