• 国際協力のプロ育成を目指して

    [From March Issue 2011]

    Director General of Earth the Spaceship
    YAMAMOTO Toshiharu

    Doctor YAMAMOTO Toshiharu had been dispatched to both West Africa and Afghanistan to work as a doctor. While stationed there, his personal goal was to ensure that the locals could continue to provide medical care among themselves after he and the other staff left, but he gradually began to feel that “there was only so much one doctor could do.” This realization led him to establish a nonprofit organization in 2004 called “Earth the Spaceship.”

    The first time Yamamoto visited a foreign country was when he was in the sixth grade of elementary school. “My father, who was an oculist, had to go to South Africa for work, so I accompanied him for about two weeks. It was during the time of apartheid, and when I arrived at the airport, I was shocked to see that the gates for white people were separate from those for colored races,” he recalls. Later, Yamamoto went on to medical college planning to take over his father’s clinic, but because he wanted more control over his own life, he decided to major in both internal medicine and pediatrics.

    Working as a doctor after graduation, Yamamoto earned a Doctor of Medicine degree while also engaging in gene therapy research. Before long, he became the Director of the general hospital in Kanagawa Prefecture, but felt conflicted about pursuing this career path, despite deciding to forego the family clinic. It was then that Yamamoto recalled the situations he witnessed in the developing countries he had often visited to take photographs, a hobby he enjoyed even after becoming a doctor.

    “Even if an international cooperation organization builds a hospital, once they leave, it just ends up a concrete box,” he says. So he soon left the hospital’s directorship and registered with five international cooperation organizations as a doctor to be dispatched to developing countries. In 2001, he traveled to Sierra Leone, West Africa on behalf of Doctors Without Borders. After that experience, he supplied medical help in five other countries, including Afghanistan.

    At present, while continuing to work as a doctor in Japan, Yamamoto spends most of the year on Earth the Spaceship activities. One of its main projects is increasing the number of professionals engaged in international cooperation. “International cooperation tends to be seen as voluntary, but a U.N. or government sponsored program pays over 8 million yen, which is double the average annual income of a Japanese worker. I would like it to be seen as a career path,” he says. In recent years, he has been cooperating with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in offering special classes at elementary and middle schools to introduce the possibilities of international cooperation offer.

    Another ETS project is holding “drawing events” where people around the world draw “the things most important to them.” “Children in Africa draw water, children in Nepal draw schools, and children in Cambodia draw life without war and landmines. Through these drawings, you can see the problems those countries have,” he says, explaining that to date, more than 70 different countries have already participated in this project. “Our goal is to have 200 countries and regions participate,” Yamamoto says.

    Earth the Spaceship


    宇宙船地球号事務局長 山本敏晴さん








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  • 切り絵で日本の伝統美を伝えたい

    [From February Issue 2011]

    Kirie Artist, TAKEOKA Kaori

    “My first encounter with kirie (Japanese paper cutting) was when I tried it in art class in the fourth grade of elementary school,” says kirie artist TAKEOKA Kaori. “And since then, for the last sixteen years, I’ve been fascinated by and passionate about creating them.” Kaori quit her corporate job last fall choosing to follow the path of a kirie artist. “Kirie is the art of paper cutting, with an emphasis on how beautiful you make the cuts look by clipping designs out of the paper. Since kirie are made by hand, each one is unique so there will never be two identical pieces. I always cherish the warmth that comes from handmade work,” she admits.

    As a child Kaori was absorbed in drawing pictures at home rather than playing outside, and she copied anime and manga using her computer. She taught herself both graphic design and kirie, and based her kirie on the computer-generated sketches she created. “Using a utility knife, the kirie-making tool, just came naturally to me,” she says with a smile.

    A huge fan of cartoonist TEZUKA Osamu, Kaori was intrigued by the fantastic manga series “Hi no Tori” (Phoenix) and all the beautiful Phoenix drawings. She created a Phoenix kirie and gave it to her grandma as a present, hoping that it would help her live a long time. She also made kirie birthday cards for her friends. “Seeing how pleased they were to receive my kirie made me very happy,” Kaori recalls.

    Then in earnest she started learning computer graphics at a vocational school. After graduating, while working for a construction-related company, she also held private kirie exhibitions in her spare time, keeping her kirie-making alive. “When there was a pause in the conversation at a company drinking party, I enlivened the mood by creating a kirie portrait of someone I was talking with. So I would always carry my kirie tools in my bag whenever I went to such parties. For me, kirie is a means of communication through which people can connect with each other,” Kaori laughs.

