Edo tortoise shell crafts Edo bekko
Value-added with rare tortoiseshell
Beautiful light brown hue created between heat and water
Edo Bekko refers to fashion accessories and ornaments made from Hawksbill turtle (Taimai) shell, which are produced in Bunkyo Ward, Taito Ward and Sumida Ward, Tokyo. History of this artifact harks back to the early Edo Era. Edo Bekko is characterized by peculiar sheens and warmth of natural materials. Composed mostly of protein materials, it is susceptible to sweat and hair products but can last for a long time with good care. Edo Bekko products are of several pieces fused together, allowing easy repair of cracks.
The Hawksbill Turtle is now a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (The Washington Convention) that was stipulated in 1992, prohibiting the tortoiseshell trade and causing tortoiseshell to be in short supply. Cuba has a surplus of Hawksbill shell because of its custom of eating Hawksbill turtles but is tied under the trade embargo. Edo Bekko products currently use carapaces which were collected before the import ban and remainder. Nowadays tortoiseshell products are mainly seen in sash clips, hair accessories, necklaces, broaches and eye-glass frames.
Production of Edo Bekko started back in 1603, when the Edo Shogunate was established, and techniques for fusing tortoiseshell pieces together arrived in the city of Edo in 1688, allowing products with more complex designs. Sumptuary laws are behind the naming of Bekko, products made from Hawksbill turtle shell. Imported from overseas, Hawksbill turtle shell was considered luxury and contraband. Upon the petition from a lord of the domain, however, the shogunate government gave the green light to use the shell of local snapping turtle instead of Hawksbill turtle, and snapping turtle shell had been used until the ban on the use of Hawksbill turtle shell was lifted. The name of Bekko is derived from snapping turtle, with the kanji characters of Be denoting snapping turtle and Kko denoting shell. The name of Hawksbill turtle (Taimai) is found in Edo Bekko products that had been made before snapping turtle shell was introduced, such as Taimai Nyoi. In February of 1982, Edo Bekko was designated as a Japanese traditional craft.
General Production Process
- 1. Designing Parts are carefully selected from seve+BB22ral carapaces so as to suit to the design of an Edo Bekko product on account of different shells with different colors, patterns, viscous property and strength. A solid idea of a product design leads to material selection suitable for a finished form.
- 2. Selecting materials Tortoiseshells are selected according to the final design. Several tortoiseshells are put in layers to increase the thickness, requiring shells with similar colors and patterns to be overlapped each other. Some Edo Bekko products need a wooden mold made of Japanese cypress depending on the size or design.
- 3. Cutting out and Rough filing Cutting out is a process of cutting a piece out of a tortoiseshell bigger than an actual product with a jig saw. Rough filing, which is smoothing the surface of the tortoiseshell piece by removing flaws, is performed following cutting out. Rough filing involves two processes: filing the surface of the shell with a file called Gangi (rasp) and fine smoothing with sandpaper and Tokusa (scouring rush). Careful surface filing and smoothing affect the adhesion properties of the pieces fused together in the following process. Highly transparent parts such as claws are used to give the thickness if necessary.
- 4. Fusing Fusing is a process of immersing the finely-smoothed pieces in water and fusing them through a combination of heat, metal plates and pressure. No adhesive is needed because Hawksbill turtle shell contains hide glue. Pinched between wetted willow plates, the wet tortoiseshell pieces are placed on a hot metal plate and pressed with a vise. It is subtle craftsmanship in controlling moistening, temperature and pressure on materials and processing time. Colored Bekko products are made by immersing the white finely-smoothed pieces in the staining solution instead of water for dyeing. The dyed pieces undergo the same fusing process.
- 5. Product shaping Product shaping is to shape the tortoiseshell product with a knife and file. It includes bending, extracting from the wooden mold, cutting and carving. Products such as eye-glass frames requiring a symmetric appearance are carefully adjusted in this process.
- 6. Final finish and Polishing A buff polishing machine is used to give a final polishing to the Bekko product with wax to bring out luster. For colored tortoiseshell products, a color coating is applied after polishing.