Just before the tsunami swept through the area, he escaped with his wife to the hill behind their house, and they were able to survive. Among their neighbors who spent the snowy night together in a cedar forest, three elderly people were submerged in the tsunami and lost their lives. The next morning, everyone who went down the hill was struck speechless by the scene before their eyes. It was the beginning of shelter life for Sugiyama and his wife – they had lost everything. At the temporary housing in the city of Osaki, he spent his time in vain. Along with a chronic diabetes condition, his health gradually broke down further, and he decided to retire. On a fall day, however, his son collected some old tools and stone blocks from the ruins of their house. Soon afterward he began carving stone again, and his health rapidly recovered. Offered a workshop in the neighborhood, he also restored himself as a suzuri craftsman. His wife who assists in the finishing process was also relieved. He had been creating suzuri for 68 years after graduating from his higher elementary school. Starting as an assistant under his father, he worked for three yeas before handling a chisel for the first time. Visiting around the senior craftsmen’s workshops, gazing at the working process, and exploring the techniques – this was his trial-and-error twenties. Travelling to Tokyo with a bag as heavy as his own weight packed with his suzuris, he visited a number of calligraphers. Through gaining good human relationships and responding to their severe requirements, he opened up his road. Away from his own town, the master hand who carries on a 600-year tradition continues restlessly to exercise his skills every single day.

Sumio Sugiyama

Born in Ogatsu, Ishinomaki City, in 1929. His pseudonym is Toryusai. Certified as a Traditional Craftsman in 1990. The leading figure of highly creative, special suzuri making among Ogatsu-suzuri craftsmen. Received the Order of the Sacred Treasure. Currently under refuge in Furukawa, Osaki city.
Cooperation: Mr. Atsushi Mori, Business Assisting Dept., Ishinomaki Kahoku Commercial and Industrial Association; Mr. Masafumi Sugai, Osaki Times, Inc.; and Mr. Toshiaki Sato, Osaki RINRI Hojinkai.

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

Spirit and Spine

created by

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