Artisan Interview Yasuto Yonehara/Kindami sensu artist
Have you ever heard of a kindami artisan?
Kindami refers to the technique to decorate a kimono or a handicraft with gold leaf or gold powder. Kindami technique is said to have started in India and Java, as well as China in the Tang dynasty (618-907); in Japan, too, embroidery and kindami techniques were used together to complete the breathtaking beauty of dyeing. Tegaki yuzen (hand-painted yuzen) started in the Genroku period (1688-1704), which means the kindami technique existed even before tegaki yuzen did. This old technique of kindami has gradually developed over time in technique, materials and by improving tools while maintaining the traditional technique, and many ornaments are created nowadays with the fully blossomed kindami technique.
There is an artisan who creates kindami sensu (fan) using the kindami technique with a history, in Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto. This time, we interviewed Yasuto Yonehara, the kindami sensu artist.
The brilliance unique to gold leaf, the top-class Kyo sensu (Kyoto fan).
Tell us in detail about creating a product. What is a kindami sensu?
I create fans decorated with gold leaf, called kindami sensu. I decorate maiougi (dance fan) and chaougi (fan used for a tea ceremony) used mainly for traditional performing arts, as well as fans for daily use, with gold or silver leaf; I try to create original fans under the theme of the Japanese culture and the beauty of kindami, hoping more people would feel closer to a Kyo sensu and would use it.
There are so many processes in creating a sensu (fan), and the labor is divided for different artisans to take part in; there are an artisan creating fan ribs, a fan paper artisan, and an artisan who does polishes and finishes off. The process of creating fan ribs are divided into various detailed processes too; for example, to create one fan, there need to be an artisan who shaves and polishes thick ribs, an artisan who shaves thin ribs in between, an artisan to make a hole for metallic parts, an artisan to tie ribs all together, and they all specialize in each process. The same goes with fan paper and the finishing touch. Many people take part in creating a fan. ≫How to make a hand fan.
I purchase paper from the specialized paper store, and decorate it with gold leaf.
I start with drawing a design. I come up with the most important design first, and then think of other designs which go with it, according to the theme of a fan as well as the image I have inside my head.
Next, I color fan paper, and put gold leaf on it.
I continue with my work little by little, to make it look more like the original image in my head.
Are you particular about the materials?
The paper I purchase is special, and a piece of paper consists of 3 papers. It is a thin layer of papers stuck together, and inside, there is a paper made from very fragile fiber. By doing so, I can stick fan ribs inside the paper. That is why most of fans out there only have decoration on the front, but I decorate both sides with kindami, for I think it would be better to have decorations on both sides, if I put fan ribs inside the paper anyway.
There are many types of gold and silver leaf, too. There are even more kinds of gold leaf, and although there exists real 24K gold leaf which is a thin layer of real gold, most of them are mixed with a very small quantity of silver and copper. The color and the texture changes according to the blending ratio, and I choose which to use by purpose.
What is the kindami decoration technique like?
There are various techniques in decorating gold leaf, it is not just putting it on paper. You have to change the way you put gold leaf by design or by product you are creating. For example, there is a technique called “oshi haku (pressing gold leaf)” to put adhesive with a brush all over the part which is to be decorated, and press gold leaf or isago (gold dust) on it, a “furi kin sunako” technique to sift fine-grained gold powder on paper painted with adhesive, and “kiri haku” which is a technique used often for shikishi (a square pice of fancy paper) and tanzaku (strip of fancy paper) as well, to cut gold leaf into a square shape (kiri haku) or a tiny string-like shape (noge) and place them randomly. There are many more techniques, and I combine them to create a design. Kindami decoration uses very light materials such as gold leaf or powder, so a comparatively sophisticated technique and experience are required to prevent wrinkles!
*Furi kin sunago
Where does your inspiration come from, when designing a fan?
My works do not have particular motifs…I try to combine what I have done so far and what I have liked in my daily life, and it just kind of comes to me☺
What do you like people to see the most when they see your products?
The texture which cannot be reproduced by printing, and the way it sparkles, of course!! The same goes for Japanese paintings too, but pigments and gold leaf are very unique. I would like people to feel these features, so I strive for the texture which cannot be reproduced with printing.
Also, I try to express what I felt or liked in my daily life with the kindami decoration, using various techniques. I would like people to feel the brilliance of gold leaf!!
The feeling of leading the Kyo sensu industry
Tell us about difficulties you have experienced since entering this world.
I first entered this world as a haku oshi (an artisan to press gold leaf), but the fan industry itself was on the downward trend. Sellers focus on what sells…as a result, a lot of low-priced products start to be sold. Creators see that and complain…it got to a point when I had no work at all, and I felt the seriousness of the situation. I then decided to learn the manufacturing process of a fan from the scratch, haku oshi, and sales all by myself. I took an initiative and went to learn all the processes other than haku oshi, and learned to create a fan all by myself to a certain extent. I did think that it was inefficient to do it all by myself sometimes, for it was a divided labor to start with, but I never gave up and kept studying, saying to myself that if I quit now, all I have done up until now would be a waste. After all, it’s all up to you to make the most of what you have learned in the future. As a result, now I can work any way I would like.
What do you think is at the bottom of your works?
Tradition!! There is a long history of many people who have inherited the technique and done this work, and I have learned by looking at my superiors…
Tell us about your future vision.
I always try to be better, but my work seldom turns out to be the way I imagined it to be, I guess. So, I try not to excessively strain myself, just keep doing what I’m doing. That way, I think someone would notice my work someday. Straining yourself to be better than yesterday does not necessarily bear a great work of art, so I try to “put my heart into my work”, but not “excessively”.
There are less and less people in this industry, so I try to keep on. Hopefully more people will come to love a Kyo sensu.
Kindami sensu artist Yasuto Yonehara
He was born in 1986 and entered the world of gold leaf decoration on fans under the influence of his uncle. He learned the traditional technique of decorating fans, which are mainly used for traditional performing arts, with kindami in the city of Kyoto, the birthplace of sensu. He did not only inherit the traditional technique of kindami, but strives to create a new tradition by using the technique and expressing himself in a unique way. He provides state-of-the-art products, arts and crafts at comparatively reasonable prices.