Country Workshops
Country Workshops’ 2008 craft tour in Japan was a year in the planning.  Besides the tour, Drew arranged  to teach a chairmaking class in Japan, and there was time for the Langsners to travel and visit friends for about 1 week.

If you are interested in participating in a future Country Workshops craft tour, contact us by phone (828 656 2280) or e-mail and we will get information to you when it becomes available.
Country Workshops Class Schedule
Sep 24, 2008 -- I fly from Asheville, NC to Detroit, and then on to Japan. Because this trip crosses the international dateline  I arrive one day later. I flew into the new international airport at Nagoya, an industrial city that is home of Toyota. I am met by new friends Masashi Kutsuwa and his wife Madoka Tone. Masashi is a woodworker and teacher; Madoka is a lacquer artist who was very pregnant at this date.


Sep 27 - 29 -- I’m very busy teaching Part A of a ladderback chairmaking class at Gifu Academy of Forest Science and Culture. The class was arranged by Masashi and sponsored by the very new Japan Greenwoodworker’s Association. I had 8 students; 4 men and 4 women. Plus Masashi and his friend Shin as helpers. In Part A, we worked with green wood, which happened to be Japanese chestnut. The logs were rived into chair parts, then shaved into posts and rungs. The posts were heated in a boiling water bath and then put onto bending forms. At the end of Part A we improvised a heat chamber to kiln dry the rungs. Part B of this course, utilizing dry wood,  would take place at the end of my month long stay in Japan.



Oct 1 - 3 -- We are based in Gifu Prefecture which is north of Nagoya and east from Kyoto. Masashi arranged our lodgings at Masunoya Ryokan, located in the mountains just outside of the small city of Mino. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. The rooms have tatami floor mats and we slept on futons – quite comfortable.  Of course you always take off your street shoes when entering the buildings. Funky sandals are usually provided at the doorway.

Our tour guide and translator Lena Kamigata took this photo. Group members are:
Back row – Paul and Dorcas Taylor (from Newport, RI), Hiroko Sakurai (owner of Masunoya Ryokan), Kathy Freeman (Chapel Hill, NC), Gretchen Ford (Kenmore, NY), David Freeman (husband of Kathy), Jules Mayer (Puyallup, WA)
Middle row - Maria Martinez (Medellin, Columbia), Christina (Okinawa, Japan), Dan McNeill (in sunglasses; Pointe-Claire, Canada)
Bottom row - Carol Crye (Knoxville, TN), Rick Popp (Carol’s husband), Olivia Popp (their daughter)
For one special lunch Masunoya Ryokan prepared a meal with 5 different ways of preparing fish from the nearby river. It was delicious!



Oct 1 -- The tour had a great start when we attended a lecture on traditional Japanese residential architecture.  The speaker was Hiromi Mabuchi, a maker of traditional tansu (wooden cabinets). The location was Mr. Mabuchi’s home, which is a fully restored 19th century merchant’s house that was moved from nearby Gifu City.



Oct 2 -- This was one of our busiest days. In the morning we were at the workshop of Seiichi Nasu, one of the last craftsmen who builds traditional wooden boats that are used for river fishing with cormorants. These birds are the symbol for Gifu Prefecture.
When we arrived at Mr. Nasu’s workshop he was ready to turn the boat he was working on bottom-side up. Of course we were happy to lend a hand. He then showed us the technique for trimming excess planking with an adze.
This is Mr. Nasu’s personal boat, tied up just across the road from his home and workshop.
After lunch we had visits with two different washi (paper) makers. The first visit was at the workshop of Masashi Sawamura. Mr. Sawamura is an official “national living treasure”. He had recently completed 4,000 sheets for repapering the shoji screens at the Imperial Palace  in Kyoto.
Washi is predominantly made from the inner bark of mulberry saplings. It’s soaked, cooked, pounded and shredded, then put into a water bath where it is stirred into a perfectly even suspension. It’s then picked up with a wooden frame screen, pressed and dried in the sun.
Next we visited Naritoshi Hoki, a  younger washi maker who is creating new variations of this ancient craft.
Mr. Hoki showed us examples of his new papers that utilize 2 or 3 laminated layers. The paper making is still traditional; the patterns are computer generated.



