Substantial and high quality functional silver ware
It doesn't have the splendor of gold, but in dim light it hides a deep profundity, and it gives a warm feeling. It's silver ware. The silver object, given form by hammering, is at once a masterfully crafted item and a useful one that will last and last. In fact, the more it is used, the more it will appeal.
Turning two dimensions into three
The sound of the hammer ringing rhythmically on metal is pleasing to the ears. He strikes a sheet of silver on a form with the hammer, turning a two-dimensional object into a three-dimensional one. This is an appealing, creative job but it requires patience.
The history of Japanese silver ware is an extremely long one. The use of silver dining utensils was already recorded in the Heian period (794-1182). Afterward, in the Muromachi period (1333-1573), silver tea kettles and tea containers came to be made to coincide with the spread of the Tea Ceremony. Their use, however, was restricted to the highest classes. It was not until the Edo period (1600-1868) that the use of silver made its way to the common folk. Those Edo arts have been handed down continuously, and even today all over the city dining utensils, tea utensils, flower vases and other items for daily use as well as ornaments made of silver are being used.
An overwhelming variety of tools for forging silver can be found in Mr Kasahara's workshop.
The piece of silver ware at right started out as the flat plate at left
How craftsmanship improves
Mr Nobuo Kasahara, who lives in the Hongo district of Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward, learned the art of silversmithing from his father, and so is the second generation of his family in the craft. From childhood he was brought up in the family business, so it was only natural that he would enter their world. Mr Kasahara says that the demand for Tokyo silversmithing has been changing to suit the times. "Soon after World War II," he says, "when the occupation forces were here, the sales of coffee and tea sets really took off. None of the shops seemed able to keep up. When the economy expanded, a lot of golf trophies were made. I wonder what will be next..."
Now when the times seem to be changing more rapidly, Mr Kasahara uses a computer to keep him informed. "Each of the craftsmen should have their own web pages that are linked with that of our guild," he says. "And we'll have to develop new products especially for sale via the web, separate from the traditional wholesalers. Of course, thinking only of oneself and pushing the others aside won't do. It's important to think that if the entire production community does better, we will individually do better as well."
Mr Kasahara loves working on his computer. He even acts as a tutor in the silver tradesmen guild's computer class. He wants to activate the silver trade using this technology.
Happy bringing back the beauty of old art objects
Mr Kasahara's normal job is, to a certain degree, repetitious, since he is one in a link of several specialized craftsmen. But every year he has a chance to show off his own individual creations at a public exhibition. From design to finished product it is all his own work, so they are works of art rather than mere "products." In addition, he also makes replicas of national treasures. So far, he has undertaken making replicas of the silver backing for the lacquer boxes from Shizuoka Prefecture's Mishima Grand Shrine, and a box from Shimane Prefecture's Izumo Grand Shrine, among other items. "I get excited at the prospect of recreating an old art object after hundreds of years of its being produced. What can I say? It makes me feel a lot happier than when I am doing my usual job because it is something out of the ordinary." Selling is important, but creating not for the purpose of selling is also important. What is necessary is achieving a balance of the two.
Beating the silver requires extreme patience.
Silver bringing depth to life
Because silver tends to tarnish, quite a number of people give it a pass. Mr Kasahara points out, however, that if one uses it every day, it need not tarnish. "Gold is something you tend to display or keep as an asset," he points out. "But silver -- because you use it -- comes alive and repairing it can make it like new." For Mr Kasahara, there is nothing as important as pleasing a customer. He says, "When customers who've been buying my things for twenty or thirty years bring something in for repair, I can see how well they've cared for them and it really warms my heart."
There is a simile -- "like tarnished silver" -- to describe a person's charm. It's not a fancy or gaudy image; rather, it is a dignified, serious impression. This is the beauty of silver. Possessing a first-grade object and using it every day, taking the time to give it the proper care. This is possibly the true meaning of prosperity.
Caring for silver. Use it, please, because the more you use it the more beautiful it will become.
Born 1941. "Young people like foreign brand goods, but I want them to know that there are excellent silver products in Japan. Maybe our strategy should be to export Japanese silver ware to build up its reputation overseas so that Japanese people will start to realize its worth."