Kyo-Tsuzura (Bamboo Box) , a lacquered bamboo box made in Kyoto, has 25 detailed work processes. Mr. Yoshikazu Watanabe is the only craftsman in Japan who accomplish all 25 processes by himself. A studio is located at the foot of Kiyomizu temple that is listed on UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. When I visited there, Mr. Yoshikazu Watanabe and his son were watching Sumo Wrestling on TV. I found their true passion for Sumo Wrestling. This time, we had a chance to interview Mr. Yoshikazu Watanabe.
—Can you let us know about your background since your childhood？
When I was young, I was an active boy who running around in the mountains and playing baseball. After graduating from high school at the age of 18, I joined this family business. The reason why I decided to take over the job is because it was the social norm for the eldest son to take over the family business at that time. As another reason, there were fewer people continue to engage in this craft making. In my father’s generation, there were only three or four other lacquered bamboo box makers in Tokyo, so it was inevitable for me to take over his job. I am now 58 years old and have been engaged in this work for 40 years.
—You said it was inevitable that you would take over, but were there other jobs you wanted to do？
Since there were many craftsmen and sons working in the family business around me, I had no negative feelings about taking over the job.
―That’s great to know! Then, please tell us about Watanabe Shoten’s commitment. (Watanebe Shoten is a company he operates)
We want to make beautiful and durable products. As we take the stance that we only make products that suit the buyer, we now only accept made-to-order requests. We want to make one-of-a-kind items that are unique to the customer who ordered them.
―Is there anyone you admire？
It is my father. It has been 8 years since he passed away, and I realize now how amazing craftsman he was. I did not notice when we were working together, but I feel that he did a great job of preserving the tradition of Kyo-Tsuzura. There is only one left Kyo-Tsuzura maker not only in Kyoto but also in Japan. I am not saying that I have to preserve it or do something about it. What I only think about this is if there is even one person who wants my products, I would like to continue working as a craftsman for that person.
—Do you have any words that is special to you？
There is a word that my grandfather used to say, “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”(Japanese famous proverb). He told me that you should always put your work as your first priority. Regardless of whether I don’t have a job at COVID-19 or not, I am conscious of following my own work routine. The time I get up in the morning and the time I go to bed at night are fixed for long years. try not to break this routine throughout my life and I believe it will lead me to my next step.
―Do you have any hobbies?
My hobby is motorcycling. I like to go to lots of places to forget reality alone. Recently, I went to Kobe Airport. I have always been close to motorcycles, so motorcycling is my biggest hobby.
—Now we would like to ask you what is the first thing you teach to an apprentice？
I teach the basics at the beginning, but I try to make them learn by looking at my work. This is because each piece of bamboo is completely different. I am careful about the possibility of injury because they hold a knife, but basically I want them to learn by watching. That’s how I was brought up.
―How do you want consumers who use Kyo-Tsuzura？
Tsuzura is a storage tool suited to the Japanese climate. If you use it overseas, I don’t know how it would be because of the difference in humidity and temperature, but I want you to use it in a different way. It can be used to store important things, and I want you to pass it on to your children or grandchildren. Kyo-Tsuzura is not disposable box, so I want you to use it for a long time.
―Finally, please give a message to young people who aspire to become craftsmen.
There are many things that are not taught in school about the Kyo-tsuzura industry, so I think this is difficult for them. We are not businessmen, so you have to be prepared to some extent. We need to understand each other and work together to preserve the tradition. Working as a craftsman, it is important to have a skill to be able to manage your time It is fun because you can be mentally easy and earn money depending on how hard you work.