Oct 4 - 8 -- The middle part of our tour was based in Sasayama, located about 1-1/2 hour drive west from Kyoto. We stayed at Takasago Ryokan, located at the main crossroads of the old section of Sasayama known as “Little Kyoto.”
This is one of the beautiful breakfasts served at Takasago. Each place setting included – green tea, sliced daikon, fresh tofu (very light and sweet), nori (seaweed – for eating with rice, not yet served), something I can’t identify right now, smoked local river fish, and omelet.  Coffee was also always available.



Oct 4 -- Our first visit in the Sasayama area was with potter Minoru Enomoto and his wife Haruko. We visited the Enomotos during our 2004 and 2005 tours, and Minoru (I can use his first name comfortably!) visited us in North Carolina in 2006. The Enomotos also prepared an especially fine home style supper for us. Before becoming a professional potter Minoru operated a Chinese restaurant in Osaka. During the week after the tour Louise and I had an opportunity to visit the Enomotos once again.
This is Minoru’s pottery showroom. He makes a vary wide variety of wares, from everyday cups, plates, bowls and servers to art objects for collectors. Needless to say, almost everyone in our  group had to buy something here.



Oct 5 -- Keiji Higashi is a ranma carver. Ranma are decorative wooden panels that are located above the lintel of a doorway. Mr. Higashi’s specialty is carving the very elaborate, illustrative ranma that are incorporated in the main entrance of both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.  The wood for these pieces is Japanese elm, about 4 inches thick.
This is a close up of Mr. Higashi’s very impressive work.
On this same day we visited Tree House, the restaurant operated by Lena Kamigata’s parents. Lena’s father, Osamu, was the architect and builder. The logs are from Finland, and they came to Japan with a professional log builder . Lena’s mother, Midori, runs the restaurant. We were served a delicious Japanese curry lunch, with coffee and a special desert made just for us.
This afternoon we visit turner and lacquer artist Hideharu Kobayashi. Mr Kobayashi did a wonderful bowl turning demo for us, and then took us into his finishing room where he explained the steps in using urushi (natural lacquer, from a tree similar to sumac) for his finishes, which can be natural, burnt orange or black.  He mostly likes to turn Japanese elm.
These are a few examples of Mr. Kobayashi’s turned lacquer wares.  This is functional work, meant for real use. We have several pieces which I brought home from the 2004 and ’05 tours. The hard urushi finish still looks pristine --  very impressive.



Oct 6 -- We had a full day to be introduced to the craft of making a samurai sword blade. Our host was Sumihira Manabe. For this day we also had special help in translating, thanks to Pierre Nadeau, a Canadian who is in his second year of a blade making apprenticeship. Mr. Manabe is one of the few sword blade makers who starts production of each piece with steel that he personally smelts, starting with high iron content river sand. Our visit began with a PowerPoint presentation that showed all of the major steps in the process. We then went to Mr. Manabe’s showroom, where we had a chance to see sample blades, which are made in 3 sizes. This room also contains his finishing area, where the blades are scraped and polished.
Mr. Manabe also did a forge-weld laminating demonstration for us, using a small knife for the sample. In the Japanese custom, the smith stands in or sits on the rim of a pit in the floor. The traditional anvil is a slightly tapered rectangular  loaf-like shape. Very solid. The forge utilizes both electric blowers and a traditional double-action hand worked bellows.
It appears that most Japanese blade and tool makers have a small Shinto shrine somewhere in their workshop. I’m guessing that the lightening bolts represent the natural heat and energy that is the essence of blacksmithing.



Oct 7 -- This very full day was in the city of Himeji, where we were guests at the Enzan Memorial Museum of Art. Enzan is a private museum dedicated to teaching the public about traditional Japanese arts at their highest and most sophisticated level. This is the courtyard, which you see immediately after coming in the front doorway. To the right is the lobby and a group of rooms that recreate the interior of a very beautiful traditional home. On the left side of the courtyard there are workshops and classrooms..
When we entered the lobby we were greeted by the owner, Masuro Ijiri, a retired professor of aesthetics who lives in  Kyoto. After seeing the ground level part of the museum, we went upstairs to the conference room for coffee, and a discussion with Professor Ijiri about the relationship of Japanese philosophy, religion and art. During this very special day we were so fully engaged that everyone agreed to forgo our usual lunch break.
The staff at Enzan arranged for a craft artist to demonstrate several ways to weave an obi, the special cord that closes a kimono. Several types of obi looms were available, and various members of our group had a chance to experience the process. That’s Maria Martinez on the left.



