Searching all of Japan for handcrafted items that express its heart and soul, our proprietor, KASHIYUKA, presents things that bring a bit of luxury to everyday life. Her journey this time took her to call upon a young craftsman making Otaka Poppo, a local, traditional toy meant to bring good fortune, made in the Sasano area of Yonezawa City, Yamagata prefecture.
Sasano ittōbori (literally “one-blade carving”) is a woodcraft technique that dates back more than 1000 years. In the Edo era, 1603-1868, it served local farmers as an off-season source of income. The craftsman Yasuhiro Koyama is carving Otaka Poppo at the Sasano Mingeikan folk art museum. “That’s a most unusual tool you’re carving with," says our shopkeeper KASHIYUKA.
Ever since I was a young kid I’ve loved birds. I can remember gazing at the wild birds that gathered at a nearby river, holding a guidebook to tell one from another. This time around I traveled to Yonezawa in Yamagata prefecture, to the Sasano Folk Art Museum, where you’ll find an array of Sasano ittōbori, the region’s traditional craftwork. On entering the hall I immediately spotted these sweet birds. Copper pheasants, bullfinches, gray wagtails. And the one with the strongest presence, Otaka Poppo, the hawk, with its curled wings and tail.
Purchase No. 44【Otaka Poppo of Sasano Ittōbori】Whittled with one knife from a single piece of wood, this North Country talisman has been popular for 1000 years.
“It’s given the name ittōbori, one-blade carving, because it’s whittled using one knife, from a single block of wood. It is said to have originated from the ‘Sasano Hana’, the wooden crafted object that was made as an offering to the goddess Kannon to appeal for victory in battle.” So explained Yasuhiro Koyama, born and raised there in Sasano.
Familiar to him since childhood, he knew that there was a critical shortage of successors to the Sasano ittōbori craft, and determined to become a kōjin upon turning 30 — the kōjin being the crafter who does everything from carving to painting the finished piece — and was apprenticed to the master craftsman Kiyoo Takahashi for eight years.