Pictures of the floating world

Toyama prefecture: suzugami workshop

Have you ever heard of Suzugami?

By Anna Purpurpurpur

I’ve been privileged to attend the first ever promotional event of Toyama prefecture in Europe that took place at the beginning of November in Pantechnicon, London, my place-to-go to learn about Japanese culture in London, and where I created my own piece of suzugami. Scroll below to learn more about suzugami and Toyama prefecture!

Toyama prefecture

Toyama prefecture is a lesser known region of Japan just a bit more than two hours away from Tokyo by Shinkansen or less-than-an-hour flight from Haneda airport. Thanks to its location, it has many natural tourist attractions such as an alpine route, hot springs, and tulip fair. It’s home to historic villages, craftsmanship (woodcarving, metal works, pottery etc) few festivals and one of the best sushi in the country because of its proximity to the sea.

Toyama bay is the real gem providing the vast variety of fish that can be caught just 20 minutes away from the ports due to the sea floor landscape. Sadly, I cannot yet experience it myself but thanks to a pop up shop in Pantechnicon I could get acquainted with the Toyama craft making too.

Suzugami workshop

Suzugami, literally meaning ‘tin paper’, is a thin piece of tin which can be easily shaped as you like, and master Yoshinori Shimatani is visiting London with a special workshop on suzugami. Family of Shimatani-san has been working with metal crafts since the beginning of the 20th century, and he’s one of the last orin craftsmen of modern Japan. He still runs a family business taking care of Shimatani Syouryu Kobo factory manufacturing goods both for temples and Syouryu brand for the wider public. As I’ve been explained, the bells wear off with time, and the temples communicate with Shimatani Syouryu Kobo via a special agencies to order a new one. Bells come in different sizes and weights and shapes (albeit always rounded) vary too because every bell is adjusted to produce a perfect sound.  

The workshop started with the introduction to Orin, the Buddhist temple bell used by monks, made by Shimatani-san with a special hammering technique. Due to the difference in metal thickness, the bell makes a deep and continuous sound, and only a skillful and experienced craft artist can create an orin with the right sound (and it takes years of training!). 

Suzugami Toyama

Shimatani-san applied the same technique to create suzugami with hammers of different patterns reflecting different meteorological events: arare (hail), samidare (rain) or kazahana (snowflake).

I chose the rain pattern and after a demonstration and explanation by Shimatani-san I was able to produce my own suzugami. The process of making takes time because you go through all the tin piece hammering rhythmically and using the weight of a hammer itself rather than the muscle power. After that the metal craft can be bended, re-bended, flattened as many times as one likes and used, for instance, as a wagashi plate, jewellery tray or a vase. 

You can learn about Toyama prefecture, try its famous snacks (black rice tea with ginkgo-shaped wagashi called ‘thin ice’ because it’s made with very thin layers of sugar are amazing!) and shop the creations of local craft artists at Pantechnicon (the products still stocked can be viewed here).

You might also like my other blogs about Japan:

Furoshiki workshop in Pantechnicon
Japanese cocktails in Pantechnicon
Japanese trail, Kew Gardens
Learn Japanese with me: p1 and p2
Rabbit Island
Ginza, Tokyo
Kumagaya, Kanto
Tokyo, Kanto
Saitama prefecture, Kanto
Yokohama, Kanto
Kanagawa prefecture, Kanto
Momiji VS Sakura
What I adored in Japan

Hope you liked my blog!

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