Oct 8 - 10 -- This morning we returned to Watazen Ryokan in Kyoto. This is a smallish older ryokan located on a very narrow street just off of one of the major downtown cross roads.  From Watazen we can walk to many of Kyoto’s attractions or easily take one of the many busses and subways. We also discovered that taxi fare in Kyoto is quite reasonably priced.



Oct 8 -- Our visit this day was at the workshop of Ryosaku Takeda. Mr. Takeda is well-known throughout Japan as a contemporary furniture maker, carver and urushi artist. This  piece is a highly lacquered serving tray. I would characterize the design and execution as elegantly simple and at the same time visually stunning.



Oct 9 -- Lena suggested that we should visit Daitoku-Ji, one of her favorite places in Kyoto. This is a large temple complex that serves as the headquarters of the rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. Although open to the public, Daitoku-Ji is not a major tourist attraction. It is a quiet, beautiful and meditative place. The many gardens are expressions of an art form that combines natural and artificial qualities that blend together, and then magically separate.  (That’s my take, of course.)



Oct 10 -- Our free day in Kyoto. Several of us visited the Art Museum, where there was a special exhibit about the cross influences from the western Craftsman period and  Japanese arts and crafts. There was also time for some serious Kyoto shopping. The tour ended with a Farewell Supper at a small restaurant just up the block from our ryokan.



Oct 11 - 17 -- This morning I took the Nozumi “bullet train” to Tokyo where I met up with friends Tomoyasu and Noriko Konuma. From there we drove to Narita (Tokyo’s airport) where we met Louise, who was coming to Japan for the first time.  This was followed by a drive to the Konuma’s home in Konosu-shi, a suburb north of Tokyo, where we stayed for 2 nights.  Tomo is a painter who most recently has turned to making bowls, servers and seating from short lengths of center-cut 4 x 4’s that are glued together, carved into various forms, and then heavily lacquered.  Noriko is the director of a craft gallery in Tokyo. They live upstairs from Tomo’s workshop with their daughters Hzkari and Shieru. Tomo’s parents also live downstairs.

Our next stop required a train ride to Shimoda,  a small coastal city south-west of Tokyo on the southern tip of the Izu Peninsula. This is the home of our 2001 summer intern, Shuhei Ando, and his wife Haruka. One highlight of this visit was an evening of improvised music with Kuni Sugano, one of Japan’s best known jazz pianists.

Louise and I then took a surprisingly long and confusing train trip to Sasayama, where we were met by Haruko Enomoto. We only had 2 nights at the Enomotos, but we did get in a visit to the Kamigata’s Tree House restaurant, and a quick drive to Osaka to buy a professional chef’s knife (from a place that Minoru especially likes). Of course Louise was eager to learn a few of Minoru’s recipes.




Oct 18 - 20 -- We are back at Gifu Academy for Part B of the ladderback chairmaking course.  The class actually took place in the informal art yard at Gallery Ze, owned by Kanetoshi Matsuda. The chair wood was now appropriately dry, but there was still a lot of work to do -- getting the frames assembled,  in addition to riving, shaving and fitting the back slats. The seating, with Shaker tape, was homework – we simply ran out of time.

I am happy to report that my students have asked me to return to Japan for another course – maybe making a rustic Windsor chair. Perhaps this can be combined with another Country Workshops craft tour..



Oct 21 -- This was my only free day during a month in Japan. Madoka graciously hosted Louise and myself for a walking tour through some very interesting parts of Gifu City. We visited a small but very nice indigo dye and fabric museum, a wood dealer who specializes in stocking huge bark-edged slabs for tables, and a lantern making company where we had an opportunity to see how the paper lamp segments are meticulously glued to the delicate wire lantern frames. Our final Farewell Supper was with Masashi and Madoka at a small, local restaurant.



Oct 22 -- Train from Gifu to Nagoya. Departure to the US at 1:05 PM. Because we re-crossed the international date line we arrived at Asheville, NC that afternoon at 3:20.



Post Script – Madoka and Masashi’s baby was born a few weeks later. A beautiful little girl.


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