Bear Graves and Ryota "Our Man in Japan" Shimizu, sat down and had a chat with Reiichi "Ray" Kurusu. Ryota, pipe man and translator extraordinaire, amply demonstrated his value throughout the interview, by correcting Bear's poor Japanese. Thus, questions which arrived as "Do you have any sisters at home?" became "Do you smoke a pipe yourself?" SPC extends its deepest thanks to Ryota-san.
Bear Graves: When and where were you born?
Reiichi Kurusu: I was born on the 21st of November 1977, and I'm from Osaka Japan.
Bear Graves: What career path did you take immediately upon graduation?
Reiichi Kurusu: After graduating high school in Osaka, I lived abroad for about a year in New Zealand. When I returned to Japan, I moved to Tokyo pursuing my love for music. I worked at a tattoo studio, not really having clear vision of what to do.
Bear Graves: Where do you live now? Is your workshop in your home?
Reiichi Kurusu: Right now, I’m back home in Osaka and my workshop is there as well.
Bear Graves: At what age did the idea of pipe smoking appeal to you? Did you have men in your life, whom you looked up to, who might have smoked a pipe?
Reiichi Kurusu: When I visited the 2011 Pipe Fest in Tokyo, I met with Tokutomi-san for the first time and pipe making sounded so interesting that I thought of giving it a shot. I asked Tokutomi if he could teach me and that also got me seriously thinking of pipe making as a career. After that, I’ve been visiting his workshop countless times trying to learn as much as I can.
Bear Graves: Do you smoke a pipe yourself?
Reiichi Kurusu: I smoke about every other day when I want to relax after work.
Bear Graves: What types of blends do you prefer?
Reiichi Kurusu: My favorite is SG’s 1792, but I usually smoke my mixture of Virginias. Dunhill Flake is one of my favorite as well.
Bear Graves: What, aside from pipemaking, is your vocation?
Reiichi Kurusu: I still love tattoos and music. Sometimes, I enjoy playing the piano and singing.
Bear Graves: Who was the maker of your first quality pipe?
Reiichi Kurusu: My first high end pipe was a Jess that I was able to acquire 10 years ago from a friend. He was kind enough to let me have it for a very reasonable price. I can still remember how fascinating the stem work was.
Bear Graves: Your first pipe was a Jess?! I wish I had friends like that! When did you create your first pipe that you were proud of, one that you felt was worthy to sell?
Reiichi Kurusu: It’s only been 3 years that I started making pipes and looking at some fantastic handmade pipes that my friends show me, I realize how much I still need to work. But I think this past 6 months has been a huge leap for me.
Bear Graves: What is the origin/source of your briar, and, roughly, how long is it seasoned prior use?
Reiichi Kurusu: All my briars are from Mimmo, and I let them sit for about 2~3months before using them. Personally I would like to season them for at least 6 months or more in the future.
Bear Graves: What is your stem material of choice?
Reiichi Kurusu: I use vulcanite for my stems and never acrylic. I sometimes use Cumberland as well.
Bear Graves: Do you hand cut your stems?
Reiichi Kurusu: All my stems are cut from rods. Never a mold.
Bear Graves: What size are your draft holes?
Reiichi Kurusu: Draft holes are all 4mm.
Bear Graves: We have noticed a couple of different aspects of approach to your shaping. If you have a prevailing theme for your work, how would you describe it?
Reiichi Kurusu: I don’t really have a theme per se, but I try not to overuse complicated lines or curves. There are the soft gentle lines and simple curves that I am very fond of. But I do like those lines that just click on blowfishes as well.
Bear Graves: What pipe makers, if any, have aided you in your progress as a pipe maker?
Reiichi Kurusu: As I’ve mentioned, Toku has helped with me from the beginning and has taught not only how to carve pipes, but also what it means to be a pipe maker. Ichi [Editorial note: Ichi Kithara] as an elder student, has been a great mentor as well.
Bear Graves: I have noticed some beautiful lines in your work that are quite evocative of Tokutomi’s aesthetic Looking at the broadest spectrum of great pipemakers, either living or passed, whose work do you most admire?
Reiichi Kurusu: There are so many that I admire… Tokutomi Hiroyuki, Kei’Ichi Gotoh, Takeo Arita, Bo Nordh, Jorn Micke, Jess Chonowitsch, Bjorn Bengtsson, Sixten, Lars and Nanna Ivarsson… I like how Tao and Poul Ilsted make their bulldog shapes.
Now, to the more 'personal insight'?
Bear Graves: Do you have a nickname, one that you like and we might use on occasion? An odd question, but a nickname, even if simply a shortened version of your given or surname, creates a greater sense of personal connection with collectors, as well as allows us not to simply repeat your same first/last name in a description (reads a bit better).
Reiichi Kurusu: My nickname has always been Ray. My real name is Reiichi but I’ve been using Ray for so long that I used Ray Kurusu as my brand name.
Bear Graves: What kind of music do you like?
Reiichi Kurusu: Tom Waits and Nina Simone, and Fiona Apple. I respect their ability as musicians, as well as their vocal talents. I used to like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, but now I enjoy the quieter music.
Bear Graves: What are your favorite things to do, when away from work?
Reiichi Kurusu: Right now, I use every second I have on pipe making, but I love traveling and so one of these days I would like to go on a trip for a change.
Bear Graves: Do you have a favorite sports team?
Reiichi Kurusu: I'm not much of a sports guy and have no clue! [Laughing.]
Bear Graves: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions.
Ray Kurusu: You are very welcome, it’s been my pleasure.