    Recently, she won a prize at an illustration contest hosted by Kodansha Famous Schools, and also made kirie portrait gifts for the winners of the 2009 Best Father Yellow Ribbon Awards (awards given to celebrities chosen as the most fantastic fathers). She has also sent a piece entitled “Sharaku” to an exhibition in Paris. In addition to having private exhibitions at various galleries and cafes, she also holds shows in collaboration with other artists from various fields. Kaori is so skillful that she can finish a kirie portrait using a 10-centimeter-square piece of paper in 10 minutes, without first sketching it out.

    Kaori liked the idea of holding live kirie shows. Once, at a jazz bar, wearing a kimono, she completed a kirie that was inspired by the tune being played by the pianist, before the music stopped. Also, at readings of literary works by EDOGAWA Ranpo and TANIZAKI Junichiro, she created kirie inspired by the novels, as they were being read.

    “When I was working at a company, I was unhappy about not feeling the immediate results of my work. But with kirie, I can feel the response from the spectators on the spot. When I’m making kirie, I can be most like myself and shine with radiance,” she says, about the joy of having become a kirie artist. “My dream is to hold an exhibition in New York and introduce the beauty of Japanese tradition to the world through kirie.”

    Text: HATSUDA Sachiyo


    切り絵師 武岡香織さん





    最近は講談社フェーマススクールズ「イラストコンテスト」に入賞し、2009年度ベスト・ファーザー イエローリボン賞(『素敵なお父さん』とされる著名人を表彰)を受賞した人たちに似顔絵の切り絵を贈りました。そして、パリの展示会には「写楽」を出品しました。ギャラリーやカフェの個展をはじめ、さまざまな分野のアーティストと共同で展示会を開いています。10センチ角の紙の似顔絵は下絵なしで、10分で仕上げることができます。




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  • 古い着物に新しいスタイルを

    [From December Issue 2010]

    Kimono Panel Artist
    Crystal MOREY

    Originally from Dallas, Texas, USA, Crystal MOREY, who has been living in Tokyo for the past 13 years, only began creating her kimono-art in 2001.

    “I feel that kimonos should be displayed, so I started piecing them into panels,” she says. “In Japan, kimonos are no longer worn very often, and the more beautiful silks are only brought out on special occasions – the rest of the time they just sit in closets,” laments this part-time artist and full-time owner/operator of a small Japanese publishing company focusing on Japanese-inspired tattoo art and design books.

    Morey collected kimono and wanted to display them so that others could appreciate the skill and craftsmanship involved in their design. “I wanted to find a way to bring them into the public eye, without sacrificing the enormous wall space that hanging an entire kimono requires,” she explains.

    For her panels she uses more than just kimonos. In fact, Morey regularly scours Tokyo’s vintage clothing stores, while also making special trips to Kyoto, in search of silk, wool, rayon, antique furoshiki (traditional Japanese wrapping cloth used to transport clothes, gifts, or other goods) and tenugui (a thin Japanese hand towel made of cotton). She says that the process, while seemingly simple, does take some practice, skill, and a good eye.

    “The most difficult task is piecing the fabric together – the colors must compliment one another and so must the patterns. Cheaper materials stretch and their colors become compromised. Embroidered materials look amazing but are really difficult to work with because they mess up my straight lines. Slippery silk can also be a nightmare! Each piece is really like a huge puzzle, but once solved, the construction part is easy,” she confides.

    Depending on the labor and materials involved each art-panel takes roughly two weeks to complete, and retails for between 10,000 yen and 50,000 yen. Commissioned pieces, her favorite projects, cost more because of the specificity of the request. But these days, she is so busy that there is a six month waiting list for her work.

    So how do traditional Japanese people feel about her kimono panels? “I honestly wasn’t sure how they would respond. Kimonos are an art form in and of themselves and I wasn’t sure if they would appreciate me cutting them up! But I showed my work at Design Festa in 2008, and their uniqueness was well received. I got loads of positive feedback,” she beams, adding that at that time a gallery in Chiba bought one for display, while a Kyoto-based interior design company contacted her about selling them as well. Now, Morey holds exhibitions in and around Tokyo, across Japan, and as far away as Australia, the USA and Europe.

