• Hori-shi, Carving master,Mr. Syunzo Matsuda


Recognized by Agency of Cultural Affairs
A member of the Association for the preservation of Ukiyo-e woodblock print carving and printing technique

After graduating from middle school, Mr. Matsuda learned carving skills from his farther, who was a master of carving, while attending high school at night.
He has about fifty years of experience as a carving master.

Mr. Matsuda carved “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” presenting the dynamic scenery and in “Nihonbashi-Bridge,” we can hear people buzzing. Most of the works we introduced here were carved by Mr. Matsuda from the bottom of his heart. The more we look into the details of the work, the more we cannot hide our admiration for the dexterousness and delicacy.
We are amazed with curves as if drawn by the tip of a fine brush, women’s hairs expressed with the repetition of fine brush work, vigorous and rough wave splashes, the imposing existence of Mt. Fuji, lively peoples’ expressions, and so on.

When we spread out and looked at his works at Mr. Matsuda’s craft center, we wonder how the works were so great, and he said it was nothing to be amazed by.
“Nothing to be amazed by. This is how the Hori-shi do it,” he said in a way that he was aloof from the world.
We asked why Master Matsuda stepped into this career at a young age, about his father, and his philosophy toward his work.

Tell us why you became a carver.

I chose a carver as my career naturally since my father was also. If I were good at studying, I could found a job. I hated studying. I chose this job because I thought I did not have to study any more after the graduation of the middle school. To be honest, I just wanted to have fun. I just wanted to have a fun life (laugh). While I was attending high school at night, I sat and watched what my father was doing during the daytime unwillingly. Back then, I was a child, so I hated it. But I was thinking that it was better than working for someone else. In this way, I was spending my days without any purposes.

You learned from your father of his carving techniques.

Well, I don’t think he helped me as much as he possibly could. He implied that I had to put in effort by myself, I guess. If I asked him, at least he provided the answers, though. But, basically, I had to do it myself. I think everyone in the world of craft is like this. I would say that I learned what my father was doing while I was sitting next to him.

Well, I said that I learned from what my father did, but I was just doing the clearing out of the unnecessary parts.
I cleared off the unnecessary parts, knocking the chisel with a smaller hammer. Since I was just an apprentice, I never worked by myself. My father carved important parts, and then I followed what he did and finished the small parts. Actually, nothing was fun when two men were sitting side-by-side and working. Definitely, nothing was fun. I was thinking that this was all I could do now, and it was the way it was.

The worst thing was, my father was stubborn. He did not hang out with others. If he did not work, he went fishing. If he were a more sociable person, we could have a better life. Whenever he had free time, he went fishing. Actually, I went with him. I wasted my life without any purpose: it was like that. The time I changed my mind was after my father died. I started working hard and thinking that I had to take it more seriously. He had a stroke. I had no choice. I was 35 years old at that time.

The world of craftsman is a unique one. What was the hardest time you had?

It was hard for me all the time. No easy work for me.
I tried harder and harder. Is that the same as others?
I want to know if there is an easy job in life. Every job has difficulties to overcome.
I wish there were easy work, but there is not, right?
People say we are great whenever they see this kind of craftsmen’s work; I had to do this. It’s my fortune.
If the father did this work and you were with him, you have to do it without any choices.
Definitely, it is impossible for someone who does not know.
But, I was watching what my father was doing for a long time.
It is a good world for an apprentice: it is much better to learn to observe others rather than be taught by others.

I assume that you have a close relationship with woodblock printing masters. How do you coordinate with them?

It used to be one carver associated with three or so rubbing masters.
If one carver did one job, there should be 3 or 4 for good balance. Roughly.
In my case, I hear who will do rubbing work for me and then I start working assuming if he does work for me and he will do up to this point, etc. I would say that it is like a trust worthy relationship.

How many hours do you work in a day?

Unlike office workers, we do not work for specific hours.
If I was in, I often work over night.
We have to rule ourselves. If the schedule is tight, we have to do that. So, we will do our best. We do not have Saturday and Sunday for our work.
I used to have days off on the first and the fifteenth only.
Whenever I concentrate on something, I am working here. I sit on this Japanese cushion with my legs crossed. I might be trained by mahjong for sitting so many hours. (laugh)

Are there any carvers from the Edo period you respect?

None in particular. A carver is a craftsman.
We are the backseat players, so I do not think we are not supposed to appear up front.
But, I got an interview this time with you. (laugh)
So, please think that we carvers have a job because we have Hiroshige, Hokusai, Utamaro, and others. I think in that way.
If there is someone who does painting, carving, and printing, I will pay respect. However, the carvers are craftsman, so we are not supposed to show up in front. I do not think I am a big deal to get interviewed, but there is no good in people seeing my face. It is just to know who does what where and how it is made: that is all that matters. That’s all.

You have fifty years of experience as a carver. Please tell us the enjoyment of this work.

Well, definitely it is a pleasant thing when someone bought my work. There is nothing even if I thought I did a good job.
I am so glad if someone says that is sold well. I appreciate that. I am relieved. Well, I am not sure when. When I visited a Japanese style inn before, my work was displayed on the wall at the reception. I carved the work for Mrs. Yuki Ogura, a famous Japanese female painter. I knew of this kind of business purchase of my work. It was a coincidence to see my work, but it made me happy.
Oh, I did a work for an American artist many years ago. I had done various works for many people before, but the American’s job was very complicated. (laugh) I though it was tough, but it is the way it is because this is a job. They asked me if I could, so I had to do it. I did not want to say I cannot. I cannot say anything if my work is not good. But, if there is an opportunity, I have to do that: this is my belief and I came to it at this point.

We had an opportunity to observe his carving process.

  • Place the rough draft drawn on washi, a thin Japanese paper, on the wood with the face down.
    Mark with color pencil.

  • Put glue on the surface where the rough draft will be.
    Smear by hand.

  • Glue the rough draft onto the wood along with the red mark

  • Gently distribute the glue evenly with fingers

  • The rough draft on the wood. Wait until the glue dries.

  • Carve the black ink outline see through with a small carving knife

  • Finish carving black inked lines, “Omohan,” black inked woodblock, is completed.

  • These tools are precious.
    They are like his fingertips.

  • A pile of kyogozuri (Proof prints made from the block that prints the black outlines).
    These are not only his but also work left by his father.

Below you can purchase carving master Shunzo Matsuda’s work “Yodogoro Sawamura II as Kawatsura Hougan and Zenji Bando as Onino Sadobo” byToshusai Sharaku.