Our Yokozuna pen collection is back under the name of Kyokuchi (Zenith), featuring new #50 18K gold nibs as of January 1st, 2015. These pens are made of Japanese ebonite and new Japanese #50 gigantic 18K gold nibs and are hand painted with genuine Urushi, making them collectible masterpieces.
This story is called Yoshitsune Senbon‑zakura and is still a major Kabuki play in Japan today. Yoshitsu is still regarded as the most popular tragic hero in Japanese history. Yoshitsune was the younger brother of Minamoto-no Yoritomo; he defeated Taira Clan at the last major battle at Dan-no Ura for the Minamoto Clan. But his jealous brother, Minomoto-no Yoritomo, banished Yoshitsune to the northeast area of Japan, and thus his escape began.
I learnt about this Japanese popular fable when I was at Kindergarten. The story is about a good-natured fisherman, Urashima Taro, who saw some children entrap and mistreat a turtle; he persuaded the children to free it. One day the fisherman met the rescued turtle again, and the turtle wanted to repay his favor. The turtle took Urashima to the Dragon Palace ("Ryugoojo"), under the sea, where he was received by a prince. The prince graciously welcomed the fisherman and told him that he could stay at the palace as long as he liked. He was so happy to stay that he completely lost track of time. One day, he finally told the price that he had to go home to see his elderly mother. The prince gave him a very mysterious box, which he called “Tamatebako”, and explained, "The box can make you happy as long as you keep it closed, but do not open it. Only if you find yourself in trouble should you ever open the box".
When Urashima Taro returned to land, everything had changed unrecognizably and his home had disappeared. He didn’t know anyone he met, and nobody knew him either. Greatly troubled, he recalled what the prince had told him about the box and opened it. A mysterious smoke came out of the box and Urashima Taro suddenly became a hundred‑year‑old man. He had actually stayed in the Dragon Palace for hundreds of years, and his mother and other neighbors were long gone. The story ended simply and sadly, but is still very popular among children. When I was a child hearing this story, I felt so sorry for Urashima Taro and wondered why he had wanted to open the box. The Japanese saying “Akete Kuyashii Tamatebako” refers to how vexing it was, to open the Tamatebako; it is also known as “the apple of Sodom.”
Sarasa is a design that was imported into Japan during the Muromachi or Edo period. The design on the pen is Kitori‑Sarasa includes Hooh (phoenix), Kujaku (Peacock) and Hana Karakkusa (flower arabesque pattern).
The original painting that this design is based on was made by Soga Shohaku (1730‑1781), titled "A Picture of Happiness". Jurojin is the god of longevity, and here he is depicted trying to lift a turtle out of the water. A white deer sits beside him, and a crane is flying in the background. A pine tree at the river’s bank, bamboo and an apricot are also shown. The theme is happiness, using Shochikubai (pine‑bamboo‑apricot) symbols, the crane, the turtle and the white deer, all creatures beloved by the Japanese, on the New Year, the most important holiday of the year. I asked Kosetsu-san to draw this masterpiece on our Yokozuna pen, and I’m very glad I gave him this theme.
Sen Rikyu (1522‑1591) was the founder and creator of the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the philosophy Wabi‑Sabi. Senke was followed by three schools: Omote Senke, Ura Senke and Mushakoji Senke. He was a very important friend to Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. But for some reason, Hiyoshi ordered him to commit Seppuku in 1591. The reason for this order is still unknown. Thirty of his one hundred Waka (poems) are written on the cap of this pen. We can provide more information about these poems, upon request.
This is considered to be the oldest tale in Japan, written during the Heian period (794‑1185). One day, an old bamboo cutter went into a forest to collect bamboo. He found an exceptionally glittery bamboo and cut it. A beautiful girl emerged from the bamboo; the old man gave the girl the name "Kaguya‑hime" and brought her to his home. The girl was so beautiful that five young nobles wanted to marry her, but she refused all of them by testing them with questions impossible to answer. She did not even accept the emperor's invitation to marriage and finally flew to the harvest moon, on the eve of August 15th (August 15th in lunar calendar is Mid-autumn Day in Asia).
Mochi‑tsuki (making Mochi) is a time‑honored Japanese tradition that celebrates the New Year, Japan’s most important holiday. The original painting was done by artist Utagawa Toyokuni the 3rd (1823‑1882). Today, Mochi is still used to make hundreds of kinds of cakes, sold at supermarkets and served at restaurants.
Nine dragons were painted as a part of a design for a king’s robe. The Dragon is the king of all legendary animals in both China and Japan. Robes decorated with golden dragons were only allowed to be worn by kings. There are eight visible dragons on the robe, and one is hidden under the lapel. Nobles adjacent to the king were only allowed to wear robes decorated with eight or fewer dragons. Dragons with five claws were only for kings;others were allowed to have only four or less. The gold color is a sign of wealth.
YOK-26BK: Golden Dragons with Black Background uses sprinkled gold powder to cover the base; sprinkled gold powder, gold foil and orange color Urushi are used to fill in the surface, by the Togidashi method.
The dragons were made with Gold Taka Maki‑e, surface paintings, Raden, sprinkled gold powder, many different colored Urushi, Togidashi, Gold Maki‑e and Silver Maki‑e. This design is extremely detailed. YOK‑26G. The artist, Yuhaku (whose real name is Masayuki Hariya), uses many different sizes of Nashiji.