    Crystal MOREY
    Photos: Seishiro Jay TOMIOKA

    Text: Stephen LEBOVITS







    「最も難しい作業は織物をつぎはぎする部分です。色は互いに引き立て合わなければならないですし、柄もそうです。生地は安いほど伸びますし色も変わります。刺しゅうした生地は、見た目は素晴らしいですが、作業するのは本当に難しいです。だって私の引きたい直線の通りになりませんからね。つるつるした絹は最悪です! 布の一枚一枚がまさに大きなパズルのようですが、一旦パズルが解ければ、組み立て作業は簡単です」と明かします。





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  • ジャンルを超えて音楽の楽しさを伝えたい

    [From November Issue 2010]

    Traditional Japanese Musician
    HAMANE Yuka

    “Hogaku” is a particular type of traditional Japanese music. Koto, shamisen and shakuhachi are its core instruments. And, there are many hogaku schools offering to teach its various styles. The head of each school is called “iemoto” and they are usually succeeded by their children. Players are usually ranked according to the skills and the number of years they have been studying.

    Musician HAMANE Yuka is a member of the group “Seiha Hougaku-kai,” which plays the “Ikuta-ryu” school of hogaku, using the koto instrument. She is ranked as “dai-shihan,” just behind “iemoto.” She has played on the recordings of 11 CDs, including her own solo project and two of her group’s projects. In addition to being a musician, she teaches koto, shamisen and singing, and also judges contests.

    When she was eight years old, Hamane started learning koto at the behest of her father, shakuhachi player HAMANE Kanzan. “I remember one time when I was putting more of my efforts into my school subjects and my father said, ‘you should spend more time practicing the koto,’” Hamane recalls with a laugh. After graduating from high school, she entered the Seiha Ongakuin music school, where upon graduating she received the President’s Award. She also won first prize at a MAKINO Yutaka’s compositions contest and further passed auditions at NHK.

    However, times have changed since Hamane was a child. Now, fewer children are learning hogaku, and she does not have as many teaching jobs. She eventually started playing music anywhere she was offered a job, including in Japanese restaurants. “At those places, what they wanted was not my music but a woman wearing a kimono and playing a koto. Sometimes I was told to play while there was a different back ground music. After I got married and had a child, I had to keep the balance between bringing up my child and doing my work,” she explains.

    “However, I am happy about having been able to make my living with just music. Some of my friends were not able to carry on,” explains Hamane, adding, “Also, I feel I have been able to create humanistic and warm sounds because I have continued to accomplish two equally important things, my work and parenthood.”

    Nowadays, young Japanese people don’t listen to hogaku much anymore. Hamane thinks the problem lies with the performers. “They are too conservative. I have heard that, in one school, a member cannot start a new activity unless iemoto approves of it. There are also some teachers who are only interested in the traditional forms, without conveying the joy of all music,” she says.

    In 1998, Hamane and her friends formed the group, “T’s color.” The band consists of four hogaku musicians and one westerner. They add pop elements to hogaku and create their own lyrics and melodies. In 2003, she also opened a school for hogaku singing. “There is no system in Japan that teaches how to sing songs in Japanese. I thought there was a need, so I myself started the school to fill it.”

    Since the Meiji Era, only western music has been taught at schools in Japan, but nowadays hogaku is also being offered. “School music teachers now come to study hogaku, and inexpensive easy-to-use instruments are selling well. I want people to learn how to enjoy all kinds of music. So for that reason, I play music that transcends categorization.”

    HAMANE Yuka

    Photos for : HAMANO Yutaka

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo


    邦楽の演奏者 浜根由香さん







    1998年、浜根さんは仲間といっしょにT’s colorというグループをつくりました。メンバーのうち4人は邦楽、1人は西洋音楽の演奏者です。邦楽にポップスなどをとり入れ、自分たちで作詞・作曲をしています。また2003年には邦楽の歌の教室も始めました。「今の日本には日本語の歌を教えるしくみがないのです。必要だと思ったので私が始めました」。




    文:砂崎 良

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  • 愛される盆栽をつくりたい

    [From October Issue 2010]

    OSHIMA Megumi,
    Owner of Midoriya Nicogusa

    Bonsai (tray cultivation) is a type of cultivation that was born in China and brought to Japan during the Heian period (794 ~ 1192). With bonsai, you grow plants in containers of varying widths, usually measuring 30 or 50 centimeters (cm). At the bonsai shop Midoriya Nicogusa in Kichijoji, Tokyo, they mainly sell small-sized bonsai trees of about 15 cm in height and potted moss of about 5 cm in diameter.

