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DaveT

Katchushi: An Amazing Journey

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I've been working as an armour restorer since the early 1980's and committing to a full-time venture since 2011. During that time I have been professionally trained in the art of urushi by Kitagawa sensei of the Kyoto Prefectural University. However, the art of armour has been a self-taught process where I have deconstructed armours over the years in order to replicate the process. My business is good, I have a number of years of pre-bookings ahead and a proven track record by my client base. But I have never studied being a Katchushi in Japan.

This year I took it upon myself to throw myself into the deep end. I begged and ask favours from my friends to gain an audience with today's leading Katchushi masters. Scheduled around this years DTI I was able to visit each Katchushi on my list. There is a little bit of rivalry between the masters, however, I managed to steer free of any politics. My plan was a simple one, I had prepared a portfolio of my work to present and then take the critic onboard.

My first meeting was with Ogawa Sensei. Ogawa had just overcome a serious health problem that now prevents him from using traditional urushi. Ogawa looks like a true samurai, his hair tied into a bun with a beard and traditional Japanese shokunin clothing. Despite not being able to work with urushi his metal work was the best I'd seen during my entire visit. He crafts complete suits of armour and recently completed a copy of a famous KATO dou for a local museum. Ogawa introduced me to his workshop and showed me his tools and formers for creating armour. Chris Glenn was also in attendance and is the deshi of Ogawa, he has been a student for over 15 years. Ogawa gave me some fantastic tips and showed me a technique that only 3 people know in Japan.

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My next meeting was with Toyoda Sensei. Toyoda subject is old armours, I must say that I was totally overwhelmed with this mans knowledge. He studies ancient texts in classical Japanese, he is the go-to guy for any archaeological finds. Toyoda is a very valued and skilled katchushi, I think I would be right in saying that he is one of a kind. I was invited to his workshop where he showed me three O-yoroi that he had been working on for 28 years. He has handcrafted the entire armours as 1:1 replicas of the originals. His commitment to detail and tradition is unparalleled as he even weaves the odoshi on his fingers. I spent many hours with Toyoda Sensei, we talked about the manufacture and reproduction of traditionally printed egawa and how the templates were made together with how rawhide is used in armour construction. The information received was most valued. 
 
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After Toyoda I visited Nishioka Sensei who in the west is certainly the most well known. Nishioka runs the most commercial workshop with four full-time deshi working away on clients armours. I didn't have much time with him as he is extremely busy, however, he did take time out to tell me the secrets to making kirisuke from kokuso, dyeing techniques and he spent one-hour one-on-one correcting a lacing technique that has eluded me for years.
 
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My final visit was to Katchushi Andy Mancabelli. Andy has been the deshi of Miura Sensei, who is a true master of masters. I visited Andys new workshop where we talked shop and examined armour all day. Andy has a splendid workshop and store, it's really impressive. We actually had some differnces a few years ago, but we overcame them and I'm happy to now call him a friend.
 
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Well, the outcome. Being self-taught. I'm happy to say that nothing negative came from this. In some cases I witnessed complete amazement, in others, I was told that my restoration standard is equal to that in Japan. I can confidently say that I will stand my restorations against anyone outside of Japan.

The Katchushi were amazing, they have extended a friendship and warmth that has really touched my heart. Introducing me to their workshops, sharing trade secrets, offering continual guidance has frankly exceeded my expectations. I owe these people complete gratitude and remain humbled by their kindness and honesty. 

I have been invited to return and study armour making in more detail spending a few months each year in Japan. My restorations are pretty much at the standard they need to be, but in order to be a real katchushi, I need to be able to make complete suits of armour. That now is where my focus is, I really can't wait to get back there and hammer metal.


Now some oddities:

I managed to have tea with Mr Tokugawa Iehiro
Sit in the favourite chair of the late katchushi Myochin 
Muneyuki at a local Sushi Cafe.
Be included in a Japanese TV programme about my visit with Tokyo TV

 
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Finally, at the DTI I met with a lot of dealers. I learned a new word "
Sugoi" or wow, super! They were very pleased and surprised with my standard and speed.
I have now been appointed the preferred restorer for two of Japans leading armour sellers. 

So a dream come true Ive met the masters and can return and further my study, I had my standard validated by the most qualified katchushi on the planet and bagged a restoration contract with Japanese dealers. 
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Dave,

 

Thanks so much for sharing this story with us.  I enjoyed it immensely. The road to mastery of any Japanese art is long and hard and requires a totally dedicated mindset.  Few Westerners have achieved this,  I am full of awe and admiration.  However, with all your new contacts and contracts I don't think my old Haruta kabuto is going to be restored anytime soon...  Perhaps I should write???

 

Best wishes and congratulations,

BaZZa

(aka Barry Thomas)

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You the best Dave :)

I, and , there must be others, that admire your perseverance to be the best.

Obsession + Dedication = Success

 

Thanks for sharing. :)

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Took my time to read this topic today as it was a day off. There is only one thing to say: hat off, Dave :)

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