09. From 1656 to today and into the future | Torakichi Izumi, The 10th generation of the original lacquer brush artisan
Torahiko Izumi balances his work using cutting-edge technology with passing on skills that have been handed down since 1656. We asked him about his thoughts on living in the world of manufacturing, which has not changed in the past or in the future.
Torakichi Izumi (Seikichi Izumi X)
Trained by his father, Seikichi Izumi IX, Izumi began his training as a lacquer brush artisan at an early age. He is the only person in the world to have inherited the traditional Edo technique, which has been passed down orally from one generation to the next for more than 360 years since Seikichi Izumi I.
While training as a lacquer-brush artisan with Seikichi Izumi IX, he is also working for the creation of new industries and a new ecosystem in traditional culture, and for the promotion of cultural arts and the development of the cultural economy in Japan.
Torakichi Izumi, Lacquer Brush Artisan (Seikichi Izumi X) Official Page https://www.torakichi-izumi.com/
As a person who connects history
- First, please tell us about the lacquer brush.
Lacquer brushes are brushes specially made to apply lacquer beautifully. They are used by lacquer craftsmen and artists, including living national treasures, and are also used in the restoration of cultural properties such as temples and shrines, national treasures, important cultural properties, and world heritage sites.
In 1656, Seikichi Izumi I invented Japan's first lacquer brush with the three characteristics of "using human hair," "pencil shape with the hair running all the way to the end," and "hardened hair board made of barley lacquer". For more than 360 years since then, Izumi Seikichi has been the only company in the world that has continued to carry on the traditional Edo technique by oral transmission of the technique from one generation to the next. The traditional Izumi Seikichi Brush, which has been handed down from the first generation, still uses 100% Japanese hair of old kamojis and century-old Kiso hinoki cypress as materials.
- When did you first become aware of the possibility of taking over the family business?
Ever since I was a small child, I always helped my father make lacquer brushes. It was not until I was 20 years old that I decided to become a lacquer brush maker seriously.
For many years, together with my father, I have met and talked with restorers, people who make materials and tools, and artisans of the lacquer art. In the process, we learned that if the lacquer brushes were lost, some of the wonderful Japanese history and traditions that have continued for thousands or hundreds of years would cease to exist. Of course, I have no intention of being proud that I am carrying the history and traditions of Japan on my shoulders, but I came to believe that I am connected to such wonderful things and that I can support them behind the scenes. Since then, I have been determined to push forward on my path as a lacquer brush artisan.
- Has the method of making lacquer brushes remained exactly the same for more than 360 years?
The production process has not changed at all since the time of the first generation. Of course, there are several types and brands of lacquer brushes that we make, but the Seikichi Izumi brush is the pinnacle of lacquer brushes, and we use the same materials as the first generation. However, as those who know me well know, I like to try new things. After the first generation, each of us has tried various ways to make a better product, but in the end, the way of the first generation is still the best way to make the best lacquer brushes. We have tried many things, especially in the last few decades when technology has made remarkable progress, but we still can't surpass it.
Looking out to the wider world
- In addition to being a lacquer brush artisan, you have many other projects.
Based on my work as a lacquer brush artissan, I am working hard every day to build a sustainable ecosystem for traditional Japanese culture. I also do some design work, although the balance is sometimes different.
As a business designer, I was sometimes involved in new business development, PM/PdM of web services and products, and content marketing, while as a graphic designer, I was involved in the production of graphics, mainly video, director of distribution, and VR development.
I don't come from a consulting background, so I tend to work on an accompaniment basis, or rather, I actually work hands-on or physically in the field. I simply like to be in the field. When I explain my work in this way, I am often told that people don't understand what I do, but it is like working two or three full time jobs at the same time, so inevitably my stories become more complex.
- You must be very busy everyday!
It may seem as if I am doing completely different projects, but in my mind, they are all connected, and making lacquer brushes and my other jobs are all about "monozukuri" (manufacturing). I originally became interested in filmmaking after making a film with friends at a high school festival, and I started tinkering with Adobe applications in college. In order to gain more practical skills, I started working part-time in advertising and design. I realized that in order to create better designs, I needed to get involved in the business field, so I started participating in business contests. I later won the grand prize and joined the company that sponsored the contest as a new graduate to start my career in the business field.
- Where does the energy come from to constantly try new things?
After all, I love making things, and I want to "keep making good things," so I think that naturally gives me energy. I think it is also because I simply like doing new things. Modern manufacturing really involves the interaction of many different elements, and in order to continue to make truly good products, it is necessary to deepen our understanding of each element and pursue its quality. That is why I believe that I have to study and challenge myself to learn new things every day.
In order to continue to produce good lacquer brushes, for example, it is necessary to consider the business area at the same time as pursuing the adjustment of the planer to shave the board. In particular, since lacquer brushes are tools, it is not enough just to produce a masterpiece for a moment, but it is necessary to continue to provide the best products in a stable manner at all times. I entered a company as a new graduate because I vaguely felt that in order to continue my idea of "good manufacturing" in the future, I needed to come into direct contact with business, technology, and creativity, and learn about the world of the future where these elements will blend together.
Bridging cultural tradition and the world
- It seems to me that you are working at both extremes: technical transmission from 1656 and cutting-edge technology.
When I work with lacquer brushes and traditional culture, I often have moments when I think about the "accumulation" that has brought us to the present. I often think about my own ancestors. I feel that the past, the future, and the present are in continuity.
At the same time, I sometimes feel this way when I am doing modern work today. I believe that there is a commonality in the universality of manufacturing, but since every technology is based on the accumulation of our predecessors, we must first learn from the past in order to do something new.
For example, when you want to render graphics in real time, you have to think about the calculation formulas and game engine architecture running behind the scenes, how the human eye is structured and why it perceives things the way it does, and what light and waves are in the first place. I am an amateur because I did not study such things at university, but I think that in the end, basic technology is still important. At least in my case, even though I am working with the latest technology, I do not feel detached from the past, but rather feel that I have much to learn from the past and my predecessors.
- Do you have a goal to be the only one in the world to inherit the lacquer brush technique?
The first and most important thing is to continue to hone my skills as a lacquer brush artisan and pass them on to future generations. I am convinced that I can only do this because I am involved not only in the field of traditional culture, but also in business, technology, and creativity. I would like to help bridge the gap between traditional culture and other areas through collaboration and co-creation with a wide variety of people in order to implement a sustainable ecosystem of traditional Japanese culture in society and to achieve this goal.
I believe that this is the meaning of my name, Seikichi Izumi X, and that it is my destiny and what I should spend my life to accomplish.
Photographer: Ryo Kawano
Exploring lives of young practitioners of Japan's artistic heritage.
- List -
01. [Dance] Nakamuraryu - Ume Nakamura (Part1)
01. [Dance] Nakamuraryu - Ume Nakamura (Part2)
02. [Sing] Itchu-bushi - Ryochu Miyako
03. [Sencha tea] My Sencha Salon - Iga Michiho
04. [Flower Arrangement] Sekiso school - Shoko Okudaira (Part1)
04. [Flower Arrangement] Sekiso school - Shoko Okudaira (Part2)
05. [Urushi Laquer] Urushi artist - Tomoya Murose
06. [Glass art] Edo-kiriko Kobayashi - Kohei Kobayashi (Part 1)
06. [Glass art] Edo-kiriko Kobayashi - Kohei Kobayashi (Part 2)
07. [Tea] Edosenke - Hiroyuki Kawakami
08. [Tatami] Tanaka Tatami - Hiroyuki Tanaka
09. [Lacquer brush] The 10th generation of the original lacquer brush artisan - Torakichi Izumi