17 January 2024
Colorful Craft: Fujii Yuya's Journey of Chopstick Artistry
In Japan, a country known for its rich heritage of craftsmanship, a traditional craft is often handed down through generations within a family or embraced by learners who passionately pursue the opportunity to master a skill. Yet, there also exists tales where destiny plays its hand, guiding individuals down unexpected paths into the world of time-honored mastery.
Fujii Yuya's path at Matsukan embodies this narrative beautifully. His transition to becoming a skilled craftsperson of decorating chopsticks is a journey rich with creativity and shaped by a deep connection with his mentor. Explore how Fujii carries on the brush-painting technique of Matsukan's Crystal Series and learn how each chopstick he paints is a reflection of an artistry close to his heart.
- Following a New Path
- A Symphony of Colors
- The Delicate Strokes of a Brush
- A Continuing Legacy
Following a New Path
In a twist of fate, Fujii, previously a school support staff member, discovered his talent in the detailed art of chopstick design. This new direction began with an invitation from the head of Matsukan, a renowned chopstick manufacturer in Fukui Prefecture. During a fortuitous encounter at a local festival, Fujii was asked "Would you like to try your hand at designing chopsticks?" These words would be what transformed Fujii's life, guiding him from the hallways of a school to the studio of Matoba Masayoshi, a seasoned chopstick craftsperson of Matsukan.
Under the tutelage of Matoba, the creator of the Crystal Series chopsticks, Fujii immediately started painting chopsticks sitting right next to him. "He was always encouraging," Fujii recalls with a fond smile. "Even when I was just starting, he saw something in my brushstrokes and would compliment my work. After Matoba-san was hospitalized and I had to work alone. Then I realized just how challenging it was for me to paint designs beautifully on my own. When we were together, his constant smile really made my apprenticeship enjoyable and comfortable."
A Symphony of Colors
Fujii shared insights into how his mentor developed the colorful designs of the Crystal Series. "Matoba-san often found inspiration for colors in the simple things around him. He preferred not to have a fixed image in mind, as that would lead to trying too hard to replicate it. His method was more about freely adding colors and seeing where they led."
Fujii follows Matoba's artistry with a collage of just four colors, dark blue (close to black), red, yellow, and blue to decoratively adorn the small wooden canvas of a chopstick. Within each chopstick's apparent simplicity lies a universe of hues, with designs inspired by both nature and serendipity.
Fujii's favorite is the sunny-orange design which expresses the warmth and vitality he pours into his work. "I experiment with leftover paint and come up with various new color combinations. Matoba-san always believed that sticking to what he did best, without getting too caught up in trends, was why his craft lasted so long. I think it's important to stay true to one's beginnings while also being open to change. Striking that balance, however, is not an easy task."View Ittem
The Delicate Strokes of a Brush
We further asked about the details of how he paints each chopstick.
The process starts with carefully choosing the order of color application, essential for achieving the desired hues and effects. "For example, for the Crystal Moss Pink and Wisteria chopsticks, I apply the light blue first. Generally, I start with the lighter colors and work my way to the darker ones." This method ensures the integrity and vibrancy of each color. "If you start by painting darker colors, the color mix becomes a bit chaotic, even if you add the colors in equal amounts. That's why I add the darkest color last."
The selection of brushes is also essential; Fujii uses about seven to eight brushes, each chosen for its specific texture and firmness, avoiding overly hard bristles like pig bristles.
Completing the decorations of a pair, like the Crystal Yozora chopsticks, typically takes about one and a half months. This includes multiple layers of painting, drying, and finishing coats. Fujii points out that among the numerous steps followed in his studio's process, ensuring consistent quality across all chopsticks, particularly in the finishing coat and polishing stages, is a significant challenge. He notes, "Getting these final steps right is crucial. If they're off, even the most intricate brushwork loses its intended luster."
A Continuing Legacy
Concluding our conversation, Fujii reflected on a pivotal teaching from Matoba: "You're not truly an apprentice unless you surpass your master." These words, often spoken during relaxed chats in the studio, resonated deeply with Fujii, especially coming from Matoba who was typically a gentle soul.
This guiding principle shines through in every pair of chopsticks Fujii crafts. His pieces are a vibrant expression of artistry, each one painted with colors that tell a story, stroke by careful stroke.
Matsukan, based in Obama City, Fukui Prefecture, stands as a leading producer of lacquerware chopsticks rooted in the traditional craft of Wakasa lacquerware. Since its beginning in 1922, Matsukan has remained dedicated solely to chopstick manufacturing. While honoring the intricate artistry and lasting craftsmanship of Wakasa lacquerware, their products are thoughtfully designed to complement contemporary living.View Collection