Old wooden tags showing designated purveyors line the wall of the workshop. They are all for well-known temples including head and grand head temples. Every temple uses tatami mats, which have varying border designs depending on a room’s rank and purpose. Naturally the four corners of a room in an old wooden building are warped. However, a crevice between tatami mats or a gap in the border patterns is unacceptable. Such an error would be an insult to the history of a long-preserved edifice and beneath Mr. Nakamura’s dignity as a tatami maker. Using the Pythagorean theorem, he spreads out the variously sized tatami sections and trues up even the edges of the detailed lattice pattern in the large guest room. It is said that the elbow is one of the tatami maker’s tools. Tatami making traditionally involves sewing by hand while sitting in the seiza position (sitting erect on one’s knees), which forcefully burdens one’s abdominal muscles and puts a strain on the body. It is not easy for a man who had been seriously ill. When he visited Thailand for sightseeing about ten years ago, he suffered serious enteritis and underwent an abdominal operation in Bangkok. Told his survival rate would be only 2%, his family prepared for the worst situation. Fortunately, the surgery was successful. He returned to Japan by a passenger plane equipped with a stretcher – the only one in Japan at the time. Since then, he has needed additional surgery and hospitalization. In recent years, he has made the effort to transfer his skills to the next generation, including his son-in-law and grandson. Along with the “yusoku tatami,” he hopes to continue handing down the excellence of Japanese housing culture into the future.

Yuzo Nakamura

Born in Kyoto in 1929. The fifth generation of a family in the tatami business since the Edo period. Worked at a munitions factory due to student mobilization during World War II. Even after the war, he was again mobilized as a conductor for the Japan National Railways. After graduating from Doshisha University, joined his family business. President of the Society for the Preservation of Tatami Cultural Property. Holder of the selected preservation techniques certification by the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs. He was awarded the Ojuhosho (Medal with a Yellow Ribbon for industriousness) following his father, and in 2011 awarded the Kyokujitusokosho (Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays).
Cooperation: To-ji Temple, Grand head temple of the Shingon sect.

This article originally appeared in “Shinsei” magazine, December 2012 issue, published by RINRI Institute of Ethics. Partially rewritten to update for this internet release.

The three generations of the Tatamisan. From left, Yuzo, Susumu, and Masayuki.

Spirit and Spine

created by

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