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From Value One, Summer 2007 No. 17  


Nagahama City, in Shiga Prefecture, is situated on the northeastern shore of Lake Biwa, the biggest lake in Japan. A unique culture has developed there as a castle town associated with Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who succeeded in dominating the whole country. One feature of this traditional culture is the Nagahama Hikiyama Festival, which is held in mid-April every year. Many townsmen parade through the streets of the city pulling hikiyama (wheeled portable shrines) that are beautifully decorated with kazari kanagu, or ornamental metal fittings produced through the delicate skills of metalsmiths. The gorgeous hikiyama make up the attractive feature of the festival.

The skills needed to produce the kazari kanagu that decorate hikiyama can be traced back to the gunsmiths of old Nagahama. Guns, the first of which were brought by Portuguese sailors to Tanegashima off Kagoshima Prefecture in Kyushu during the Muromachi era (14th-16th centuries), soon began to be made in old Kunitomo Village in the Nagahama area. Gunsmithing established itself in this area, and gunsmiths formed a big group known as Kunitomo Teppo Kaji (Kunitomo Gunsmiths). Guns manufactured in Nagahama, which became a major center of matchlock production, were characterized not only by their functionality but also the beauty of their decorations. Their barrels were ornamented using an inlay technique borrowed from metalworking to create patterns by engraving and cutting off parts of the barrel and fitting another metal into the resultant grooves. Gunsmiths from Kunitomo were invited by the townsmen of Nagahama to utilize their mastery of inlaying metal to make kazari kanagu for hikiyama. Today in Nagahama, kazari kanagu artist Kiyoshi Tsuji continues the mastery and tradition of inlaying metal. "I cut fine grooves approximately 1-mm wide into the metal and inlay fine pieces of another metal into the grooves. I ask myself how should I bring the different metals into contact and what colors and nuances should I make. You have to pay minute attention to all aspects, including the design, cutting and color formation," says Mr. Tsuji. Kazari kanagu is the product of intricate skill.

The main event of the Nagahama Hikiyama Festival is Kabuki performed by children.


Kazari kanagu of hikiyama. Everything, even a strand of hair, is an inlaid piece of metal. This piece is said to be the work of Sugaji Okumura, a fabulous master of kazari kanagu in the Omi area.


One of Mr. Kiyoshi Tsuji's work.
The feelers and legs of these prawns are inlaid.

[Kunitomo Teppo no Sato Matchlock Museum]
534 Kunitomo-cho, Nagahama-shi, Shiga
Tel: +81-749-62-1250
Open: 9:00 to 17:00 daily (except year-end and New Year holidays)
Admission: 300 for adults, 150 for elementary school and junior high school students

Within a single year after guns were introduced to Japan, gunsmithing began in Nagahama. The city can be rightly called the hometown of guns in Japan. One of the highlights of the Kunitomo Teppo no Sato Matchlock Museum is the opportunity to touch real Kunitomo guns.
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