Thursday, August 6, 2015
In Praise of Chasen
I have continued to wonder about the history of chasen making. Several years ago I read in Misiko Hane's "Peasants, Rebels, and Outcastes: The Underside of Modern Japan" (New York. Pantheon. 1982) that chasens were made by folks who were considered burakumin. It brought back an odd experience I had when inquiring about wanting to visit a maker of this most beautiful hand tool when I first visited Midorikai as a guest student. Thinking my enthusiasm to know more about the sources of chadogo would be well met, I felt my query was dismissed for some uncomfortable (for them, not me) reason. "Too far away. Out of town."
I recently inquired of Ted Fowler, a retired professor of Japanese culture who has studied caste systems. He confirmed for me that
"All of the crafts you mention -- low-paying but requiring a goodly amount of skill -- were often associated with
burakumin in the past. Many of these artifacts are no longer made domestically, and so the current situation is a bit different. It is important, i believe, to stress
the immense contribution made by non-caste groups to Japanese culture -- culture that we look on today as sanctified by the patina of 'tradition' or 'traditional arts.'"
this video about the making of chasen today byTango Tanimura, the 20th generation of the fabled family. Situated like 95% of all chasen makers in Japan in Takayama village in Nara, the family's name is recorded as having been patronized by the Tokugawa Shogun, among other notables. Jun Tanimura has a Facebook page.
Studio KotoKoto in San Diego CA has a great English language account about this family's work. Another good source of information about Takayama village chasen making is here.