How I met Kumiko

I was born in Iida city, Nagano prefecture, and my parents were running a joinery shop. I was the eldest of three siblings, and my father made me help his work from the time I was in nursery school, saying, “You are the eldest son, so you have to take over the joinery shop.” He told me to help him with his work even if I wanted to play with my friends after school.
I was not willing to help the job until I was in the second grade of primary school, but by the time I became a third grader, I started to make some ships and other things with remaining woods, and then I felt the joy of making stuff out of woods.
Around that time, my father went on a business trip to see national joinery exhibition. As soon as he came back, he excitedly told me “I met a person who makes Kumiko. His work was so detailed and beautiful. I was so shocked, and I couldn’t get drunk at the party after the exhibition.” Since then, my father kept saying “There are some wonderful craftsmen in the world. You should work hard to be a wonderful craftsman like him.” There is no way I could really see the Kumiko work at that time when we didn’t have such things as internet, so I asked my father to take me to the exhibition when I was in 4th grade.

Around 160 works were gathered from all over Japan, and from these works some were picked as Prime Minister’s Award and other awards. This exhibition is very honorable for joinery craftsman. When my father took me to the exhibition, I suddenly saw the wonderful Kumiko works and asked my father “Is this really a human’s job?” Father said “Yes it is. If you work hard as a joinery craftsman, you may be able to make one of those works.” I was so impressed by all the works and suddenly felt like I was born meaning to be a Kumiko craftsman. I told my father “You said I may be able to make one of the works, but I will definitely be a Kumiko craftsman and come back to this exhibition as a craftsman not a visitor.” On the way home from the exhibition in Wakayama prefecture, I decided to start studying about Kumiko from the next day, and as soon as I graduate from junior high school, I will start ascetic practices. I also set my goals to display my Kumiko work at the National Joinery Exhibition in my teens, and to be picked as Prime Minister’s Award as the youngest person ever.

The youngest in history
Road to the best Kumiko Craftsman in Japan

No sooner I came back home from school, I helped my father’s work, learned by watching his work. I woke up 5 o’clock in early morning to do my homework from school. I spend my time like above until junior high school graduation. I visited the National Joinery Exhibition every year, took photo of unseen Kumiko and used them to figure out how to compose it. I was so obsessed with Kumiko, I draw the sketch of “today’s work” even though I was in class at school.
I have already told to my teacher that after graduation, I will become a Kumiko Craftsman so I will not proceed to high school. My teacher advised me to go to a high school which has architecture course for my future life. In spite of my teacher’s concern, I persuade my teacher. “Thank you for thinking about my future. However, this next 3 years will be important for me to become Kumiko Craftsman. It’s been my dream since I was a kid.”
So, after graduating junior high school I started working at my father’s company. I could concentrate on Kumiko works and I was having a full of stimulating days. But these days didn’t last long, after half a year, a tragedy occurs, father’s company went bankrupted.

Quirk of Fate

In 1990, Japan was in favorable business condition called the bubble economy, I was 15 years old and too young to understand what was bankruptcy.
Even worse, my father attempted suicide by swallowing pills.
Fortunately, he survived though he needed a long-term hospitalization.
As a matter of course, some products were in the middle of the process.
So desperately I had to complete these joinery and paulownia drawer with my mother and grandparents.
My mother had to respond with frequent visits from debt collectors.
Before they leave our place, they yelled at me “Father’s debt is your debt!” My mother kept crying.
It was a tough day.
Eventually, all machines and woods were confiscated by court.

I had no choice but started working at precision machining company to earn money and our family were forced to live separately.
After 6 month, my father was discharged from hospital and he came to pick me up and said “Tonight we will do a moonlight fliting, pick the necessary staffs and put them in the car!” and we ran away from the town.

