Interview with Kazuo Hirokawa

Kazuo Hirokawa is the last remaining practitioner of the traditional carving art of Miyajima.

There is an interview with Hirokawa-san in Japanese which was originally conducted in June, 2001, as part of a radio show called Happy Lunch. The interviewer and host of the show is Mai Taguchi.

The pictures to the left were copied from the interview, which is translated below. Special thanks to Fumi Bull for her translation services.

It was there, that scenery of Miyajima was carved ...

Q) What is Miyajima carving?

With nearly 200 years of history, its peculiarity was using techniques such as line carving and different kinds of relief carving to create feeling and perspective.

Q) Are there less people making products by using Miyajima carving?

The reason that thereís very few opportunities to come across these things is because thereís overwhelmingly small amounts of supply. To tell you the truth, the only craftsman doing Miyajima carving now is me. So the amount that one person could produce is limited. So far, there are no successors. The different environment creates the problem of successors, but as for the making part itself, you have to be hungry to do it.

Q) Mr. Hirokawa, are you only devoted to this path?

No, actually I have experienced being an office worker. After that, when I decided to open a souvenir store, I remembered about Miyajima carving. I was motivated by the fact that I can do it right there at the store. (laugh) At first, I was in the field of wood work, but gradually I wanted to learn about the essence of Miyajima carving. One day, when I was at a factory where they make wooden trays, I found one buried about two thirds underneath a bunch of wood shavings. I was struck by a carved image of pine tree and a tip of a bird, and took out the wooden tray from underneath the wood shavings. There, on the surface a fantastic view of Miyajima was carved. This kind of thing is possible? Who did this? Then suddenly, I knew that it was Mr. Otani Issui, who was known as an eccentric by the society. Later I became his pupil. Now that I could touch Mr. Otaniís work, it was not good to keep up my impure motivation. I was just about 30 years old.

Q) Then you became his pupil.

For me, I took the wooden tray to the masterís place and got it carved. Then I brought home the teacher's sample, and copied what I saw. But if there were some parts that really gave me a difficulty, I took it back to the masterís again to observe him work. I have a stubborn personality so I never asked anything. Then I brought home the teacher's sample, and copied what I saw. This procedure was repeated. This is how the techniques built up. At that time, there were some people just like me, so I got a better sense by looking at otherís work. I also had chance to observe some at museums, and at neighborís who had some. Then technique was added and I couldnít quit Miyajima carving anymore. (laugh)

Blood, Sweat, and Tears of the Predecessors

Q) So it was a fast pace. Didnít you get anxious?

When we all started at the same time, I did have a feeling of wanting to be the best. Fortunately, I also like to draw, so there wasnít any feeling of being on the wrong path. But when I just started, I stayed up carving until two or three in the morning. I also had to hold the carving knife at least once a day.

Q) In your case, it wasnít a hobby but to make a product.

There wasnít a time that it was a hobby. The atmosphere was working in front of souvenir shop customers. But I was really happy the first time something I made sold. But now that I think about it, it is a horrible thing. A customer actually paying money for it, is a big thing. All kinds of people from the world come to see Miyajima. There might be famous important people looking at my work. But all I can do now is laugh. (laugh)

Q) We got you to bring a carving knife today ... right?

For Miyajima cavingís special treatment, this carving knife is rebuilt to fit my hand.

(Here, Mr. Hirokawa showed Miyajima-carving to Ms. Taguchi. Ms. Taguchi was impressed from beginning to the end by Mr. Hirokawaís skillful quickness!)

Sometimes when Iím doing Miyajima carving like this, I wonder how this was first invented. I can imagine the hard work the ancient people must have went through. Back then, craftsmen accepted the work with a very low pay. They couldnít worry about that. They even had to work through the night. Some think that in that kind of a background the method of Miyajima-carving must have developed. We can be convinced that it has been done for a long time. This is the blood, sweat, and tears of the predecessors.

After hearing the story ...

The fist time I visited was at noon on Monday. To be honest, I was worried thinking that he might be a scary person. But when I met him, he had the expression of a loving Grandfather! The words "Have to have a hungry spirit" really touched my heart. The words that I kind of need myself. It flew into my heart.

Mr. Hirokawa, I will take care of the wooden tray that you carved for me like a treasure. Rather than displaying it, I will use it.

Take care, Mai Taguchi.

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