A Weekend in Maebashi with Tokutomi
On a rather chilly, blustery Saturday morning, Hiroyuki Tokutomi pulled up at my hotel to pick me up for the three hour drive to Maebashi, a mid-sized city on at the northwestern fringe of the Kanto plain. Tokutomi lives on the far side of Maebashi from Tokyo, an area that starts to feel rural, in the foothills of the mountains that dominate vistas from the city. While the Kanto plain is home to some forty-million people, being the largest plain in the Japanese archipelago and home to Tokyo, Tokutomi's home is more suburban. His neighbors have large vegetable gardens, extending well past what a normal family could consume. Tokutomi lives at very much the edge of urban and rural Japan, a contrast that seems far starker than in other countries.
I spent two days in Maebashi with Tokutomi, spending most of the time watching him work, taking photos and video of the process. I've spent many hours watching Tokutomi work over the years, but this is the first time I've made a seriously concerted effort to document the process while in his workshop. Tokutomi's workshop is decidedly well appointed. Multiple sanding disks, set up for a left-hander, buffing wheels and lathes dominate the space, split into two large rooms by a half wall. He also has an entire arsenal of air powered tools, drawing compressed air from his sandblaster compressor. Not being an expert on such things, I asked him about the relative benefits. He explained that the airpowered tools were higher torque than their electricity powered counterparts, plus the flexibility of one power source for many different attachments is quite a boon. In the past, he's also showed me the knives he used in his pre-dremel days, and still breaks out occasionally for certain work, but the mix of air-powered tools radically improves his productivity.
We spent most of the time with Tokutomi at the sanding disk, doing what he does best. Watching Tokutomi at the disk is a pretty remarkable thing. He works so efficiently and effortlessly. It seems to be an entirely intuitive process for him, envisioning the pipe in the block of wood. He shaped two pipes while I was there, a squat tomato shape for which Tokutomi is quite famous and a beautifully grained volcano. He also drilled both pieces and worked on a stem on a third pipe, the pipe for the three pipe set that he, Jeff Gracik and Adam Davidson started at Adam's workshop here in Myrtle Beach after the Richmond show in early October. Tokutomi's three-year-old grandson Rinto spent the entire time in the workshop too, though he isn't really a terribly helpful helper (though no one told him that).
All in all, it was a really special experience. Watching someone of Tokutomi's caliber work is special in its own right. To have a two day all-access pass is special indeed.