KEZUROUKAI TAKAOKA 2008
Kezuroukai in Takaoka on May 24th and 25th was one really great experience. It was held in the small port town of Fushiki which is a suburb of Takaoka on the Japan
Sea at the Shokoji Temple grounds. The streets leading up to the 400 year old temple were closed off to regular traffic by the police and fire department and the whole
town took this on as a celebration and an introduction to their enormous restoration project of one of the ancient buildings that makes up the temple proper.
This temple was used as a stronghold of the ancient Buddhism sect Ikkoikki, and represents a style that was known as a temple fortress during the Age of the Civil Wars before
Japan was unified by first Nobunaga and later by Hideyoshi and finally by Ieyasu Tokugawa.
The Kezuroukai meeting was held partly on the 4 floors within the great covered building that houses the restoration of the cluster of buildings seen above, and in and around the
adjacent temple that is currently used for services. We are looking at 4 levels of industrial height ceilings. This old temple is gigantic.
The veranda of the great building was used to display merchant goods and services and the interior was used on the first day for the opening ceremony which included speeches
by the mayor of Takaoka and others and a 2 hour panel discussion about the restoration, home building, Kezuroukai and the woodworking and blacksmithing fields in general.
The sales spaces were used for both days and the crowds just got bigger and bigger over the 2 days. There were blacksmiths showing their own products and miners showing
their own stones lots and lots of really interesting stuff, and I can attest, a lot sold.
Outside and next door at the restoration site were some demonstrations on preparing raw curved logs for sawing and use within the temple project and an area where
participants of the planing contest could drive up and drop off their supplies and tools. Inside the steel building in areas usually used for restoration prep work, like on the
ground floor, were stalls showing carving techniques and decorative appliances that might be used on a project like copper sheeting work and wood turning and a case with
some valuable collector tools. This is also where the sharpening station was located. These are permanent stand-up type stainless sinks with stone holders used by the
carpenters during work days and were now being used by competitors to tune up their blades.
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The middle two floors were used for the planing and were set up with dozens of identical benches with 2 plane shooting boards, one on each side.
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Each participant was assigned a bench to use for a session of about 2 hours. The planers started to arrive at about 8:00am lugging boxes of tools and
wrapped bundles of the wood they were going to plane. To get fine shavings in the 8um *(8 micrometers or 0.008 millimeter) level and below
requires not only the skill of the planer and sharp blades but also great wood. I think most of these guys kissed their kanna good night, but I suspect
they slept with their wood.
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Walking around the shop area you see some excellent and original technique and hand work. Notice the articulated fingering on this last fellows hands.
Totally focused planers setting up their dai, working in teams and partners, family and friends. It got so crowded at mid-day on Sunday that it was
hard to walk around.
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There were the large kanna in the 150mm and above width but most of the planing was done with 70mm kanna. I saw some interesting items like
the green plastic self-dispensing sandpaper scraper thingamajig, a few 70mm kanna with a low profile dai in the 20mm thick range, an expanding dai
to hold a chisel blade?,  many players using a glass mounted sandpaper rigs for sole flattening and also users of diamond plates for flattening soles.
I guess at this skill level the amount of wood being removed at these final tuning sessions is miniscule. Also I noticed lots of owner made wood
mallets for iron adjusting and some copper faced steel hammers for iron adjusting.
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The top or 4th level of the superstructure contained a historic perspective of the building being restored
with samples of ancient nails, tools, joinery, roof tiles, pealed back stratified exposures of wall and roof
composition and working drawings for the project. Also there were scale models of the building
beautifully constructed just as the actual building is and will be restored.
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Also on the 4th level was the plane shaving measuring station. Each participant or their partner was required to hand carry their chosen example of their thinnest shaving up
the stairs to be measured. I am not sure how many samples they could submit, but each submission was accompanied by a log in card that was filled out. If the shaving was
handed over for measuring, it was counted as an official sample. I did see a couple of micrometers floating around downstairs, but upstairs it was all business. The crew made
separate readings on each shaving at two different locations on the shaving for a total of 4 readings. The first two on a table mounted micrometer and the second pair on a hand
held micrometer. Both tools provided digital readouts. It was reported in the local newspaper the next day that the winning submitted shaving was in the 3um thick range
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A few thoughts
I only saw one participant using a synthetic stone as a final finishing stone, everyone else was using natural stones for the final honing. There were lots of diamond
plates in view for flattening the stones and they were used with regularity. For sure everyone showed up with a sharp and flat blade from home. There was constant sole
flattening going on. The sole adjustment necessary for producing these fine shavings was with very light and precise scraping usually using a straight edge to guide the
scraper. I think that most planers could have produced great shavings out of the backs or their cars when they showed up, but they did take lots of time on site doing the
above and setting up their bench. Without the fine grained wood that most all brought with them, the shavings would not have been as thin. I believe that pretty much
everyone brought their own wood to shave. There were a lot of under 30 participants, pops with kids, young guns, the old guard and teams. The general public attended
in great numbers and walked around freely from bench to bench. Lots of food and drink available outside.
The Spirit of the Kezuroukai
Before it began, and when it is all done and over with, it is the spirit of the Kezuroukai that is the vehicle that all of these fine people have jumped aboard and ridden. It
is powered by the attendees and their enthusiasm for participation and achievement. Not by a mailing list or a sound bite on TV. The willingness to engage and to
submit their product or their best attempt to those around them at this gathering creates a humming beehive effect that is very unique. The party at a rented hall the
evening of the first night demonstrated that although special as individuals we were all there on an even playing field, the Taiko drums encouraged us to step outside our
shells and join the rhythmic movement from the past into the future.
I feel that an important function of Kezuroukai in Japan is that it ties the past with the present and therefore allowing the future to be a possibility. Many of us here in
the U.S. experienced in the 60s & 70s that desperate attempt to confirm and secure the hand trades and crafts that we felt sure to fade away with our grandparents
generation. We were convinced, some of us, that the craft trades of the 19th century would be obscured by the overwhelming advance of the modern era. I can see this in
Japan too, the atmosphere may not be frantic or desperate, but there is a conscious movement to keep the arts and crafts alive and well. In an environment like
Kezuroukai a sort of osmosis occurs, of knowledge and maybe more importantly, of doing. I think that this is an intelligent scheme by an intelligent core group of
people. Sure I know that there are politics and positioning and the idea of buying and selling may leave some a bit weary, but all in all there is a thread being woven at
these meetings that is constructive and purposeful and peaceful.
On a Lighter Note
Speaking of beer. I had a chance to kick back a few with the local "off duty" firemen. Of course they drink only the finest, and they served
the best beef soup within 100 miles. My hat is off to them.
P.S. the fire chief is on the left, he drinks too.
*micrometer
A micrometer (sometimes expressed using the obsolete term, micron ), is one-millionth of a meter and can also be expressed as:
  • 10 -6 meter
  • One thousandth of a millimeter
  • One 25-thousandth of an inch
  • 1um
The micrometer is a unit of measure for the core in optical fiber , for which the most common diameter is 62.5 micrometers. It is also used to measure
the line width on a
microchip . Intel's Pentium 4 microprocessors are built using 0.18 or 0.13 micrometer line widths. AMD's Athlon uses a 0.18 line
width.
A human hair is said to be about 50 micrometers wide or in ranges from 17-181 micrometers.
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