EYEVAN × KYOTO interview 02
“People are the treasure”
Komaruya Sumii 10th generation, Ms. Keiko Sumii (founded in 1624 / Sakyo-ku, Kyoto city)
The “Kyomaru-Uchiwa” is a summer tradition in Kyoto. In summer, the walls of Kyoto’s Hanamachi district are decorated with these Japanese hand fans, a reminder of the summer season’s arrival. Each hand fan from Komaruya Sumii is made by hand, even the process of drawing the line for the fan’s bone is created by the craftsman’s hands. We interviewed Ms. Keiko Sumii, the 10th generation of Komaruya Sumii, who is looking ahead to preserve the culture.
I want to preserve the culture of Uchiwa
Our roots are traced back in 1624, when the emperor of the time ordered us to make hand fans using madake bamboo from Fukakusa, Fushimi. During the Edo period (1603-1867), the culture of uchiwa and sensu (a folding fan) developed, and Fukakusa uchiwa became famous throughout the country. However, we do more than just making and selling uchiwa. My father used to say, “we have to protect our culture of uchiwa.” In fact, 60% of our business as Komaruya Sumii is to make stage props. 60% are stage props, 30% are hand fans for the stage, and 10% are Kyomaru-uchiwa. “Kyomaru-uchiwa” is a hand fan with the name of a geisha or maiko on it. In Kyoto’s Hanamachi district, there is a tradition in which geiko and maiko hand out uchiwa printed with their names to their clients as a summer greeting. Komaruya Sumii has been making Kyomaru-uchiwa for generations, supporting the culture of the Hanamachi (flower district).
People bring others
Once, a descendant of a person who owned a Komaruya Sumii’s hand fan made by a previous generation brought it to me, saying, “It’s a family treasure in my house.” I am now the 10th generation, and I was very glad because we had no materials or documentation from our predecessors in the past, and we had nothing left at our place. After all, “people” are our treasure, and our clients, bring us more clients. We adhere to the principle of taking care of our loyal clients.
What you make is what you get
I believe that what you make is what you get, when it comes to handmade work with heart and soul. So I don’t try to sell more or develop business more, but I always want to “solve” the problems of the clients who come to us. If I could, I want to help them, and it’s not good to be greedy. What you do for others will ultimately come back to you. This is not a manual; you always need to be mindful.
Komaruya’s colors are created by layering
The shape, texture, and bone line of uchiwa must be properly taught to the next generation of artisans in order to continue to produce quality products. This will lead to preserving the culture and preserving the Kyomaru-uchiwa. Since uchiwa is made by a division of labor, I want the craftsmen in each process to be happy and build long-lasting relationships with the artisans who make them, and through the many mistakes we make, they gradually become ” Komaruya’s colors”. Then, we need to find a way to get as many people as possible to hold what we have made.
Now, a new culture is being born
The emperor of Kyoto had a lot of interesting “culture” that brought the uchiwa culture to Kyoto. Today, uchiwa fans are also given as gifts in the middle of the summer, and a new culture is now being born.
Things that are not negotiable
Letters that symbolize “Kyomaru-uchiwa”
I think, after all, that quality is part of the design. The font of Komaruya Sumii’s uchiwa is difficult to create, even for a master of calligrapher. And we don’t change things even if we don’t like them at first appearance. How you respond in a difficult moment can turn it into an opportunity, then I am sure that there will be supporters of Komaruya Sumii.