As I wanted to work at a company related to woods, I became a carpenter at the company we had known.
Even though we were away from the place where I was born and raised, we were told that I had to live in a simple house as much as possible because we do not know when and who will come.
We rented an oldest house in the town costs 8000yen per month.
I worked for a construction company, but I was working with a ridiculously cheap salary because of the moonlight fliting.
A week to the end of month, we had not enough food to eat, so I shared discounted cup ramen with my younger brother.
It was really hard to afford even 8000yen for house rent to pay in the end of month.
One day after three years of such a life, the president of a lumber shop who visited our house and said “I can’t help for what your father did, but the current environment is too terrible for sons. You should go back to your hometown and work at the construction company I introduce. ”

I remember being very happy to be able to return to Iida city – my hometown and started to work at the construction company for the first time in three years.
When I first talked to the president of the construction company, I confessed, “I am the eldest son, so my current goal is to build a family house.” I will train you hard for two years until you become 20 years old, and I will be happy to support you to build your own house.” For the next two years, the president gave a top priority on me, and with a lot of help of many people, we were able to build our own house. And at the timing of my younger brother graduation from a woodworking training school, my parents, younger brother and I became independent under the contract of a construction company as the Shiozawa group to build a whole house.

Re-challenge Kumiko

When I was 21 years old, I couldn’t forget my passion on Kumiko, so while working as a carpenter during the day time, I made Kumiko product at night and challenged the National Joinery Exhibition. The result was the fourth award. I had a blank for 6 years and because I was a carpenter, my arms were rough and I could not do a dedicated works. I was shocked that I couldn’t do what I was able to do when I was in junior high school. I fully realized as long as ensuring the environment is proper for Kumiko works, I can’t do more Kumiko works.

Signs of happiness

One day, my grandmother told me, “Our relative, started a barber shop nearby, so why don’t you go Masanobu?” It turned out that the relative was my classmate’s sister.
I visited a barber shop and got excited about the story when I was in junior high school.
On my way home, she said, “My sister is now a nurse in Shizuoka prefecture and she said she wants to come back here.”
And told me her phone number.
It’s been a while since I saw her so I was a bit nervous but called her.
She was very surprised by the sudden call and told me that she would meet me when she returned to Iida on vacation.
A few months later, we had dinner together talking about the moonlight fliting.
She was worrying about me for long time.
We talked about the days what happened after graduating from junior high school.
She came back to Iida and we started dating and got married a year later.

At the age of 25, I wanted my wife to see the National Joinery Exhibition, so we went to see it with my eldest daughter. When she first saw the National Joinery Exhibition, she was so excited. I visited at the National Joinery Exhibition for the first time in four years. I got so excited and started to make an impassioned speech to her.
A few days later, I talked about Kumiko with my wife, and I said, “I love Kumiko. I want to be a Kumiko craftsman if I can, but considering the reality, I have children and I have to live. I have no choice but to work as a carpenter,” then she replied “What are you saying, if you still have a strong passion for Kumiko, it’s your dream, why don’t you do it!” When I was a junior high school student, my wife was watching me drawing sketch of Kumiko during class in the seat next to me. “But if I do Kumiko, I won’t have a job for Kumiko right now, and we will take pains in many ways.” I said. But she replied “If you have a desire to do Kumiko, you can overcome any difficulties, and if you have a hard time, I will happy to share.”
Considering the youngest award in history, there are only two years left. I decided to start it tomorrow and talked to my father that I want to hand the president of Shiozawa group over to my father and I will be a Kumiko craftsman from now on.

From Carpenter to Kumiko Craftsman

I went to the bank and asked for a loan of 2 million yen to build a factory, and then I asked the landowner of the field next to my house, “Can you lend me some land to build a factory? He said, “Sure. You can use it, but dig the whole onion and bring them to me.” I bought building materials from a lumber store and built my own factory by myself in the summer heat, working outside on girders and posts.
Then I decided to name my business “Shiozawa Kogei” and started working mainly with Kumiko.

For about a year after I started my business, I made Kumiko stands, Kumiko folding screens, Kumiko tables, etc., and carried them on a small truck to unknown homes to sell them.
Of course, customers refused such a sudden visit, and I was often turned away at the door, which made me notice the difficulty of selling.
Around that time, my first son was born, and I knew I would not be able to leave the hospital unless I could raise the money to pay for his birth.
Finally, I was blessed with a customer who said, “I would love to have such beautiful Kumiko,” and I cried with happiness and gratitude for the customer.

