The Violin Maker of Yamanashi

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My cousin, Naruo Komatsu, in his workshop

One of the nice side-benefits of this trip is that it requires me to speak to, and interview my Japanese family members regarding 3.11.11. Luckily, my dad is also in Japan right now, and he was able to take some time to join me for a few days (and act as my interpreter) so the day after I arrived, we met at Tokyo Station, then took a train to Yamanashi.

Tokyo Station (Eki in Japanese) is a crazy place. Unlike airports, through which masses of humanity ebb and flow, Tokyo Station always feels ready to burst from the sheer mass of rail travelers packed within its subterranean maze. The train to Yamanashi, which gradually escaped from Tokyo’s gravity into countryside, then hills and finally small mountains, felt like an escape.

My cousin Naruo lives in Yamanashi with his wife and two children. The home is nice, its Japanese-sized yard (read: “teeny-tiny”) filled with fruit trees and vines and cultivated greenery. But its what’s in a room on the top floor that makes the home special: his violin workshop.

Violin-making is a lifetime affair: Naruo apprenticed for years before striking out on his own. From what I can tell, a small band saw for cutting the top and bottom sheets is the only powered tool he uses; everything else he does by hand. And everything requires a special tool. Naruo produced for me a litany of chisels and knives used for the intricate carving required to make a violin. The tools, too, were hand-made and as he told me the names of their makers, other famous violins made with with them, and the world-class violinists who made them sing on stages across the globe: I was struck by the gravity and time of this thing Naruo does. I don’t think I’ll ever hear a violin’s notes quite the same way ever again.

There is something special about artists who create visible things by hand, whether wood or paint or image are their medium. In a world of the mass-produced, it’s encouraging to know that some things, like Naruo’s violins, are still made painstakingly, by hand, in the same ways they always have.

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Just a few of the tools Naruo uses.

 

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