"Ukiyo" in Kanji was originally written as 憂世, life of anxiety, as the idea based on 4 pains, Birth, Life, Illness and Death by Buddhish. The life through the age of civil wars and Tokugawa era (1603‑1868) in Japan for common people was very misable except the governments. But life is so short, while lfe expectancy was only around 35‑40 years at that time, they thought why shouldn't they spend their lives in laughter instead of tears? Thus their idea for the life changed to 浮き浮き(Uki Uki), cheerfully and light heartedly, and changed the Kanji from 憂世 to be 浮世, and the art was finally called Ukiyo‑e, 浮世繪. Ukiyo‑e is trnaslated to be Floating World in English. But Ukiyo actually means the world of the common people, the world you see behind the main streets, the world on non government officials. Japanese people do not lkie Ukiyo‑e as mush as westerners. I guess it is because Ukiyo‑e comes mostly form two "bad" places, Yujo (prostitute) and Shibai (theater). Because they didnot like the "e", they often used it for wrapping papers for export to Europe in Edo Era and those papers fascinated so many westerners. Vincent Van Gogh was the most famous one among the, who got inspired by Ukiyo‑e and created his own yellow color for his works. Today any Janapese, who are interested in Ukiyo‑e ans want to study further often have to pay visit to some European museums for more and better information. Ukiyo‑e is absolutely worth kept ont only for Japanese treasure, but for the world.
I picked some of the original Ukiyo-e drawn by Utagawa Hiroshige and Utagawa Toyokuni as themes for my Maki‑e collections and I asked Omote san to do the job. They are Goyu (YOK‑4), Furo (YOK‑21), Mochi‑tsuki (YOK‑22) and Sushi (YOK‑23).
Goyu was the 36th station of Tokaido’s 53 Stations, dating back from the Edo period (1603‑1868). There were actually 56 stations along the old 350 mile-long Edo highway (Edo is modern‑day Tokyo). Each station was known for its lively street of inns and local establishments, and the images humorously depict waitresses from different inns competing for customers. Masanori Omote skilfully and faithfully painted these vignettes, as he has already done so for us, many times in the past.
"Furo" is a humorous episode from the very popular Japanese comic book, Dochu Hizakurige and also depicted in the paintings of the famous artist, Utagawa Hiroshige. The story centers around the mischievous Yaji and Kita, who traveled on foot along with Tokaido and made jokes throughout their journey. In this "Furo", Yaji and Kita jump into the Furo‑Oke, crying for help in the tub full of hot water but without the piece of wood, which was supposed to placed right above the stove. A Furo tub is made of wood with the stove place in the front part of the tub uses at home. Japanese people are fond of bathing in hot water, and if they don’t have a wooden tub at home, they go to local public bath houses. This custom is still very popular today in rural areas. I believe many people still use wooden tubs like this at home; I myself used a wooden tub at home, until 1955.
Mochi‑tsuki (making Mochi) is an old Japanese tradition, used to celebrate the New Year, the most important holiday of the year in Japan. The original painting was done by Utagawa Toyokuni the 3rd (1823‑1882). Today, Mochi is used to make hundreds of kinds of cakes and are sold at supermarkets and served at restaurants.
Sushi is very popular in the United States today. Contrary to popular belief, Sushi originated in Southeast Asia, not in Japan. Salted fish meat was placed in cooked rice till it is fermented; the rice was discarded and the fish called "Nare‑zushi". This dish is still available in Thailand, Taiwan and parts of Japan, though it looks and tastes quite different from today’s Sushi.
In 1657, a disastrous fire in Edo (modern‑day Tokyo) killed two‑thirds of the city’s million residents. Tens of thousands of workers were invited to help rebuild the city, and commerce boomed, with thousands of new stalls in the streets, selling snacks to the workers. At that time, Sushi was available only in more populous areas of Japan, such as Kyoto, and was called Kansai‑zushi. Kansai‑zushi was made to be preserved so that it could be sold when needed. But because this type of Sushi was time consuming to make and had too salty or too sour a taste, Nigiri‑zushi (hand‑rolled Sushi) was invented and adopted by Hanaya Yohei in 1818 to sell at his store. This Nigiri‑zushi was an instant sensation and immediately throughout the country. The original Ukiyo‑e of this design was another work by the famous artist Utagawa Hiroshige, and the Maki-e was created by Masanori Omote san.
Sushi‑ya have mushroomed in the United States in recent years and there many other different kinds of Sushi that were actually created for and by American consumers, such as "California‑maki" or "Caterpillar‑maki". These dishes are not available in Japan, but Sushi‑ya in the United States would find it hard to survive if they did not have Hana‑zushi on the menu.
For Maki‑e art, Chinkin should start with Okime, which is the initial Urushi transcription of a design onto the finished surface. Very fine chisels are used to carve and trace the lines of the designs, and sticky Urushi is rubbed into the grooves. Finally, gold foil, powders or colored Urushi powders are sprinkled over the design and the surface is cleaned by Washi, Japanese paper. Chinkin was originally developed in Wajima in the 13th century; it is called Sohkin in China. Today's Chinkin is quite different from Chinese Sohkin. Wajima is no longer the only source for Chinkin; it can be found in the Fukui and Akita Prefectures, Okinawa (Ryukyu), and Aizu of Fukushima Prefecture. The types of chisels used varies throughout the regions. Wajima remains most famed for the art of Chinkin.
Designs of Chinkin are made by the following techniques.
Good Chinkin can be done only on a genuine Urushi surface, which has a few unique characteristics, such as its naturally occurring membrane, which no synthetic Urushi has.