Making "Do-mune" Story ("Senko" Type)
※The "Senko (泉皓) Do-mune" is currently out of production.
This service deals with the "Senko Type Do-mune" which specially inherited the model and manufacturing method of "Senko".
泉皓 / Senko from Sasaki Budogu
-How did the name “SENKO” came to be?
Senko：Senko was a name given to us by an acquaintance from the temple.
The word “泉 / SEN” means water spring, signifies the unstoppable flow like a water spring. While “皓 / KOU” signifies creation of purity and beauty.
This is how the kanji for “SENKO” came to be.
It is a name with the wish to be able to continuously create beautiful things.
-Please share with us about the workshop’s history of kendo gear making, especially Do-mune.
Senko：I am uncertain if this is precise, my father founded this workshop in the 10th year of Showa (1935 A.D.).
Originally, the Sasaki family was rooted in Tottori.
The opportunity to make kendo gear arose when the family decided to leave Kansai region.
Back then, my father and my uncle managed the workshop with the help of my mother.
Although we were specialized in making Do-mune in the old days, it wasn’t made for kendo but instead, "Jukendo(=銃剣道)".
As it was already an established system where different parts of a kendo gear is to be made by different specialist,
my father decided to pursue the path of making Do-mune.
As the war has ended and Japanese martial art was banned for a period of time, the family was left jobless.
My father diverted his focus on managing a Japanese confectionary store to make ends meet.
I think my father had already learnt that craft long before making kendo gear.
When the martial art ban was lifted, orders started to arrive, and my father began dou-mune crafting once again.
As both Jukendo and kendo were banned, the lift created a great demand for Bogu supply.
(Tools used by the late Senko)
-With the naturally flow of event, your elder brother and you inherited the techniques?
Senko：Both of us, as brothers, inherited our father and uncle’s legacy in the 38th year of Showa (1943 A.D.)
My brother and I had worked in mechanical design in another company for about a year right after we graduated from senior high school.
This experience in design helped us greatly in shaping the dou-mune later on.
After inheriting the family business, we studied under another Do-mune master from Kansai, Hashimoto Kaibo, and learnt many techniques.
SENKO series of Do-mune was made based of the techniques learnt during that period of time.
The business was managed by us brothers and our mother where we receive job orders from well known bogu workshops.
Everything was hand-made, even when we worked at our best every day, we could only make a maximum of 50 dou-mune per month.
Nowadays, oversea factories can produce 50 Do-mune per day.
As there were no such factories in the past, we were able to receive a lot of orders.
(Due to years of tough work, the fingers were deformed and hard to extend)
-I see you have a lot of paper templates nowadays, was it all hand-drawn back in the old days?
Senko：No, when the business first started, the main patterns were Kikko (turtle shell) and Nami Chidori (waves with thousand birds).
As we had to assure production quota is met, the process is almost the same as it is today.
The only difference is that there are a lot more patterns now than in the past.
(Template for different Do-mune size for the same pattern.)
-With the rise of Kendogu being made outside of Japan, what have you done to face the change of time?
Senko：As our sales channel diminish gradually, in the 50th year of Showa (1975 A.D) we started to sell other Kendogu accessories besides dou-mune.
This is how the workshop officially became “Sasaki Budougu Store”.
In the wake of the Heisei period (1989 A.D), China has started the production of Do-mune.
With Shokko (main stictch pattern) and Kazari (decoration pattern) becoming highly customizable, customer needs grew in variety.
To us, it became necessary to have different types of templates thus a sudden boom in the variety and amount of Do-mune templates in the workshop.
Even though the Shokko and Kazari is the same, the shape changes according to the size, which was an issue.
As mentioned earlier, we had a year of experience in designing, we were able to substitute paper templates with plastic ones, which took us some time to make each template.
We ended up with tens of templates.
It is really hard to get good quality in recent years.
Some of the leather and thread manufacturers that we have great rapport over the years have been forced to close down, it is getting harder to maintain the quality of materials.
It has become almost impossible to get high quality Kurozan leather which has profound bumps and recesses to the touch.
Black Wagyu(=Japanese cow) used the common source of leather in the past for Japanese tanneries, however, modern day demand for marbled beef has caused newer feeding methods creating fatter livestocks which weakens the skin and produces weak leather.
This makes it hard to make patterns like Kikko, which needs densely pack holes to stitch.
(It is hard to obtain good quality leather in Japan.)
-What points are persistent in making "SENKO" Do-mune?
Senko：There are too many that I can’t put into words, I would always focus on making the Shokko(=Color patterns of Do-mune) to have a 3-dimensional feel.
Oversea made Do-mune are made with the inner layers are stuck together using special glues which over hardens to the point that needles cannot penetrate the layers.
For me, I would compress the layers by stitching the layers compactly to its limit while creating the desired patterns.
This creates a very pop out look for the Do-mune which does not deteriorate over decades of use.
I believe the user will feel the difference is obvious when used.
Another point is the part where the Komune(=小胸) contacts the Herikawa(=縁革) where the width is different.
It is where the mune is attached to the dou-dai, thus the width is as narrow as it can be to allow the mune to fit the dou-dai’s curve just right.
Recent years sees the trend of broadening this part of the Do-mune which causes the Do to look a bit off.
This is one of the points we insist on in our "SENKO" Do-mune.
(Stonishing Shokko that pops out)
-What is the hardest part of making Do-mune?
Senko：As leather is made of living things, it is important to understand its elasticity and thickness before knowing how to cut it.
Thickness is not uniform throughout the leather, so are the elasticity in different parts as well.
We process the leather and stitch them with these thoughts in mind which are unreproducible using machines.
It is due to these techniques that we are greatly supported by our customers and stores that stocks our products.
(The workshop where both brothers once sat together.)
-It is regrettable that Mr. Shigeru had passed away in the 28th year of Showa (2016 A.D.)
Senko：All of it happened so suddenly, it was devastating.
As we have reached old age, we were helping each other do what we can’t accomplish.
Now the work cannot be carried on anymore.
As we do not have a heir, in the end we made a painful butt firm decision to close down Sasaki Budougu.
There are still some Do-mune and Tsuba in stock with us, so we are holding a clearance sale.
Recently, we have a lot of visiting customers and received a lot of words of encouragement from all over Japan.
In fact, it is thanks to the mentioning of our situation in blogs that has drawn the attention of our supporters nationwide.
We are truly thankful for everyone’s support over the years.
(A relief made by a customer.)
-What is the issue you face regarding having a heir?
Senko：It is not just limited to Kendogu craftsmen but also the material makers, paint manufacturers and much more, who are facing the fate of closing down due to no heir to the business. Such case is getting too much to count.
As the craft is done by division and specialization of labour, once one business stops, other relevant businesses get affected too.
There are a lot of techniques and skills being lost as we speak, this is why I feel that the spread of information is very important.
Including myself, Japanese craftsmen has a strong characteristic where “I don’t want to talk too much about myself”.
To put it honestly, we do not know of any other ways to spread knowledge and information.
In the end, the brand proliferation of "SENKO" and the nurturing of its heir was too late.
Fortunately, we were able to garner support and understanding from all over the country.
We are now able preserve the knowledge and technique to the craft and also take care of the remaining stocks we have.
-Lastly, do you have any words for the "SENKO" fans?
Senko："SENKO" had the meaning to create beautiful things forever.
Although we are no longer able to create more Kendogu, but we feel great joy if the name "SENKO" remains in everyone’s heart.
We are really grateful for everyone’s patronage.