    Shop owner OSHIMA Megumi enjoys answering customers’ questions about bonsai, while also teaching bonsai classes at various cultural centers. She is both a licensed color coordinator and interior decorator. Oshima even designed her shop’s Japanese-styled interior.

    “If you give it enough care, a bonsai will live for decades,” says Oshima. “It will continue to grow and its trunk will get thicker every year. Knowing that it will last, taking care of the tree becomes enjoyable. Even after many years, you will always find pleasure in it.” However, Oshima was not always a bonsai dealer. Initially she worked at an electrical appliance manufacturing company. “It was a stable but predictable job. And I kept wondering if I should continue doing it.”

    Then she encountered bonsai. “I was given a lovely bonsai from a friend but soon let it wither. The regret made me study why it happened and, in the process, I became fascinated with bonsai,” she recalls. Oshima went to bonsai classes and started to sell her own bonsai at flea markets. Before long, she was asked to sell bonsai at a department store. Although her bonsai continued to sell there, she was dissatisfied with some of the conditions and the care given to them. “It’s better to have regrets about something after trying, than not to try at all,” she says. Oshima then decided to open her own shop.

    However, in her shop’s first year, not much sold. “I thought it would be difficult to attract customers with only bonsai so I started the shop as a place to sell bonsai and other variety goods. The problem was that there were already so many variety shops in Kichijoji. Those goods didn’t sell at our shop, and the dead stock just kept accumulating.” But soon after she changed it into a bonsai specialty shop, her number of regular customers increased.

    Some bonsai trees are said to be more than 1,000 years old, with some costing more than 10 million yen. The bonsai sold at Nicogusa, however, only cost around several thousand yen each. “There are various ways of thinking about bonsai,” says Oshima. “Some people are conservative, while others do as they like in cultivating their bonsai. Some say that you should take the time to study proper bonsai technique. Others prefer to leave bonsai to professionals and just enjoy looking at them. There are even those who criticize bonsai as unnatural gardening that forces plants to grow in small flowerpots.”

    For Oshima, it is fine to have various ways of thinking. “I want people to enjoy bonsai more casually. A tree that seems lonely actually has living strength. Some trees endure nature’s severity yet grow quite large. I think the expression of nature’s power is what small-potted bonsai is all about.”

    Midoriya Nicogusa

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo


    みどり屋 和草オーナー
    大島 恵さん

    盆栽は中国で生まれ、平安時代(794~1192年)に日本へ来た園芸です。通常は30~50センチの鉢の中で植物を育てます。東京・吉祥寺にある盆栽の店「みどり屋 和草」は、主に小さな盆栽を販売しています。高さ15センチほどの木や直径5センチほどの鉢に植えられた苔などです。







    みどり屋 和草

    文:砂崎 良

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  • 花と人を結ぶ花結い師

    [From September Issue 2010]

    TAKAYA, Hanayuishi

    Kyoto resident TAKAYA is a “hanayuishi,” one who decorates people’s hair uniquely with fresh flowers. Takaya invented the word himself to describe the concept of somebody who handles flowers like a stylist treats people’s hair. People who see his work are surprised at how many flowers he uses in his designs. His work has been reported on TV and in other media, bringing him much notoriety.

    TAKAYA was initially a licensed cook of French cuisine. When he was 24 years old he opened a cafe and started decorating the interior with flowers. That’s when he had the idea of creating floral hair styles. “I had a hobby taking photographs, and I imagined taking pictures of women whose hair was adorned with flowers, something I had communed with since my childhood,” he recalls.

    When TAKAYA was a cook, he was fond of food arrangement, a skill he acquired through training. However, his flower arranging was completely self-taught. “I don’t sketch designs. Each flower has its own face. Their conditions change by the moment. And, from the start, I considered speed as an important factor. During a bride’s wardrobe change at her wedding reception, I make it a rule to complete her hair design within five minutes so that it will not slow down the event.”

    For one hair style TAKAYA charges 50,000 yen. Many orders come from women who want to make their special occasion the most memorable day of their lives. TAKAYA charges 300,000 yen for two hair styles during a wedding ceremony. “Everyone has childhood memories of making flower rings with white clover. I would be glad if my decorating their hair brings back such memories,” he says.

    Although it seems like doing this type of work came easily, it was not always so. Because it was such a new art form – neither simple hair design, nor mere flower arranging – his work has sometimes been considered exceptional and other times received critiques concerning his techniques.

