The Artisanal Signature
Maki-e artisan Michifumi Kawaguchi, the creative force behind the 2012 Namiki Limited Edition Fountain Pen, the Namiki Archer on Horseback, took time out of his busy schedule to share his philosophy with us
Artisan Michifumi Kawaguchi working on a Namiki fountain pen. Note the pens in the foreground, showing that he works on up to three pens each day
Late in the movie Margin Call, Jeremy Irons’ reptilian financial shark schools his team of predators in his business paradigm: “There are three ways to make a living in this business: be first, be smarter, or cheat.” Being first and getting away with cheating often involves a fair degree of luck to and this is something an avowed traditionalist firm like the Namiki Manufacturing Company did without in 1918. Indeed, founder Ryosuke Namiki famously wanted to succeed purely on the merits of his product and the hard work of everyone at the company. To this end, he reportedly opened one of his factories deliberately on the most inauspicious day of the year so that no one could credit the company’s success to luck.
We recently got a chance to interview someone directly related to this decidedly old school philosophy, Maki-e craftsman Michifumi Kawaguchi. Like the legendary Gonroku Matsuda, the Maki-e artisan who was so moved by Namiki’s noble gesture that he joined the company, Kawaguchi works in a traditional trade under threat from contemporary pressures but he does so with the support of a commercial entity; the Namiki fountain pens he works on are produced by the well-known Pilot Pen Corporation of Japan, the successor of the Namiki Manufacturing Company.
Speaking to us in relation to the Namiki Yabusame fountain pen, in which he used both Taka Maki-e and Togidashi Maki-e techniques,
First of all, do you think of yourself as an artist or a craftsman? What drew you to your craft?
I see myself first as a craftsman. My grandfather worked as a temporary Namiki craftsman. I saw him at work when I was a child and longed to do what he did. Thus, I started training under a Maki-e artist, Hidenori Tuboi, a Maki-e artist, for eight years in Wajima,
When I turned 26 years old, I was recommended this job by an artisan working in Pilot. At that time, I only had experience working on bigger items like chairs and room dividers, but I was really keen on challenging myself by learning to apply Maki-e techniques on smaller items like the fountain pen.
Tell us about Maki-e and what makes it special?
Maki-e lacquering, rich in Japanese history and culture, is a centuries-old technique in which multi-layered patterns are drawn on the barrel and cap with urushi - sap from Japanese lacquer trees. The hand-painted designs on Namiki pens richly interpret scenes of nature in precious metals and lavishly colored pigments.