Islander Focus, a project whereby we meet and talk to the people living on Izu Oshima.
This time we met with owner of Fujii workshop, Torao Fujii . One of the most eye catching building at Motomachi due to its dome shaped roof, the building is home to an archive of documents about the island’s culture as well as icchobori (wood carving) workshops.
-What led you to start this shop?
My late father used to run a souvenir shop in front of Motomachi Port while carving figures of Oshima Anko (or Anko-san, a local term for young unmarried women).
He would be completely immersed in his carving work from morning to night. While I grew up watching my father’s artistry, I never thought of following in his footsteps. As soon as I finished high school I moved to Tokyo to become a civil servant, and only moved back to Oshima when I my work relocated me to the local office here a decade later.
Then, from around the time my father was 83 years old and considering retiring his craft, I started wondering about the state of things as it were then. He passed away at age 90, and staring at all the many thousands of wooden figurines he had carved in his lifetime, I began to think what a shame it would be if the custom of Anko-san were to disappear from the island. Is there no way to preserve it?
In the end, I left my job at the age of 48, and set my heart on starting this place.
-Did the decision to start something anew at 48 years old require a lot of courage?
Yes. However, as my father was the last craftsman specializing in Oshima Anko wood carvings, with him gone, there would no longer be opportunities to tell the stories of the Anko-san, and their existence risked being forgotten. And with it my father’s craft. I had to do something about that. That was my sole purpose.
-What drew your father to Anko-san?
My father used to say, ‘the sight of the young Anko-san at work carrying water or firewood on their head was stunning. Seeing them work so hard was a joy. I try to carve as many figures as I can so as to not forget such a beautiful sight’. In his 60 years of craftsmanship in wood sculpturing, he carved 120 thousand Anko figurines.
-So you decided to succeed his strong will for preservation.
-Lastly, as a place where you can take wood carving workshops or read up on precious documents referencing Oshima, Fujii workshop come to be an important place on the island for passing down the island’s culture and practices. What are some future plans?
Through wood carving workshops, I not only hope that people learn about Anko-san and other island history and culture, but the fun and satisfaction you can get from being really focused on creating something. I just want this place to be someplace where both grown ups and kids alike can seize this opportunity to make some sort of discovery.