We are called playwrights – like shipwrights – this naming suggests we playwrights are craftsmen. Practical before “artistic” although there is much art in a beautifully wrought ship. The name cartwright is passed down the generations in England. (I wrote the bluk of this post in 2006, and I think the bucket maker below is still alive) I believe the craft is called Oke and the makers are called okeyasan. In England, we used to call them coopers.
Perhaps this is one reason why I have always felt an affinity for craftsmen and artisans.
In Japan, before machines, before plastic, buckets were made by hand.
These were small tub buckets for washing, large barrel buckets for making pickles, special well buckets for shrines and holy water, all forms of buckets.
No nails are used. Special tools place the pieces of wood to exact shape, so that they can slot together to produce a water tight bucket. Added strength is given by a bamboo or copper ring.
The wood is specially chosen, the right type of cedar or cypress is chosen, and all the elements are crafted by hand.
I was led to this craft by Diane Durston who wrote Old Kyoto, a guide to traditional shops and inns in Kyoto. Sadly the bucket maker that Diane knew had passed away a few years ago, and he had no family or apprentice to pass his craft down to. However I was determined to find a craftsman if I could.
After asking at the beautiful inn, Shiraume, where we were staying we found that there was a bucket maker left in Gion, Okesho.
Armed with a phrasebook, we found the shop. At first, I found out a little about what all the buckets were used for from the old lady who ran the front of the shop. In my stilted Japanese, it was difficult. So she called out to her son (I presume) who appeared from the workshop.
I learned some of the Japanese names for the wood and we chose a small rice bucket and sushi tray to buy. My interest sparked an invite to look at his workshop and he showed us some of the process that goes into splitting, planning and joining the wood.
He makes his own tools (see image above) – as is the way of many Japanese craftsmen – and the craft is hundreds of years old. I asked him how many hand made bucket shops were left. He thought perhaps two or three.
And how many people who still knew how to make buckets? He thought: Only five.
Only five people left who know this craft. In one more generation, the craft will probably be lost and there will be no more hand made buckets. (I'm hoping there are more, maybe outside Kyoto. certainly, there are some made by machines of a similar style.)
I note this maker seems to be taking on apprentices and moving the form into a wider art form / craft form. So perhaps there is hope it won't die out. I also note his youtube video has only been watched about 13,000 times vs Beyonce with an instagram at over 10m.
It reminds me of a variant of a quote that I heard attributed to Warren Buffet: "Capitalism has been one of the greatest forces for good, but it has left people behind. We need to make sure we address those left behind."
Progress and technology makes crafts like bucket making obsolete. These crafts are left behind, but I do feel humanity will be less rich if we can not somehow keep some of this alive, perhaps I'm too naive still.
There is another maker, I see from here and his video is below.