Nanbu Houki – Wa-Youhuku broom

Tokusaburou Takura never says any words. He just arranges the ear tips straight, bending the stems, and braids the ear tips of the groom corns. You cannot tell what will be appeared in the end, no matter how you gaze at his fingers braiding the stems approximately two meter long. I became strongly sleepy while looking at Tokusaburou’s fingers. I almost fell into sleep. It was as if I am listening to the music written by Schuber, String Quartet No. 13 in A minor (the Rosamunde Quartet), D 804, Op. 29. His finger was moving smoothly, without any waste of motion, in a quiet and tensed air.
Tokusaburou Takakura is eighty-one years old and has been braiding brooms since the age of nine. He had made not only brooms, but straw boots, straw mats, and straw chairs, everything used in daily life that he had hand-crafted. It was before he specialized in growing broom corns of agricultural field when he had engaged in the hand-crafting. The straws left after cropping rice was the materials for the crafts. Those braided crafts were not only used by themselves in their houses, but they became products being sold on the streets or markets in town. They exchanged their hand-crafts for fish, which are not available to eat in mountain areas at that time, or the agricultural tools such as sickles and hoes.
This type of distribution economy was quite common in North-East Japan before 1950’s when Japan has changed its status to be an industrial nation. To put it the other way around, such distribution economy has been lost since Japanese industrialization occurred. The technique to make the daily products by braiding straws fell into a decline too. But still Tokusaburou has been keep on braiding uncouthly as if he is not interested in such changes of times at all.
Using straws that are the remained products after rice cropping, he makes the everyday utensils only by his hand. He was never such ambitious to work on it his entire life, but he just liked hand-crafting so much. The attitude was unconditional. He had been concentrating on braiding straw boots, straw mats, and chairs as he does it now with broom corns in front of me. The magnificent techniques cannot be produced through minds to control or conquer something, but it can be developed under the modest attitude carrying over the same work every day, as if someone plays cello alone in a field even no audience sitting before him. The sound of the cello Tokusaburou played was so fluent. We even could not notice that his performance went into the final part and “the cantabile” has passed already in a moment of quietness. The braided broom corns began to show its appearance to be the final product only one minute before the work finished, which took him thirty minutes in total. What we found was the product, Wa-Youhuku broom. I opened my eyes, being realized how the Wa-Youhuku broom I had fallen into love at Mitsukoshi department store was made.
Mr. Kiyokatsu Takakura is a son of Mr. silence, Tokusaburou Takakura. How has Tokusaburou passed on his skill of an artisan to his son? It could not be orally transmitted, but the son, Kiyokatsu, must have eagerly watched his father’s work. The eyes were as eloquent as the mouth. At 3pm, woods were put on the oven, and then water was boiled. The picked broom corns that were taken off the berries after cropping were soaked in boiled water. “This procedure is meant to be sterilization, extermination of harmful insects, and prevention against mold”. Kiyokatsu Takakura explained, putting broom corns in boiled water. He soaked a bunch of broom corns in hot water merely for ten seconds.
The broom corns just scooped up from boiled water smells green fresh like asparagus. They will be moved to drying room while they still smell fresh. The drying room has a temperature exceeding 50 degrees during mid-summer, where the workers manually replace the broom corns in between upper layer and under layer, so that they can be dried evenly. And then, the broom corns will be dried as they are until the end of September, means they will be continuously dried over one month.
The broom corns dried up will be checked visually and with hand as well, followingly categorized into 4 ranks according to their frizzled state and their hardness. Next, they will be made up to be a broom through braiding and put into the product range from 10,000 yen to 500,000 yen. So, each rank reflects the quality of the material. “Only one broom corn in three years we could grow with the value of 500,000 yen.” said, Kiyokatu Takakura.
They never use agricultural chemicals to kill weeds at plantation. The workers pull out weeds by their hands and cover them with soil. They are carrying out this work four times of a year at least, which normally conducted from May to June. The thrived broom corns will shut out the strong sunlight from weeds afterwards. The only broom corns survived through the weeds attack can be harvested from August. “The harvest is not necessary to be done on the 20th, August every year. The climate decides when we harvest broom corns, for instance, we started cropping on the 22nd two years ago. I visit the plantation as often as possible in a day to check the growing state of the broom corns.” Kiyokatsu said, and laughed that his summer schedule is kept blank in his diary every year.
Apart from that, he visits the department stores in an urban setting all over Japan, including Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Sapporo, and Sendai, for the sales of their product, Nanbu Houki (“Nanbu Broom”). Not only the domestic market, but he brings Naubu Houki to overseas markets, Europe and US, and participates in sale events. There is an interesting episode when he brought Nanbu Houki to the department store in London, which surprised Kiyokatsu so much. I could not believe the fact when I heard the story first too. So, I confirmed it. You will find out what made us surprised in Part 4.



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