Saws and planes are lined up all along one wall, and the drawers of the toolbox are filled with a variety of chisels both large and small. There are more kinds of rivets and metal fixtures than you could possibly count. With his mastery of over a thousand different tools, he cuts no corners in the construction of mikoshi portable shrines, which are required to be both impressive and sturdy.

 

In his teens, his father, the “Boss,” punched him while on the job, and after dinner he was forced to keep a record of the work done that day. He was so frustrated that during his sleep he unwittingly bit through his pillow, spilling the buckwheat husks inside. He was told over and over that working while consulting his notebook would make him only a half-fledged craftsman, and that he must learn to be able to construct a mikoshi without even drawing a design in order to be considered fully qualified.

 

After setting up his own business and starting to trade under his own name, he at last learned the true pleasure of working as a mikoshi artisan. Even so, those days in which he was establishing his business were the toughest period, in which the quick-wittedness of his wife, whom he had recently married, was key. A magnificent portable shrine which he made on her orders sits in state in a prominent location inside the shop. This is the “Hojin” mikoshi, so called by taking one character each from the name of the shop and from her maiden name. She asked him to produce his best work ever while he was in his prime as a craftsman, promising to scrape together every last secret penny of hers in order to support this endeavor. Each spring, hundreds of people gather from near and far at the Yayoi Hojinsai festival to bear the Hojin mikoshi.

 

He also serves as an adviser to the Japan Mikoshi Association, and at the Oedo Mikoshi Festival in Kiba each October, he acts as a judge, awarding the Hohjudoh Prize. This master craftsman and his eldest son are carrying on the cultural tradition which has been handed down from one generation to the next.

Masaji Ogawa

Born in 1930 in Shimotsuke City. In 1992, he was designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Asset (Craftsmanship) by Tochigi Prefecture. In 2002, his achievements were recognized by the All-Japan Award for Contributions to Traditional Craft Industry. In 2013, he was the recipient of an award from Tochigi Prefecture for his distinguished service in the cultural field.

Cooperation: Akiko Maeda; Takeshi Iwasaki, President of the Japan Mikoshi Association; and Sadao Hara, auditor at Tochigi Prefecture 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)