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  • Shouji KazunariPHOTOGRAPHY: CAMERON ALLAN MCKEAN
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Shouji Kazunari: Knowledge into Tools

, 2010/08/20

The second of a three-part series on Mino Washi

Man can do many thing without tools but with tools he can become godlike. And so it is that the alchemy of handmade paper is completely reliant on two tools: the Keta (or ‘Koteh’ as it’s called in Mino) and the Su (an intricate screen of bamboo bound in silk). Essentially, the Keta is a large rectangular frame roughly one meter wide. Its bottom portion holds slats supporting copper wires which carry the Su, and the top frame folds down via metal hinges to seal the Su in tight. Washi would not exist without these tools and the makers who craft them. Shouji Kazunari is the last Keta maker in Mino, and one of only three remaining Keta makers in Japan. We visit him late in the afternoon at his workshop, where he sits cross-legged as he talks, surrounded by pale wood shavings from “one of the most expensive woods in the world;” his suntanned face holds eyes that are exceedingly shiny and when laughing he shows no shame about a missing tooth. He tells us the story of his Keta making: “I started making sliding wooden doors about 40 years ago when I worked for the boss of a local hardware store. My boss had a master who knew how to build Keta, but for some reason that master never shared his knowledge of Keta construction. I had to take many Keta apart to understand how they were built.” Intuiting the minute specifications of Keta construction, Kazunari eventually understood the rationale behind the the placement of specific slats and grooves, and learnt how to making correct joins minimising water damage. “I make everything by hand now, except the hinges,” he shows us bamboo nails he carves by hand to seal the joins. Taking a week to build, each Keta will last roughly three to four years, eventually decaying from water damage, being used so often in the liquid bath where the paper will be drawn out of. There is a question about the future looming as we talk: “The future? Well, I am 60 now,” he says with a smile, “i can’t afford to have an apprentice without government support, and I have no sons, so I don’t know what will happen to Keta making, but I do know that in ten years, when I retire, I’m going fishing.”

Original text and photography of this entry appeared in Paper Sky No. 33 (Switzerland, 2010)

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name
Shouji Kazunari
place
Showa-Mokko
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