Mr. Matayoshi sits in a small work space, surrounded by all the tools he needs placed within an arm’s reach, in the corner of his workshop in Shuri, and the “tappity-tap tappity-tap” sound of his striking hammer reverberates to the outside. You would probably have heard the same sound five hundred years ago in the peaceful castle town of Shuri Castle.

 

After the war, the tradition started to disappear, and his father, Seiboku, also made everyday metal utensils and rings for American soldiers, but in the 1950s his workshop was visited by Shoji Hamada, a prominent figure in the folk craft movement, and the woodblock printmaker, Shiko Munakata, who were attracted in by the sound of hammering. They inspired his father to “go back to being a Ryukyuan,” and he started to concentrate on reviving the traditional silversmith craft.

 

The jifa is a hair ornament that is a representation of a woman’s form, and was also thought to help its owner avoid trouble and to be a type of lucky charm. The fusa-ring is a special ring used for wedding ceremonies that has seven delicate ornaments attached to it that are also thought to help wishes come true, such as for the prosperity of your descendants and for lots of happiness.

 

Mr. Matayoshi decided he couldn’t bear to let this tradition die out, so he left his job at the local radio station when he was forty years old, and learned intensively from his father. He continued to learn from old photographs and items that were in use. He grew to master the tools that had turned yellowish-brown in color through generations of use, and devoted himself to becoming a craftsman while earnestly suppressing his individuality. His core conviction is to make exactly the same thing that the previous generations had made. The rhythmical sound of his hammer seems to be like an enjoyable conversation with his deceased father, and has brought forth meetings with a variety of people, as well as conveying the precious culture of Okinawa.

 

Kenjiro Matayoshi

Born in Naha City in 1931. Studied at a foreign language school after graduating from Shuri High School. Currently, Ms. Natsuko Miyagi from Aichi Prefecture has been studying as his apprentice for around ten years, and is expected to carry on his traditions and workshop into the future.

Cooperation: Eiichi Shiroma, full-time executive secretary of Urasoe City Tedako RINRI Hojinkai

Translation: Media Research, Inc.

Spirit and Spine
‘Kitohone’

created by
THE SPIRIT AND SPINE
CREATIVE FORCE,Tokyo

project direction
Gaku Okubo (ISUKE INC.)
photography
Yoshitomo Tanaka (Vivot)
site design
ISUKE INC. and ICA
title calligraphy
Kenryo Hara (Kikkokai)