    “When I came up with the idea of “hanayui,” I had the image of a Paris Collection. Like producing a fashion show, I take into account the volume of the woman’s hair and face that I’m going to decorate with flowers in order to create a form that will wholly harmonize with her kimono or dress. Since I consider myself an artist, I get most satisfied with good results,” he says.

    TAKAYA’s skills, which accentuate a bride’s beauty, are garnering a lot of attention through his participation in designer KATSURA Yumi’s “Bridal Fair.” In spite of that, his intention now is to teach his staff so that they can eventually take over from him. “I’m aiming at an operation of bridal services that will be carried out by my staff independently. I’m now planning to offer classes to pass on my skills to the general public.”

    While his “hanayui” work is growing, TAKAYA is also conquering new challenges. “I’ve been actively engaged in performance art such as including “hanayui” in original, contemporary dance routines. I also have plans to collaborate with solo performers. I would further like to spread my work into magazines and advertisements too,” he adds.

    TAKAYA, Hanayuishi 

    Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko













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  • 家族で創るミニチュア・ドールハウスの世界

    [From September Issue 2010]

    Mini Chuubouan
    KAWAI Yukio and KAWAI Tomoko

    For the last 30 years KAWAI Yukio has been running the small factory that he took over from his father. In addition, he and his wife Tomoko also manage Mini Chuubouan, a small atelier housed in a rebuilt part of the factory. At this atelier, they produce and sell miniature kitchen utensils for dollhouses. Yukio is in charge of producing machined ironware while his wife is responsible for hand-making fake food and other small articles out of clay. Their customers come from all over Japan.

    It was because of Tomoko’s hobby that they turned part of the small factory into an atelier. “I’d been attending a dollhouse-making class, and I always wanted miniature pots made of copper, just like real ones,” recalls Tomoko. “When I asked my husband to make them, he agreed to, saying that we can try by making use of our traditional skills.” “Incorporating all of her requests, I made sample pieces one after another, and it took me a few months to produce exactly what she wanted,” Yukio remembers.

    The finished products were made of real copper or stainless steel, and their designs resembled those of real pots. Those miniatures were so well received by Tomoko’s fellow students, that they were soon flooded with orders. “Due to the recession, the amount of work at the factory had been declining, but we got busy with the dollhouse thing as if it was our main business,” Yukio says with a laugh.

    Most of their pieces are no bigger than a 10 yen coin, and Yukio makes them while wearing special magnifying glasses. He pays attention to every little detail by making patterns, smoothing out the surface and attaching the handles, but the machines he uses are mostly outdated ones that he inherited from his father. Yukio believes that his method adds more warmth to them, compared to the ones created with modern computerized equipment.

    Now even their daughter Asami, a fine art college graduate, is involved in their business. “In the beginning, she was just helping us out, but I guess she found it interesting,” says Yukio. “Now the three of us talk about things together when we are working or attending events.” Just like her mother, Asami also makes food and small articles by hand out of clay, and enjoys joining her parents at various organized events.

    Dollhouse artists and collectors can be found all over the world. This past April, Mini Chuubouan participated for the first time in an event held in Chicago, and came away inspired by dollhouse miniaturists from other countries. “We would like to keep creating items that can be highly praised not only in Japan but in other countries as well,” says Yukio.

    Tomoko says that the good problem they are now facing is that they are so busy that they don’t have enough time to create new items. She adds that their website receives an average of about 2,000 hits daily, and on weekends, when many people visit their shop or they participate in events, they just get too busy to do anything else. Despite this inconvenience, Yukio says that they don’t intend to hire additional help because they only want to produce pieces that they are completely satisfied with. “As a family, we understand each other and that makes the creative process work. But the most important thing is to make pieces that will please our customers.”

    Mini Chuubouan











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  • インテリアとしても愛される仏像の魅力を伝える

    [From August Issue 2010]

    MORITA Inc.

    MORITA Inc. deals mainly in Buddhist images. The original company, established in 1968, sold carved wooden ornaments called “engimono” (good luck charms). However, their popularity soon waned and while the company tried to find its next product line, Representative Director MORITA Shigeru, who took over the company from his grandfather, noticed the popularity of Buddhist images.

    “First, we were providing hand-carved Buddha images to shrines and temples. But when we started a mail-order business for our customers about eight years ago, we sold 5,000 items in three months. I myself became interested in Buddhist imagery, also finding them attractive,” recalls Morita. His company then started the “Butsuzou World” original brand two years ago to further develop and sell their items to the general public.

