By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
Tsubamesanjo in Niigata Prefecture is a manufacturing region known for producing the finest metallurgy such as copperware, fine engraving, and cutlery using techniques dating back to the Edo Period.
While it’s a two-hour ride on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Tsubamesanjo, visitors to Little Tokyo on Oct. 28-29 won’t have to travel that far. In collaboration with Jiba Center-Tsubamesanjo Regional Industries Promotion Center and The Hidden Japan (thehiddenjapan.com), visitors to Mise at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center will get a rare opportunity to meet and speak with the artisans, who traveled all the way from Japan for the special event.
Jane Matsumoto, director of culinary arts at JACCC, expressed gratitude for the artisans and all their efforts and explained how the collaboration came about. Among the featured artisans are Tsukasa Hinoura of Hinoura Hamano, Hiroaki Eguchi of Ishibishi Kinzoku Co., Rieko Asano, Yasuhiro Ide, Yusaku Kanda, Shinji Kasahara, Shotaro Nozaki, Hayato Sango, Tadayuki Sone, Gong Tao, Masaaki Yamazaki, Yamazaki Kenma and Hisashi Yoshida.
A series of workshops will kick off with two knife-sharpening sessions taught by world-renowned knife maker Tsukasa Hinoura, who will lead a workshop for a limited number of attendees. Professional chefs and enthusiasts are said to wait three to seven years for a custom-made Hinoura knife.
The Hinoura company dates back to 1905. Their knives are hand-forged by third- and fourth-generation Hinoura blacksmiths.
Rafu: How did the artisan fair come together? How did you meet the artisans?
Jane Matsumoto: The fair came together as a collaboration with the Tsubame Sanjo Regional Industries Promotion Center. The Hidden Japan, a Yamagata-based tourism company who has collaborated with JACCC in the past, invited us to meet with officials at the Tsubamesanjo Regional Center in Niigata, a neighboring prefecture. The Tsubame Sanjo Regional Center arranged personal visits with various artisans and companies to show us their studios; many are artisans continuing their specialties over multiple generations, handcrafting their wares.
Rafu: What has it been like working with the artisans from Tsubame Sanjo? What can people expect when they come to the fair?
JM: It has been an absolutely wonderful and heartwarming experience. They welcomed us into their businesses and gave us detailed explanations and demonstrations of their techniques that they have perfected over hundreds of years. They are professionals, genuinely interested to share their artistry and expertise and share the love they have for the work they are doing.
Guests who come to the fair will be greeted by artisans who are eager and willing to explain what their products do, why these items will be helpful in the homes with lifestyles of Southern Californians, from tableware to kitchen ware, and out into the garden. The artisans will be a wonderful resource to explain the benefits of their products.
Rafu: What does their participation and the introduction of this type of Japanese culture mean for Mise, JACCC, and the larger JA community?
JM: For the JACCC and larger community, we are launching Mise with an inaugural “open house-grand opening” of the Toshizo Watanabe Exhibition Center, which aptly describes our mission. We want to create immersive, authentic experiences for our guests to learn about cultural traditions and practices; to enable artisans who are still hand-crafting their wares to continue to sell their products to the broader community of enthusiasts in SoCal and beyond. We want to see the next generation of Japanese artisans thrive and grow and expand their businesses and help spread awareness of their region and industry.
It is our goal to bring awareness of other prefectures and exhibit their artisans’ products so that Mise becomes a place of culinary arts and traditions integrated with related programming, workshops and demonstrations.
Rafu: Could you say a few words about one or two of the artisans that you would like to highlight?
JM: Master Tsukasa Hinoura is a third-generation knife-maker whose reputation is legendary in Japan and abroad. His knives are coveted by professionals all over the world and he has a waiting list of up to six years for some of his acclaimed knives. We are honored that he has taken time from his personal schedule to lead the contingent of Tsubamesanjo artisans.
As one of 12 other companies coming to Los Angeles, we also welcome Hisashi Yoshida, an eighth-generation file-maker bringing forward over 120 continuous years of manufacturing simple, easy-to-use, high-quality nail files by inheriting the metal processing technology of Tsubame City, with origins as a metalworking town that date back to the Edo Period that became famous as a major producer of Japanese nails used in Japanese houses.
These techniques are still deeply rooted in Tsubame, which has become one of Japan’s leading metal processing industrial areas. Yoshida File Manufacturing Co., Ltd. is led by Hisashi Yoshida’s father, Minoru Yoshida, seventh generation in the succession of a business started in the early Meiji Period.
JACCC extends its heartfelt gratitude to all the artisans who journeyed to Los Angeles to present their unique products from Tsubamesanjo, Niigata Prefecture. This fair is a means to acquaint future generations with the artistry of these dedicated artisans, as they continue to blend traditional methods with contemporary creations, all in the pursuit of preserving and honoring their craft for a modern audience.
For more information, visit www.jaccc.org.
Photos by Katrina Frederick