Ken Yokkaichi has become a craftsman who makes eboshi headdresses, thanks to four and half years of work as an apprentice to a veteran artisan with 50 years of experience.
Born in what is now the Toide area of Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture, Yokkaichi, 34, moved to Tokyo to attend university. After graduation, the young Yokkaichi worked mainly at a TV production company, but he returned to his hometown just before turning 30. About a week later, his father told him one thing: “There’s a craftsman in Toyama who produces eboshi.”
The father was talking about Keiichi Yotsutani, now 82, who was running the nation’s only eboshi shop that covered everything from making the headdresses to selling them. Yotsutani had worked as an eboshi craftsman in Kyoto before coming back to his native Toyama.
Yokkaichi visted Yotsutani to see his workshop firsthand. He found that it took about a month to take all the steps necessary to produce an eboshi. “Come tomorrow too if you like,” Yotsutani told his guest. Yokkaichi eventually visited the workshop almost every day for the following month.
Yokkaichi then asked Yotsutani to accept him as an apprentice, saying, “Let me try it if you don’t mind.”
Among just a small number of eboshi craftsmen in the nation, Yotsutani is the only person who can do the entire process by himself.
Eboshi production starts with making a layer of washi Japanese paper. After giving the surface an uneven pattern called shibo, the paper is applied to a mold to make the shape of a hat. Yokkaichi tried to “steal” these techniques from Yotsuya, who seemed to demonstrate them very easily, and worked hard to master the skills.
Eboshi production requires light but tough washi developed in the Edo period (1603-1867). Every Sunday, Yokkaichi and his master visited morning markets held in the Hokuriku region in search of such material, and even went to Miyazaki Prefecture to buy the high-quality charcoal necessary for their work.
While continuing to seek ways to produce eboshi that are light and easy to handle, Yokkaichi also became interested in passing down the tradition. “I should not be the last generation to use the techniques Mr. Yotsutani possesses,” Yokkaichi said. “I have to pass them on to my own generation of successors.”