    Presently, their main product is the “Real Butsuzou” line of lifelike reproductions of Buddhist images that have been designated as Japanese natural treasures, including Ashura (the aggressive guardians), Senju-Kannon (the Goddess of Mercy with a thousand arms) and Miroku Bosatsu (The Buddha of the Future). Each realistic, miniature copy measures 20 ~ 50 cm in height. And while they are all made with identical silicon molds to ensure excellent detail, they all turn out to be slightly different from one other. The finishing touches are then done by professional craftsmen. Finally, the color and gold leaf is also manually applied.

    For instance, Ashura (63,000 yen) is supposed to be a “very detailed copy of the existing image,” featuring peeling gold leaf to resemble the original 1,300-year old artwork. When “The National Treasure ASHURA and Masterpieces of Kohfukuji” attracted more than 900,000 people in Tokyo, MORITA Inc.’s “Real Butsuzou” brand instantly attracted a lot of media attention. Last year they sold 1,700 copies of the Ashura figure alone.

    Morita, who continues to actively attend department store events across the country, says that “men and women of younger generations look upon Buddha images as fine art, and share new information with me. Most of our customers seem to buy them as interior decorations without much religious motivation. Our product is also popular among people who demand high quality when they buy things such as a camera or a watch.”

    Although Butsuzou World has grown in popularity because of the boom in Buddha images, Morita hopes that its popularity won’t end there. “Through Buddha images, I want to share with the world our beautiful, traditional Japanese culture and spirituality, that we should be proud of. We have to keep on and hand it down to the next generation,” he says.

    MORITA Inc. has a gallery at its main office in Higashi-matsuyama, Saitama Prefecture, a retail shop in Tokyo’s Akihabara area, as well as also exhibiting and selling items in various department stores in the Tokyo area. “I want to make Butsuzou World grow into a more stable brand and then open a satellite store in Tokyo within three years. After that, we are thinking about expanding into Europe,” he alludes.

    MORITA Inc.






    たとえば、阿修羅(63,000円)の「細密現存仕様」の場合、金箔のはがれ具合や1,300年を経た風合いまで実物そっくりです。そして、東京だけで90万人以上が来場した昨年の「国宝 阿修羅展」をきっかけにメディアで取り上げられると、リアル仏像はたちまち話題になりました。阿修羅は去年だけで1,700体も売れました。





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  • しきたりにとらわれず、伝統芸能を今に伝える

    [From August Issue 2010]

    YOUKI Magosaburo XII,
    Leader of the Marionette Theatre Company Youkiza

    The “Youkiza” marionette theater company was established during the Edo Period, in 1635. On stage they perform the Japanese traditional art form “Edo ito ayatsuri ningyou.” The troupe’s founder, YOUKI Magosaburo, has had his name passed down from generation to generation, and in 1993, the 12th-generation leader took it on. Magosaburo XII was born as the second son to Magosaburo X and started performing when he was only four years old. Now, at 67, he is still on stage.

    A puppeteer uses “teita” (hand boards) to control the marionette’s expressions and movements. More than 10 strings from the teita are tied to the marionette’s various joints, including the head, shoulder, arms and legs. Magosaburo says, “It is different from acting done by humans because the marionette has a limit to its expressions and movements. So it is an art with insufficiency and imperfection.”

    “But that is all the more reason that I feel it is worth the effort,” he says. However, it wasn’t until his early 30’s that he became fascinated with the art of the puppeteering. “Ever since I was in elementary school, I would have to go to 3 after-school lessons a day, including Japanese dance, kyogen (traditional comic theater), and noh (traditional masked theater); and then on weekends, I would help my father who worked on marionette TV programs. When I was a latter teenager, I yearned for the ordinary life that my friends had – like going to college and becoming a businessman,” he recalls.

    Although displeased, he continued as a puppeteer. After getting married, and expecting a child, his mentality changed. “I worked all my life as a puppeteer, so I did not know any world beyond it. Finally at that age, I learned to accept the art as my work and it became very interesting,” he said adding that “I decided that instead of becoming a good puppeteer, I would aim to become a unique one.”

