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Japan House London opens 'Biology of Metal: Metal Craftsmanship in Tsubame-Sanjo'
©Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival Committee.

LONDON.- Biology of Metal: Metal Craftsmanship in Tsubame-Sanjo, the brand new exhibition at Japan House London is held in collaboration with the Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival ( Kou ba no Saiten ) and is part of the London Design Festival 2018.

On show for the first time in the UK, the exhibition explores the innovative craftsmanship and ancient skills of some of Japan’s most talented metalworkers. Providing a unique insight into the evolution of this timeless Japanese craft, the exhibition explores how artistry and small industry are embedded in tradition, and the ways in which technology has evolved and embraced the new, adapted in a changing society.

Tsubame-Sanjo Region
Tsubame-Sanjo is an area in the northern Japanese prefecture of Niigata. Known for the precision and skill of the craftspeople from its numerous small metalworking factories and workshops, it produces a huge variety of products including the majority of Japan’s cutlery. Known for developing ultrafine metal-polishing techniques, it is the only area in Japan to produce all the cutting tools, numbering over 60 different kinds, used in the creation of bonsai. The region produces specialized knives of all shapes and sizes for the preparation of squid or tuna, for opening oysters or crabs, or for cutting lettuce, carrots or garlic. For the domestic and international market, it produces machine parts, tools and metal housewares alongside finely crafted drinking vessels used for the region’s famous sake.

The exhibition is inspired by the annual Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival ( Kou ba no Saiten ) initiative, when each October factories and workshops open their doors to visitors to offer the rare opportunity to see craftspeople at work and experience metalworking through the participation in workshops.

Meet the Makers: Gyokusendo
One of the skilled makers from this intriguing region that will be participating in BIOLOGY OF METAL at Japan House is 200-year-old metal workshop, Gyokusendo. In the late Edo Period (16031868), a travelling craftsman from Sendai in northern Japan introduced the method of manufacturing tsuiki (hammer cast) copperware to Tsubame, and the founder of Gyokusendo, TAMAGAWA Kakubei, was one of the few who successfully mastered this difficult process.

Gyokusendo first began by manufacturing everyday implements such as pans, pots and kettles, and later gradually added artistic elements and more decorative items. When Japan participated in the Vienna World Exposition for the first time in 1873, Gyokusendo products were selected for display. Gyokusendo’s skilfully crafted objects are held in such high regard that they have often been invited to dedicate new Gyokusendo creations to the Imperial Family on auspicious occasions.

Having maintained and innovated their crafting techniques from generation to generation, Gyokusendo’s creative process has been labeled an ‘Intangible Cultural Property’, both by Niigata Prefecture and by the Japanese National Cultural Affairs Agency.

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