Fateful encounter

In my second year, I had an unexpected encounter.
A customer who purchased Kumiko Shoji and Shoin Shoji said, “I knew Kumiko, but if it’s such a good thing, I would like to use Kumiko with four partition fittings for the tatami room in summer season.
Could you make it? “I brought some designs to the customer to see and decide on the design.
At that time, the customer asked, “I heard that Mr. Shiozawa was a carpenter before, but why did you start Kumiko?” I told my history and passion toward Kumiko.
Then, the husband nicely said, “I understand Mr. Shiozawa’s thoughts well.
I want to support you, so why don’t you submit the partition door I ordered right now for the National Joinery Exhibition aiming the Prime Minister’s Award?” I said “Thank you so much, but if I am aiming for the Prime Minister’s Award, it will be difficult to win the award unless you have a more advanced Kumiko, and I will to change from the design.” And he said even nicely “Then you don’t have to worry about money, so make your best Kumiko products and submit them.”
While reconstructing the design, his wife suggested, “Imagine a cool river because it’s a summer Shoji,” and went to a nearby mountain stream and drew five types of design sketch.
After deciding the design from the sketch, I finally asked a local Japanese painter to give me guidance on the composition, and I was able to complete the original figure.
Four Kumiko fittings which are 5 meters high and 2 meters wide requires a considerable number of days to compose, so for me, less than a year after starting the business, it would never have happened without the support of customers.
While watching the National Joinery Exhibition for many years, I was really grateful that I had the opportunity to put out all of it and put all my heart into its production.

As for the technique of Kumiko, the fineness of the groundwork has never been seen before, and all the woods of the Kumiko are shaved to a thickness of 1 mm according to the fineness, and a new bending technique is adopted. Five types of wood such as Kumashiro Cedar and Kiso Cypress are used, and the number of wooden parts increased up to 153000.
From the design sketch, it took about 10 months to complete, and it was still a few months before the National Joinery Exhibition, so we delivered it to the customer’s house. The customer was very pleased and said, “I was looking forward to seeing how much Kumiko would express when I saw the design sketch, but I was surprised it was beyond my expectation.”

Finally, to the fateful National Joinery Exhibition

That year, the National Joinery Exhibition was held in Niigata prefecture, and because Niigata prefecture is close to the center of Japan, there are many works were submitted. All the works belonged to frequenters for this exhibition and those were beautiful as always. Due to the setting up of the venue, I was finally able to bring in my Kumiko product, but since it was the last one, I was very nervous because I had to set up in front of my seniors.
When the setup was completed successfully and I called the customer “The setup is now completed.”, he replied “I will go to Niigata to see it, so let’s meet at the venue”.
The next day, the judging took place over whole day, and I was taking a rest near the venue.
When I went to the bathroom at the venue in the evening, the person next to me who was a person from the venue in Niigata prefecture who helped me set up my Kumiko products, he said, “Mr. Shiozawa, congratulations.” And I was confused about what he was saying, “Didn’t you know that? Congratulations on the Prime Minister’s Award.” I was so surprised and bowed to him many times, saying “Thank you.”
I called my wife immediately and she was very pleased and came to the venue with our children two days later. I wanted to tell my customer as soon as possible, but I remembered that the customer said, “I’m looking forward to going to the venue, including the results,” so I stopped telling them now.
The next morning, when the award ceremony was held at the another venue and I returned to the exhibition hall, the customer was already there and said, “I was very impressed that you could really win the Prime Minister’s Award among these many exhibited works.” he was delighted with tears and said, “This Kumiko product is now our heirloom, so I’ll set it all year round, not just in the summer season.” After guiding around the venue, the customer said, “I’m glad I was able to support your dream, and it’s really amazing that you achieved the goal of being the youngest in history to win the Prime Minister’s Award.” I also said, “I was not sure what kind of Kumiko product I can compose before I start it, and I don’t know how to thank you for giving me such an opportunity to trust me and make it.”