Tsubame-tsuiki copperware Photo:Takuminote - MASTER'S ARTISTRY – production team

Tsubame-tsuiki copperware Tsubame tsuiki doki

Scintillating light and simple daily utensils
Beauty of form hammered from a single piece of copper

Description

Tsubame Tsuiki Coppereware are metalwork made in an area around Tsubame City, Niigata Prefecture. As traditional craftwork originating in the mid-Edo Period, Tsubame Tsuiki Coppereware have been produced in the form of kettles, and the like, by using copper extracted from the region’s Mt. Yahiko.
Tsuiki means shaping metal by hand hammering, and in this case one piece of malleable copper plate will be extended using a range of traditional skills and techniques. Characteristics of Tsubame Tsuiki Coppereware include a shiny appearance created by tsuiki performed by a master artisan, and with time the texture of copper increases in attractiveness with long-term use and proper care. In addition to kettles, other beautiful Tsubame Tsuiki Coppereware every day articles include vases, water pitchers, teapots, and the like. And apart from looking so fine, tea poured from a copper teapot is said to have a milder taste due to the action of metal ions. Each product is made by several hundred thousand hammer blows making the outer side so smooth it looks like china. Tsubam
e Tuiki Coppereware was designated as a traditional craft by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry in 1981.

History

Tsubame City, Niigata Prefecture, famous for its production of metalwork, has a history starting from the making of Japanese nails in around the early Edo Period. Tsubame Tsuiki Doki originates with artisans from Sendai visiting Tsubame City sometime in the mid-Edo Period and introducing the copperware techniques of tsuiki; the hammering techniques of that time have been handed down for well over 200 years. Tsubame City is currently the only area producing tsuiki copperware in the country. The main reason for the development of the production of tsuiki copperware in the region is the high-grade copper ore extracted from neighboring Mt. Yahiko. Tsubame Tsuiki Coppereware over time developed techniques beyond the simple making of kettles and in the Meiji Period adopted metal carving techniques suited for more artistic crafts. Copperware, such as teapots, vases, and art work, which become more attractive over a long period of time has been loved for many years, and has become indispensable in daily life. A vase of Tsubame Tsuiki Coppereware was even dedicated to the Emperor Meiji in 1894.

General Production Process

Tsubame-tsuiki copperware - General Production Process

  1. 1. Hammering The production processes of hammered copperware vary depending on the shape of article to be made. The following explanation describes the making of the popular kettle. There are four basic processes: copper plate cutting, plate shaping, decorative work, and finishing. In the first process, a copper plate is cut to size. Hammering is then performed on a side surface part. The copper plate is placed on a wooden table exclusively used for this process, and the side surface part is hammered with a wooden hammer. Varying indentations on the wooden table are important for creating different sections of the kettle, such as a side surface or the spout. The strength and angle of hammering need to be considered depending on the rigidity and malleability of the copper plate. This process requires a very high level of skill, and is a true test of the artisan’s abilities.
  2. 2. Uchishibori (Thinning) Next, the copper plate is hammered and made thinner. The copper plate is placed on a metal tool called a torikuchi (L shaped stake). This tool, which is also called an ategane (stake), is used for a variety of techniques and purposes depending on the item being made, and when used is inserted in an agariban (wooden table) made from Japanese zelkova. The copper plate needs to be hammered many times in order to make a kettle spout; a task requiring much perseverance and concentration.
  3. 3. Annealing Continuously hammered copper plate becomes gradually harder, and needs to be temporarily softened in a furnace at around 650°C. Hammering and heating are repeated many times until completion.
  4. 4. Shaping Any irregularities and deformation on the body are adjusted and balanced to give a beautiful shape. The surface becomes shinier as it is repeatedly hammered.
  5. 5. Metal carving After the product is shaped, the surface is processed. A detailed design is drawn, engraved, and carved with a tool called a tagane (cold chisel). Inlaying is sometimes carried out to overlay the product with gold and silver decoration. Metal carving adds brightness and elegance to the plain copper color of the kettle.
  6. 6. Coloring and Finishing Finally, to give a different texture to the metal surface, the kettle is dipped into a solution and the color changed. There are two kinds of coloring methods. In the black color-based method, the kettle is tinned and fired at 800°C, and then hammered. For coloring, the product is then boiled in the liquid obtained by mixing green rust and copper sulfate, which gives an attractive dark purple color called kinko. In the red color-based method, the product is boiled for several hours longer in the liquid until the creation of a brown color called sentoku. Tsubame Tsuiki Coppereware articles made by repeated hammering of a single piece of copper plate have a unique beauty seen in no other metal work. The copperware we see today is a testimony to the traditional techniques of tsuiki lying at the heart of Tsubame Tsuiki Coppereware and faithfully handed down through generations of skilled artisans.

Where to Buy & More Information

Tsubame Industrial Materials Museum