Tate-Eboshi the Yotsutani Wayby Ishiyama-roku-i Gen'tarou Yori'ie of the BMDL
Copyright © 2017, Elliott C. Evans
Yotsutani-sama works out of his home in Toyama, Japan. "Yotsutani Tate-eboshi Senmonten" (https://www.facebook.com/onlyeboshi/) is the last workshop in Japan that still makes tate-eboshi from traditional materials, and entirely by hand. Toyama City is on the West coast of the Japanese mainland, about 3.5 hours (by train) Northwest of Tokyo. It is a seaside city, and its urban trade center gives over fairly quickly to suburban neighborhoods and small farms. I visited the workshop on the eleventh and twelfth of October, 2016, during my trip to Japan to participate in an episode of the TV show, "Who Wants to Come to Japan?". Although it appears to be one visit in the video, we actually spent two days in the workshop, learning about eboshi, and it was the centerpiece of my appearance on the show. There are many misconceptions in the SCA about this kind of eboshi, and I want to share what I have been taught about one way to make eboshi that match what we see in historical scrolls.
Master and Apprentice
Yotsutani-san himself is 84 years old, and he has one apprentice, Yokkaichi, who is 36. Yotsutani has been making tate eboshi for fifty years, so he did not start until he was almost the age Yokkaichi is now. Yokkaichi quit his video production job in Tokyo seven years ago, and he and his wife moved in with his parents in Toyama. Yokkaichi started visiting Yotsutani-san just to check up on him, but began studying the work and eventually became the apprentice.
The two now work side-by-side, making new tate-eboshi and repairing old eboshi and other formal headgear. Their work includes things like old paper, thin strips of wood, lacquer made from cashew tree resin, rice paste, thin strips of wood, custom-made hot iron tools, and a brazier full of red hot coals. The resulting eboshi holds its upright shape, while being both lightweight and durable.
Most of the eboshi they make are about eight inches tall, seven inches wide, and ten inches front-to-back. It has a leather band, and is secured by cords that also modify the size by pulling the sides together. The completed eboshi weighs about five ounces with all its appointments.
These days, eboshi of this type are mostly worn by Shinto priests while they perform formal ceremonies, and the style they wear makes up the bulk of Yotsutani's production. Custom versions (such as specific textures and finishes) can be made by request, but many of these are significantly more difficult, so they are made less often. One style is the kazeori eboshi ("wind swept" eboshi) that is folded to one side or the other. For modern priests on the go, a collapsible eboshi is available.
Making an Eboshi
Making this kind of eboshi starts with 100 year-old paper. Yokkaichi explained that he has been collecting old business records, and storing them in the workshop. These records are typically found in the attics of business buildings that are about to be torn down. Businesses used thin paper because it was cheap, but 100 years ago it was still hand made, and the random fibers of the paper make it strong for its thickness. Yokkai is not sure what will happen to the craft when this source of paper runs out, so he has been hoarding it since he became Yotsutani's apprentice.
The construction process begins with pasting three layers of paper together with nori rice paste. This type of paste is sold under the "Nori" brand name by Japanese papercraft supplier Yasutomo, but Yokkai explained that he makes his own from scratch, since he needs several different consistencies for different parts of the process. In this step, thin paste is applied by brush to a large piece of paper, and kept wet while a second layer of smaller pieces is laid on top. More paste is applied, and another large sheet. This combined material is crumped into a tight ball to soften, and left in a plastic bag while more are made. The process has thirty steps in all, and often they will spend a full day doing the same step over and over. In this way, it takes a full month for all thirty steps, but many eboshi can be made each month.
The next step is to take the ball of paper, lay it out flat, and moisten it some more with a spray of water. The crinkled texture of the eboshi is part of the style, and this crinkling is done by hand. A pointed tool (it is actually a kiri wood-boring gimlet that has been dulled by use) is used to crinkle the paper by pushing it together bit by bit. The craftsman must make these crinkles tight enough to stay, but too much pressure will poke a hole in the material. Obviously, a lot of practice is necessary, The movements seem random, but each is deliberate and carefully sized. Once the whole sheet is crinkled, it is tacked to a board (so that it doesn't flatten out) and allowed to dry.
Once dry, one side of the crinkled paper is painted with lacquer, and (once the lacquer is dry) two sheets are sewn together (on a sewing machine) with their lacquered sides in. The shape of the sewing is very important, as it defines the amount of material available for the final shape. The paper is trimmed very close to the stitching, and re-moistened so that it can be shaped over a mold. Traditionally, this mold would have been carved from wood, and the craftsman would have had to make new molds every few years or so. One of Yotsutani's innovations was to have his molds cast in aluminum, so they will last much longer.
At the front of the eboshi is a shape that Yotsutani-sama calls the kao or "face" of the eboshi. The ridges that define the face are made of thin strips of wood that have been covered with a strip of paper and pasted down. The curved valleys in the face are seared into the eboshi with hot irons. The length and placement of these features is strictly defined, and forms the basis of Yotsutani Tate-eboshi Senmonten's signature style. Nevertheless, minor variations creep in, and Yotsutani says he can still recognize the face of eboshi that he made decades ago, when they come in for repair.