    And he did. He remembers that he would “try various staging styles that were, until then, considered taboo, such as leaving a marionette on the stage for a full scene, or biting on dolls. Of course I did all this because it was effective staging.” He recalls that “it was much better than expected and was well received,” especially when he had inexperienced audience members learn basic puppeteer skills, and then have them control a scene where the puppets flee from an air-raid, producing a more realistic effect.

    During overseas productions, which the company began during his father’s era, Magosaburo XII was bold. “In Britain not only did we perform traditional Japanese plays, but we also daringly performed Shakespeare. We always perform stories that are familiar to the people of the country we visit so that our show is reviewed for its storytelling and performance, and not just as a traditional art form from a foreign country,” he explains.

    More recently, Magosaburo XII has started giving workshops to elementary and middle school children who live in the area around his studio. “I hope many people, young, old and non-Japanese, will come to casually experience the art of puppeteering and enjoy it. Personally, I would like to continue performing on stage for another 10 years, to ensure that our performance company will be there for the next generation.”




    結城座座長 十二代目 結城孫三郎さん









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  • 飛べない白鳥の世話をするペンキ屋さん

    [From June Issue 2010]

    HIROI Yoshinobu

    Every year around October, various migratory birds fly to the Japanese Archipelago. Since it is too cold for them to feed in Siberia during the winter, they migrate to a warmer Japan for their food. For two weeks they fly between 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers from the Eurasian Continent.

    Facing the Sea of Japan, in Shibata City, Niigata Prefecture, lies Lake Masugata, just one of the destinations for hundreds of swans who make it their home from October through April, before returning to Siberia in the spring. Among them, however, is one swan that is a Masugata resident. About 10 years ago it was seriously wounded and lost its right wing, making it unable to fly, and even the locals don’t know how it happened.

    In Masugata, the bogs are full of water grass. The lake is surrounded by low mountains, which shield it from both wind and heat – great conditions for a flightless swan during Japan’s severely hot summers. However, since it is difficult to survive on only nature-supplied food, the swan has been getting some local help.

    HIROI Yoshinobu, a paint shop owner for 40 years, has visited Lake Masugata to feed the crippled swan every morning before going to work, regardless of whether it is rainy, windy, snowy or freezing cold.

    Since his youth, Hiroi has taken regular walks around Masugata, but it was only 10 years ago that he first encountered a woman who was giving the wounded swan some bread. That’s when he decided to start feeding it rice. He had seen other swans foraging for food in rice paddies during the winter, and thought it would be nice to give the wounded swan some similar food.

    Hiroi first bought “irigo,” or unripened rice, from both the Agricultural Cooperative Association and local farmers. Since it was light and floated easily on water, he thought it would be most suitable for the swan. Thirty kilograms cost about 2,500 yen, and was enough to feed the swan for about five days. Nowadays, according to Hiroi, many neighboring farmers bring him rice to, “Please give to the swan.”

    Over the past 10 years, many people have fed the swan, but Hiroi is the only one who does it regularly. One day, Hiroi had something he had to do at his workplace, so he headed to Masugata later than usual. Upon arriving, he saw the swan standing on the shore gazing at him, making him feel guilty for being late. However, Hiroi felt deeply moved by the fact that the wild swan was waiting for him.

    Hiroi passionately admits that “as the person who started the feeding, I have a responsibility. The life expectancy of a swan is about 24 years. I imagine that this swan will live for at least another 10 years or so. I’m not sure who will live longer, the swan or I, but I intend to take care of until the day it dies.”

    When other swans start their return journey north, the wounded swan tries to follow, but with just one wing, it can only fly about two meters. Hiroi, who has been watching those attempts for ten years, says, “I really feel sorry for the bird. I wish I could send it back, at least once, to its homeland of Siberia.”

    Moreover, Hiroi organized the “Yamabiko-kai” (Echo Club) with the people he met at Masugata, and keeps in touch with them by taking trips and having meals together. Some new members have even joined after seeing him feed the swan. “The wounded swan has brought me encounters with so many people,” he remarks.

    One time, while Hiroi was feeding the swan as usual, a stranger approached, offering him a painting job. Like the old Japanese story, “Tsuru no Ongaeshi” (Crane’s Repayment of Kindness), for Hiroi, that repayment really happened.

    Hiroi admits that although he’s taking care of the swan voluntarily, he knows that he is also getting a lot of cooperation from the bird. “Live and let live. I wish we could all be friends,” he says as the tears welled up in his eyes. The flightless swan of Masugata, that Hiroi protects, is loved by everyone still today.

    Text: HAMADA Miyako
















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