Durable fan that can last 100 years
”I want to bring Japanese Fans (Uchiwa) to the world.”
Kutami Shibu Uchiwa / Kurikawa Shouten
The “Kutami Shibu Uchiwa” has been made in Kutami, Kamoto Town in northern Kumamoto Prefecture. In Kurikawa Shouten offers products that fit today’s lifestyle while preserving traditional methods. We interviewed Ryoichi Kurikawa, fourth generation of Kurikawa Shouten.
Ryoichi Kurikawa Fourth generation of Kurikawa Shouten LTD.Co. Born in Yamaga City,Kumamoto prefecture. After graduating from University, he joined Kurikawa Shouten. He is developing new products while preserving the tradition of Shibu Uchiwa.
Crafts made from bamboo and paper
“Kurikawa Shouten” is located in a shopping street in Kutami, Kamotomachi, Yamaga City, northern Kumamoto Prefecture.
―Kutami Shibu Uchiwa How did it start?
It is said that around 1600, a monk in Marugame, Shikoku, taught people how to make them. Kurikawa Shouten started its business in 1889.
―What are its features?
It is made by splitting a single bamboo, so it is strong and can reach the wind well. It is finished by applying only persimmon tannin, without adding any dye. The reason for applying persimmon tannin is to protect it from insects and to coat it, making it strong and durable enough to last for 100 years.
―What are the most important steps in making Shibu Uchiwa?
All of them are important, but the most difficult is the hone-shi, which is the process of breaking the bamboo. Weaving the bamboo with thread is also important. We have a bamboo forest, so we start by cutting the bamboo.
Main production process of Kutami Uchiwa
|1. Bone splitting||Splitting the bamboo with a small knife to make the bones.|
|2. Weaving||Weave the bones with yarn.|
|3. Paste paper||Apply glue to both sides of Japanese paper and paste.|
|4. Shape cutting||Cut the paper to fit the shape of the fan.|
|5. Edging||Attaching paper around the edge of the fan to reinforce it.|
|6. Painting||Apply persimmon tannin to both sides of the fan.|
※There are many other tasks to be done as well.
Rediscovering the charm of the real
In the past, Kutami was said to be one of the three major producers of Uchiwa, along with Kyoto and Marugame in Shikoku. There used to be many stores in the area, but now only the Kurikawa Shouten has carried on the tradition.
―So many stores used to make Uchiwa in the past.
In the early Showa period (1926-1989), there were 15 to 16 uchiwa shops in the town of Kutami. Plastic fans, which are inexpensive and can be mass-produced, became the mainstream, and bamboo fans fell into disuse.
―Were you aware that you would take over the business from when you were a child?
I have been called the “fourth generation” since I was born. However, when I joined the company, we were selling plastic fans and making Shibu Uchiwa on a small scale. I was involved in the restoration of the Yachiyo-za Theater when I was feeling uninteresting.
―The Yachiyo-za Theater was a playhouse built in 1910. It has been revived through reconstruction activities.
We planned a performance of Kabuki actor Tamasaburo Bando at the Yachiyo-za, and Tamasaburo showed the highest quality even in his country performances, and he never cut corners. I was really struck by that. That’s when I reviewed my business and decided to specialize in bamboo fans instead of plastic fans.
Fans are a reflection of the times
Kurikawa Shouten produces a wide variety of products with different designs.
―Have the products you make change with time?
Fans, which were used for advertising with the name of the store on them, were launched as commemorative gifts and gifts. The shape is still the same as in the past, but the design has changed. Fans are like a reflection of the times.
I come up with most of the designs, but many of them are drawn by artisans who are good at drawing. I have also been actively involved in collaborations with Italian designers, local illustrator groups, and fashion brands.
Bringing Japanese Fans Overseas
What does the future hold for the Kutami Shibu Uchiwa?
―What do you think about the future of the Kutami Shibu Uchiwa?
I think the future is bright because there are so many things you can express in Uchiwa, such as writing haiku and drawing pictures. I once had an exhibition in Australia, but it didn’t sell well, so I used a brush to write Australian people’s name in kanji, and 2,000 people lined up to see it. In the future, I would like to deliver Japanese culture to people overseas. In Japan, people sometimes use Uchiwa with the names of favorite athletes or idols written or photos printed on them to cheer for their favorite celebrities. I would like to make an Uchiwa to use to cheer for Shohei Ohtani, who is playing in Major League Baseball.
―Son-in-law, Kyohei, will take over as the fifth generation.
I was surprised that he was willing to take over such an unprofitable business. He offered to take over the business, and we adopted him as the fifth generation. Now that he has joined us, we are making efforts to sell our products online.
―Do you have any expectations for the next generation?
I don’t mind if the history ends here, and I hope that he will do as he pleases.
I also thought that it would be a shame to destroy the business in my generation, so I came up with various ideas, but wisdom and ingenuity come out in the hardest way. They say, “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” and I hope that the fifth generation will have to endure as much hardship as possible from the beginning.
―what is tradition?
I think it’s a tradition that we’ve continued.The way it is made has not changed, but the way it is expressed has changed.I guess the way to continue is to make things that fit the times and change.
We moved the workshop from the factory in the back of the store to the inside of the store because we wanted people to be able to see the process of making the products. I want people to come and see the process of splitting the bamboo and putting on the paper, and then buy the products after they are satisfied.
※The above information is current as of September 2021.
We were amazed that a fan nearly 100 years old could still be used today! The day of our interview was the birthday of the president of NOROSHI. When we bought a fan to celebrate, Mr. Kurikawa wrote the president’s name on it with a brush. It was a great birthday present!
■ Kurikawa Shouten Established in 1889. As the only workshop that carries on the tradition of the Kutami Shibu Uchiwa, each one is handmade. They can also be personalized with names and letters as souvenirs or gifts. Location：1648 Kutami, Kamoto-cho, Yamaga City, Kumamoto Prefecture URL ： http://www.uchiwa.jp/