Traditional Gold and Silverware

An artistic application to practical products

By Kenny King Hin Choi    - 3 min read

Ishiguro Kounan is a silverware master who has been practicing his profession for more than 50 years. His silverware workshop is located near the Ueno neighborhood of northeastern Tokyo. Kounan's small but well-equipped workshop is a striking contrast to the mega factories around Tokyo and in Kanagawa prefecture that churn out mass-produced goods of a similar nature.

During my visit, four people were working in the studio. Among them, two young ladies and one middle-aged man were working on gold while another much older man was working on silver. With the help of Ishiguro’s daughter-in-law’s interpretation, I approached the silverware station and observed closely the ongoing work. Ishiguro was in the process of making a teapot. The raw material was only a piece of flat silver. Ishiguro proceeded to demonstrate to me how it was burned, formed into a round shape, and then hammered into the final form of a teapot. After that, decorative patterns were etched into the silver with a hammer and chisel. To thoroughly decorate even a small piece of silverware demands lots of careful measuring and hammering. The master in front of me executed this fluently, which reflects his years of experience in working with silver.

Kounan also demonstrated the making of Tama-arare , a signature character of his handmade metalwork. Countless small projections are created by hammering the area around them. It was as if a needle from underneath jutted a tiny spot out when he did the hammering. There is no machine than can replicate this process. It is just pure handiwork and educated guessing of the position of the points, which require lots of attention and experience. The finished product has an intricately patterned surface. Ishiguro is one of only a handful of artisans in Japan who still possesses this skill. 

Ishiguro says there are much fewer people today working as professional goldsmiths. He has personally been to other countries to observe how this industry works in other places. He states that it is hard for Japanese silverware products to secure a place in European market. They already have their own style of metal ware products, which is more diverse and the skills already very sophisticated, although they are not necessarily all hand made. Products that have to be handmade have both advantages and disadvantages for the industry in Japan. If craftsmen do not stick to the stringent rules of handicraft products, they would lose the recognition and the titles awarded by the government. Yet handmade products are naturally pricier, which reduces the incentive of buying them. It is vital to preserve the skills of this tradition, while also teaching customers of the practical and artistic value of the individual gold and silver creations.

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Kenny King Hin Choi

Kenny King Hin Choi @kenny.king.hin.choi

I had spend almost the last 10 years traveling to different corners of the world seldom reached by others as tourists. Iraq, Kosovo, Albania, Bangladesh and Ukraine are among many others. To see and smell a place first handedly is absoulutely differnt from reading and hearing from mass media. Japan has been the country I always aspired to as I first set foot there when I was 14 years old. The rich cultural heritage and freindliness of the people left inside me a wonderful memory. Therefore I was there again when I was 17. I have been recently staying in Germany for my studies, traveling around Europe to experience its diversity and rich history. Yet I still wish I could visit Japan again in the near future, preferably to Hokaiido and Fukuoka. Outside traveling, my hobbit is photography, cycling, sailing and cooking. Honestly Japanese food is one of the best in the world. As a fish lover, I could not resist Japanese crusine. Otherwise, Ramen, Sushi and green tea are all my favourite. When I read cultural studies in the university in Hong Kong, Japan turned out to me as a very speical society. The mentality and popular culture which has affected the world is inspiring. I really hope I could go deeper into this when I got the chance.

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Lynda Hogan a year ago
Great find. I will check it out.