Pipe by TSUGE factory – To be a craftsman, not to be an artist


Pipes tempered in the four seasons of Japan


I was so convinced by the words of Yo Uekusa, a PR officer at TSUGE Factory. “Artisans (“Shokunin” in Japanese) actually mean the workers who are making the factory-made products. And those who are making hand-made products are rather called as artists than artisans”. By these words he implied that the artisans do consider costs for production whenever they are committed to their works, and added “Artisans are assigned the work within a frame of a definite category, where a certain limited range they can’t go beyond is set. They, however, pursue their ideal products to be completed as much as they can within such restrictions”.


Craftsmanship lives in factory-made products; Holes for bowls are provided by machine.


They are called an “Artisan with merchant mind” (Syokkata Akindo) at TSUGE Factory.
“You can be a pipe making artist at any time when you declare yourself as an artist. No matter how you can make profits or make nothing from your works, you can be an artist as long as you complete the works. Your work may cost a lot, and you may produce only one pipe in several days, but you are still an artist. However an artisan can’t be like that. They have to produce the work with the same quality anytime for the designated number of products without any failures, of course.”


Hiroshi Mitsui holds a brier root, the material of a pipe.


The interviewer at TSUGE Factory often asks the same questions to the young candidate who is knocking the door to open the path for a pipe maker. “Do you want to become an artist or artisan in pipe making?” When asked this question, most young men looks perplexed and can’t open their mouth. Do they presume that it will be easy to become a pipe maker? Or they may not be able to distinguish two occupations, artists and artisans, while admiring the work excessively. We don’t know the exact reason but Hiroshi Mitusi, an executive director at TSUGE, often repeats, “Don’t be an artist but we are the group of artisans. Here in TSUGE Factory, each member is encouraged to be a skilled pipe producer!” It is their own choice to be a pipe making artist or not, however one thing is sure that pipe artisans must hone their skills throughout their own lives. Hiroshi Mitsui would like them to recognize it fully with a pride keeping in their mind.


Turning eighty, Kazuhiro Fukuda never gives up pursuing accuracy in his work.


Yo Uekusa explains the strong point of the pipes Made In Japan. “Briers, the material of pipes, ‘turn restive’ depending on the seasons. They become swollen in rainy seasons by absorbing water; on the contrary they become shrunk in dry seasons. Japan has four distinct seasons when the climates moves from high-temperature high-humidity period in summer to low-temperature low-humidity period in winter. Briers are exposed to this drastic weather change cycle, cold-warm-dry-humid.”


I understand that Japanese pipe manufacturing has been being performed under severe environment. But how is it specifically affected? Yo continues, “European pipes often show the part loosened or cracked once they are imported to Japan, which are caused by swelling and shrinkage of briers. In Japan, pipe makers are carefully calculating such variance to meet any seasons, therefore they apply very subtle cutting at the level of several millimeters under decimal point. Because they have been manufacturing products using materials exposed to such severe environment, the Japanese pipe makers have piled up their experience and knowledge being transmitted to their head and fingers, so their hands or fingers move by instinct, reproducing the delicate work from the core of their bodies.” That will result in a fine service what we know as Made In Japan. She concluded the words with a serious look, “The skill of a skilled worker could be compared to the pilot in North Europe. They are quite capable of steering air crafts in heavy snow, aren’t they? European people can understand this.”


The original shape of Mt. Fuji has begun to appear.


Although I have introduced three pipe-making artists in the previous episode, Yo Uekusa proudly added that the factory-made pipes should gain more focus than art works of TSUGE. “Even the goods called the ready-made employs the technology of TSUGE Factory. Individual artists are individual players as ever, but the factory-made works of our brand is made by team plays that are produced within a restricted scope going through many reviews. For instance, selection of material, or time for making hole—What seconds do we need to make hole? We calculate the cheapest cost for one pipe to offer the best price for customers. I would like them to understand the excellent part of our work that we are keeping on producing the best quality in certain hours as well as its hard part.”


Kazuhiro Fukuda is finishing the Mt. Fuji.


Both artists and artisans are working hard, sharing the same space for pipe manufacturing. Then I found Ms. Marlene Micke in the studio. When you hear this surname and are familiar with it, you must be a connoisseur of pipes. Yes, she is a daughter of the late Jöhn Micke, who was born in Copenhagen, Denmark and dead in May, 2005 at the age of sixty-seven. His works are called the “Rolls-Royce of pipe industry”. In my memory, once his pipe was sold with the price of 1,800,000 yen at smoking supplies shop in Ginza. The price might be gone up higher now.


The developing process of Mt. Fuji


Although some people may argue this, I would say the top three pipe-making artists shall be Ivarsson, Rasmussen, and Micke. So why is his daughter, Marlene, in the work shop of TSUGE Factory? I will talk more about it in Part 4.



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