日本工芸・技術の粋が詰まった「自在置物」の魅力 A look at the wonders of 'Jizai Okimono,' the pinnacle of Japanese craftsmanship.


Welcome to the world of Jizai Okimono, an ancient Japanese craft. You may have seen them before, you know, metal or wooden sculptures of anything from dragons and mantises to fish and lobsters. Loosely translated Jizai Okimono means ‘articulated object,’ and they tend to look and move just like the real thing. That’s right, they move, making this one of Japan’s most sophisticated art forms.


The roots of what would become Jizai Okimono began to take hold during the peacetime of the mid-Edo period, and with a surprising fertilizer. With the feudal era coming to a close, Japanese blacksmiths suddenly found themselves with a lot less work, meaning they needed to use their skills for something other than weapon making if they wanted to survive. Thus the art of Jizai Okimono was born. The early works were met with immense praise abroad and very few pieces remain here in Japan, making them a less well-known art on home turf. Until recently you could have even called it a lost technology.
Today there are two young artisans working to breath life back into Jizai Okimono. Their names are Haruo Mitsuta and Ryoho Otake and the technical sophistication of their work will blow you away.


Breathtaking technical prowess


Only 36 years old, Haruo Mitsuta is a metal worker specializing in insect motifs. As an undergrad at the Tokyo University of the Arts he went on an ancient arts research tour where he met Jizai Okimono master Muneyoshi Tomiki and later went on to become his pupil. Not only did he inherit the dying techniques, he brought them to new heights. That’s saying a lot when you consider how meticulously crafted every Jizai Okimono piece is to begin with.


One of his most incredible pieces to date is the aptly named ‘Jizai Quail Skeleton.’ The precisely detailed sculpt almost seems alive. The posable joints allow it to be posed in any number of ways. If this doesn't make you want to start collecting Jizai Okimono I don’t know what will (lol).

一方、1989年生まれの大竹亮峯は木彫家だ。そう、彼は“木”で「自在置物」を作っている。出自からして明らかなように、「自在置物」は通常、鉄や銅、銀などといった金属を用いて制作される工芸品だ。木製のものは極めて珍しく、これまでは大正から昭和初期に大阪で活動していた作家・穐山竹林斎(あきやま ちくりんさい)によって作られた作品が3点確認されていただけであった。大竹はその歴史を変えたのである。
2014年の5月にYouTube & Vimeoへ投稿された彼の作品「伊勢海老」の動画は、日本のみならず海外でも話題を呼んだ。コメント欄には「Amazing!」「Awesome work!」といった賛辞が並んでいる。

On the other hand we have the 26 year old wood worker Ryoho Otake. That’s right, he carves Jizai Okimono out of wood as opposed to the iron, bronze or other metals normally used in the craft. It turns out that this is actually incredibly rare, with only 3 other wooden pieces having been identified since the Taisho era, all tracing back to Osaka artist Chikurinsai Akiyama. Otake’s efforts have changed that.
In May 2014 he uploaded a video titled ‘wood spiny lobster’ to YouTube and Vimeo and received comments like “Amazing!” ad “Awesome work!” from around the world.


He completed an incredible crab piece this year called ‘Jizai Calappa.’ Check out his Facebook page for must-see making-of photos. It looks massive, and very real, like it will begin crawling any second. In fact it’s so realistic that it’s almost weird it doesn’t move. Okimono means figurine, which doesn’t do this exceptional work justice.


If your interest is piqued, the next step is to see Jizai Okimono in person. Mitsuta has work in the ‘Spider Silk’ exhibit running from October 15-December 25 at the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art in Aichi prefecture. You can also check out both artists’ Facebook pages for event information and more.

満田晴穂Haruo Mitsuta


Born in Tottori in 1980. Entered Tokyo University of the Arts department of crafts in 2002. Began learning Jizai Okimono after meeting master Muneyoshi Tomiki on a tour of ancient arts. He continued the craft after graduating the university with an MA in metalcraft and has entered pieces into local art fairs and museum exhibits. His meticulously articulated insects, crustaceans and reptiles are shown in art exhibits throughout the world.

満田晴穂と自在置物標本箱 Haruo MITSUTA & Zizai Specimen Box


大竹亮峯Ryoho Otake


Born in Tokyo in 1989. Did his thesis on Edo woodworking at the University of Tokyo Secondary School attached to the Faculty of Education. Received a degree in woodworking from TASK. After many visits he was finally given an apprenticeship with carving and woodworking master Katsuhiro Higashi. A year and some months into the apprenticeship he won the grand prize at the 2010 ‘Modern Woodwork Arts Festival.’ Afterwards he began a solo career as Otake Mokucho and has a large following of Japanese collectors.



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