Soaring Creativity of Byobu Folding Screens -1
Kyoichi Kataoka, owner of a byoyu atelier in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward, said, “Normally, people judge the quality of byobu by the picture on its surface. However, the hinge techniques are the most important aspects for a professional craftsman as they have been handed down for generations.” Not many may know that the essential value of a byobu lies in the hinge.
By the way, am I the only Tokyoite who feels nostalgic about the name “Sumida” Ward? This area used to be a typical downtown area with a strong craftsmanship vibe. In this traditional environment, Kyoichi works by incorporating many different materials within his byobu.
Since 2012, when the 634-meter-high Tokyo Skytree was completed in this ward, its new image of a fashionable sightseeing spot was established. Still, passion for making things remains strong here. For example, a brochure published by the ward called “Monodukuri Tanbo (Exploring Making Things) Map” carries a lot of information that encourages the making of things. In the map, small museums are introduced. They include the museums of traditional bags, joiners, products using turtle shells, and Kanzashi Japanese ornamental hairpins, among others. The tallest tower, Skytree, extends heavenward and a huge, stylish shopping mall beneath it can co-exist with the traditional craftsmanship of the area. Kataoka Byobu Store stands quietly just one minute’s walk from the tower.
At this store, designated a mini museum and atelier, Kyoichi is a craftsman who has the title of Sumida Meister. When you enter this place, you will find the first floor as a showroom and the second floor as a work space. Kyoichi showed up with a casual shirt and jeans and such a big smile. An old man of few words wearing a traditional work outfit wasn’t there. On the contrary, most of the 10 people working at this company consist of young people in their 20s and 30s!
“Some of those young visitors come back to us with their resume the day after visiting this mini museum, saying they want to make byobu,” said Kyoichi. It’s so unusual to be able to hire well-motivated young talent in the Japanese labor market of today, which is facing a serious labor shortage. What makes this small company so attractive?
Kataoka Byobu Store was founded in 1946 by Kyoichi’s father, Jiro Kataoka. It has been producing byobu ever since. While the 70 plus-year tradition has continued, an experience that Kyoichi had when he was young significantly affected the way he operates his business today. Decades ago, his British friend had a strong impact on him. She posed a question to Kyoichi: “Although you are Japanese and a Japanese craftsman, do you truly know about Japan? Maybe you should study more about Japan.” Because of this question, Kyoichi started to study how Japanese traditional types of craftwork, including for byobu, were used in the life scenes of both Japan and foreign countries.