Once the paper is on the mold, more effort is expended to fit it flat onto all the surfaces of the mold. Some parts are compressed and some are stretched. Then, the brazier and hot irons come out. These irons are also custom made for the eboshi-maker. Once is like a tear-drop shaped branding iron, and the other is flat with a curved edge. The edge is not sharp like an axe, but it is tapered. The tips are tapered to points and almost sharp. They are fine enough for detail work. Real lump wood charcoal is used in the ceramic brazier to heat the irons. Yokkaichi does most of the hot work these days, and he judges the temperature of the coals by holding his hand over the brazier. He says this work is more enjoyable in the winter, of course, when it is cold in the workshop.
First, two overlapping teardrops are seared into the center of the kao. This creates the lines of the design, but also flash dries the wet paper into the shape of the kao. Then, the curved tools are used to sear the inner corners of the kao, and add curved "whisker" shapes below the kao. The body of the eboshi is left to dry on the mold.
The band is made separately from multiple strips of wood and paper, then glued in place around the bottom of the eboshi. This will later be covered with a thin layer of leather for comfort and durability.
To make the ridges, thin strips of cedar wood are pasted down to long strips of paper that have been darkened with ink. The paper starts out about a half inch wide, but get trimmed down a bit after the paste dries. More paste is then applied to the combined strips, and the ridge is applied to the eboshi. The curved iron is used to push the paper strip down into the crinkles of the eboshi, and flash-dry the paste to secure the ridge in place. The ridge over the crown of the eboshi is on long strip from the kao to the nape. The ridges around the kao are cut to precise lengths first, then applied in the same fashion.
Watching Yokkai measure out strips, I asked him if the ruler he was using was a one shaku ruler and he said it was. The shaku is an ancient unit of length measurement that has since been superseded mostly by the meter. Traditional crafts like carpentry, tailoring, and (it seems) eboshi making sometimes still use these traditional units. One standard shaku is 30.3 cm long, or about 11.93 inches. A shaku is divided evenly into ten sun, and each sun into ten bu. Yokkai says the two ridges at the bottom of the kao are "two and three" meaning "2 sun and 3 bu long", or about 2.744 inches.
The four loops of cord inside that secure the other cords are poked through the surface of the eboshi, then frayed out to lie flat on the surface and pasted in place. If you look carefully, you can see the flat spots on the exterior where this was done. The two loops at the back will be tied to each other by a loop of purple cord. By tightening this loop, you can tighten the brim of the eboshi to make it fit a smaller head size. The two front loops, placed higher towards the crown, will hold a loop of white cord. The white cord that is delivered with the eboshi is made of twisted paper, and is used to secure the eboshi to the wearer's head by tying beneath the chin. It is made of paper because it is assumed this cord will get dirty fairly rapidly from skin oils and sweat, and need to be replaced often.
With the basic shape and detail of the eboshi established, finishing can begin. The first coating is called "kakishibu". Kakishibu is fermented persimmon juice. It is astringent, and does polymerize somewhat when it dries, just like some kinds of vinegar. The purpose of the kakishibu is to dry the paper, make it resistant to water, and acidify it to protect it from both insects and the bacteria that might cause it to rot. It also serves as a primer coat, so that the first coat of expensive lacquer doesn't just soak right into the paper. It is applied liberally with a brush, and allowed to dry. Kakishibu is non-toxic and some people drink it as a health tonic.
Then, a few layers of lacquer are brushed on. Care must be taken to work the lacquer into all of the crinkles of the paper, to make a complete coating. Traditionally, hon urushi ("real urushi") lacquer would have been used. This lacquer is made from a cousin of poison ivy, and the material can cause allergic reactions even when "dry". Yotsutani says that there are no more producers of hon urushi in Japan, so it must be imported from China and is expensive. Yotsutani-sama uses a lacquer known as "cashew urushi" that is made from the sap of the same plant that produces cashew nuts. It is cheaper, and less reactive than hon urushi. Most other aspects of the cashew lacquer are identical to that of urushi lacquer, though. Cashew urushi takes just as long to cure, and the eboshi hang in the hallway outside of the workshop until they are ready to deliver.
In old Japan, eboshi of various kinds were so common, there is still a street in Kyoto called "Eboshi Street" because the shops on that street were so popular with noblemen that during the day it would be wall to wall with eboshi. Today in Japan, most people will only see traditional tate eboshi if they visit a Shinto temple or otherwise participate in a ritual such as a wedding or funeral. Yotsutani and Yokkaichi provide all of the eboshi that Japan's modern Shinto priests need.
Now that you know all the secrets of this process, if you decide to try your hand at making tate eboshi this way I will say to you what Master Yotsutani said to me: "Good luck!"
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