The Tsubame-Sanjo area is famous for Japanese handicrafts and factories, and Gyokusendo has been at it for over 100 years.
Gyokusendo’s Open Factory
The Tsubame-Sanjo area of Niigata Prefecture is known for its centuries-long history of traditional Japanese handicrafts, talented artisans, and manufacturing. And in recent years, the creators in the area have begun to open up to the world, showing off the beautifully crafted fruits of their labor through open factories, where visitors can see the work in action. One example is Gyokusendo (玉川堂), a workshop that has been making traditional copper teakettles in the area for over two centuries, and letting guests in to see the process in more recent years.
The Tsuiki Process
The way the artisans make kettles at Gyokusendo is no easy process―and it simply wouldn’t be the same if done by machine. The method, called “tsuiki” (鎚起), starts with a totally flat sheet of copper, and through careful hammer taps, transforms that flat sheet into a round, smooth finished product. After the method arrived in the area from Sendai in the late 1700s, the Tamagawa family established their workshop in 1816, and they’ve been perfecting the traditional handicraft ever since.
Each kettle costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars, but after seeing the artisans at work, you can understand why. Hours are spent with strained eyes, carefully smoothing out every bump and wrinkle in the metal, for a masterfully smooth final product.
The artisans at Gyokusendo work with copper, but they use various finishes to create a variety of colors. Some require layers of other metals, while others use a mix of chemicals for unique effects.
The Product Displays
The front room of the Gyokusendo workshop has a small space to admire some of their works, and see the variety of items made in the back. One member of the Japankuru team walked in ready to splurge, budgeting 20,000 yen (around 200 USD) for a special kettle to remember the trip. But the teapots and kettles were 3 to 30 times that price! If you’d like to take a look for yourself without venturing all the way to Niigata, Gyokusendo has a shop in Ginza Six, where you can see the items up close.
The Final Product
The Japankuru team wasn’t just visiting Gyokusendo to admire the work! We had a mission, and that was to film the artisans at work. Take a look at the finished video below, featuring handicrafts, factories, and artisans around the Tsubame-Sanjo area, including those at Gyokusendo!
Name Gyokusendo (玉川堂)
Address 2-2-21 Chuodori, Tsubame, Niigata