Swish, swoosh, Noboru Sekijima ties, weaves, and winds his cords. The master mizuhiki artisan moves his hands skillfully and quickly. Both of his index fingers are bent toward the middle finger, a result of making mizuhiki for many years. “I listen to my fingers when I work,” Sekijima explains.

 

During the war, Sekijima was drafted to work at a military arsenal in Tokyo, manufacturing measuring gauges. After returning home following the end of war, he worked for a mizuhiki wholesaler. Sekijima did not feel that manufacturing mizuhiki as raw materials had a bright future, and so he took on the challenge of making mizuhiki saiku (paper string crafts) as a finished product. He did this by teaching himself the craft. While working at the military arsenal during the war, Sekijima had learned that outsourcing the production of parts increases production. Based on this knowledge, he taught traditional tying methods at hundreds of homes in the community and commissioned side jobs to his students. Not only did that expand the scale of production once he opened his own studio, but the number of traders who followed him also grew. This became the foundation of mizuhiki saiku as a local industry. Along with the manufacturers, Sekijima succeeded in coming up with a wide array of colors, which until then had been limited. The rich colors allowed them to expand their ideas further. Sekijima transformed mizuhiki from a product used for making congratulatory gifts into a three-dimensional craft filled with artistic elements.

 

In 1982, the Chuo Expressway was opened. In an effort to make Iida better known as a mizuhiki production area, Sekijima opened a craft studio where he could show people the techniques for making mizuhiki as well as its finished product. Iida, had originally been the downstream origin of the Tenryu River. After promoting his studio to the relevant parties as well as travel agencies, tour buses began making stops in Iida one after another. Yui had served as the ties for mutual cooperation between neighbors for such activities as farming and roofing. That spirit runs through Sekijima’s veins and is at the core of his mizuhiki. Although congratulatory gifts have been simplified, and the demand for traditional mizuhiki has subsided, the importance of the spirit of personal ties has not changed.

 

Noboru Sekijima

Born in 1923 in Iida City. Began teaching mizuhiki to people, including those from other prefectures, and served as leader of the Setsusui School of the Japanese traditional mizuhiki craft, as the originator of Sekijma Setsusui. Recognized as a “Living Master Artisan” (artistry award) by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in 2001.

Cooperation: Ganso Mizuhiki Kan Sekijima; Shogo Takeuchi, Chairperson of the Rinri Houjinkai, Iida City

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)