The workshop of Suse Works (嵩山工房) is located east of Nagoya, the center of Aichi Prefecture, on the border with neighboring Shizuoka Prefecture. It is so well known as a difficult-to-read place name that non-locals may find it hard to read this town. Mr. Nobuhiro Yamazaki is a craftsman who has been making Toyohashi Fude in this area for over 60 years. He celebrated his 80th birthday a week before we interviewed him. After we had a chance to see his skilled craftsmanship with a detailed explanation, we asked him about his background and vision for future.
－What made you become a brush craftsman?
It all started on the day of the exam to determine my employment at the age of 15. At the time, about half of the kids in the school were graduating from junior high school, and many of them wanted to work in factories, construction sites, or various other types of crafts. I was good at detailed work and so on and I applied for a job at a printing company. On the day of the exam for the printing company, it was heavily raining and although it would be easy to drive to the examination place today, the transportation at that time was limited and I could not get to the venue. From this, I gave up on the idea of working at the printing company and thought I would look for other opportunity. However, the master of the brush studio visited my junior high school and picked up five of my classmates who had not found a job. That is how I became a brush craftsman. (laughs)
－You never know what would happen. I don’t think that you wanted to work at Brush Studio, but what did you think about when you first joined the company?
Even though I had not applied for the job, I did not think negatively about it. Rather, I was thankful to have such a job, because at the time I was told that if I became a craftsman, I would never be hungry for the rest of my life. Moreover, I entered the company at the same time as five of my classmates, and we lived together. Every night was like a school trip, which was fun. (laughs)
－Sounds like a fun nightly school trip sensation!
Of course, my work was crazy busy compared to today, but I was able to do my best because I had my classmates there! We supported each other even when things got tough, and we even had competitions to see how many brushes we could make in a limited time.
－When did you start thinking about being independent?
I didn’t have a vision, but I didn’t have the same direction with my master. My master had a strong spirit of equality, and no matter how quickly I finished my work or how well I made brushes, I was paid the same amount as those who made them late. I was frustrated that I did not get the special rewards or bonus for my contributions. I started my own business when I was 22 years old, seven years after I joined the company. It was a time when calligraphy was very popular, and I had many clients. Also, I had no trouble finding work.To be honest, Toyohashi brush did not exist at the time, either while I was working for my master or after I became independent. What I mean is that we were asked by wholesalers to make brushes, and we distributed them to wholesalers after making those brushes. If the brushes went to Kyoto, they became Kyoto brushes, and if they went to Tokyo, they became Tokyo brushes. Considering this situation, one of the reasons we decided to go independent was that we wanted to sell our brushes ourselves, since we were making them in Toyohashi.
－It has been 58 years since you became independent and 65 years since you started making brushes. How do you see your career as a craftsman?
Compared to the past, the development of mass media such as television and printing methods has led to a decrease in hand-drawn cartoons and I can clearly see that the demand for the brush itself has decreased.However, there is no use in being depressed, and honestly we are focusing on sharing information about Toyohashi Fude with various approaches such as experience workshop at local school. My daughter created a website on the Internet, and we started to receive interview from TV and get orders from various people. We had no foreign customers until now, but perhaps because of the coverage, we have received group bookings for visits from schools overseas, and there is a person who is a calligraphy teacher using the brushes I made. Apparently, he has about 100 students. I have learned that there is demand from abroad, and I believe that there is still more I can do.
－It’s exciting to know that there is still more we can do! What do you see as your future vision as a Suse Works?
I will continue to work as I have doing, and I would also like to spend relaxing time. However, we have been surprised to receive more orders than I expected for our new product pet charms. Since we are hair professionals, we thought that pet hair could also be made into crafts, and now they are becoming so popular that they are catching up with sales of brushes. We sometimes receive tearful phone calls from customers asking us to make charms from the hair of their pets. They have spent precious time with like family members, which is a very emotional experience for us, and we are not allowed to make any mistakes in the work. I have also received unusual orders, such as a customer wanting to make a brush from their baby’s hair or sometimes his own hair (laugh).
－Finally, may I have a message for young people who are interested in or aspire to enter the craft industry?
Patience. I have been making brushes for 65 years, and I now realize that if you persevere, you can make it. When times are tough, it is naturally hard on your body and mind, and there are times when you want to quit, but you have to keep going because you know that things will get better in the future. Also, I don’t think there is much point in just trying to make something without thinking or just working with your hands. I think it is important to have a vague idea that you want to make something good, and then work to figure out how to make it better.Since my daughter introduced the Internet, I have learned a lot in terms of making good things. She tells me directly what kind of things she likes and what is in demand, and I am still happy to receive messages from her. Well, when you are young, there are things you can gain by working hard, and I think that’s good, too (laughs).
After the interview
Mr. Yamazaki, who has been making brushes for 65 years, says that he makes brushes but does not do calligraphy. He said with a laugh that the reason for this is that he makes brushes that he likes. According to his daughter, Mr. Yamazaki is concerned about profits because he makes new products without thinking about profitability. I was struck by his desire to make good products that everyone can use, without regard to profitability. You can also purchase Toyohashi Fude from the Suigenkyo online store. Please visit us to find your favorite brush!