Budo Sansho

People involved with budo sansho

Tadatsugu Nishiwaki

Innovative craftsmanship born from home base

Tadatsugu Nishiwaki
Shimizu Works

Interview date:2019.5.13

Mountain trees each have a crucial part to play

Tadatsugu Nishiwaki, resident of Shimoyukawa, a village that lies near one of the tributaries of Arida River, and part of the former Shimizu Town, reflects back on his childhood days like this—“There are a variety of trees in the mountains, and around them, almost encircling them, windmill palm (trachycarpus) grew thickly. I felt a strong sense of the value of trees in my mind as a child, seeing how each of the trees were used, and the role that they played in our lives. But, from the high-growth period during the Showa era (from around the mid-1950s to the early 1970s) onward, the times changed to that of mass production and mass consumption. The trees that grew naturally in the forests were felled to make way for cedar, cypress, and other varieties of tree to be planted. Trees several hundred years old were chopped and left to wither, with no significant role. While this state of affairs was tough on him, Mr. Nishiwaki, interested in artworks and Buddhist statues carved from wood, set out to read books, meet with master craftsmen such as carpenters specializing in the construction of temples and shrines, and accumulated great knowledge about trees. There were no people in close proximity who seemed to think about the role of trees, and then carefully cultivate them for some particular purpose. His way of living from then on was decided with the thought, “I’ll just have to do it myself.”

Husband and wife, Tadatsugu and Eiko Nishiwaki

This is the path I have to take

Nishiwaki resolves to take on crafting products from windmill palm as his principal occupation, picking up the idea from seeing his father work with windmill palm as a side job. Even with the same species of tree, cultivation methods differ according to differences in the tree’s location and environment. The soft parts can be used for brushes to wash the body, stiff and strong parts for high-quality scrubbing brushes—by identifying each of the special characteristics, while leveraging the advantages of each to the fullest, ideas for product development were mapped out.

Nishiwaki says, “I discovered a field where I could blaze a path using my own way of thinking and techniques, and that is where I wanted to give it a go.” He goes on, “What is important is checking to see with your own eyes, thinking with your own mind, discovering ‘a path of your own.’ Because I felt that living is about making a discovery of your own and pursuing that path, not taking a path laid out for you by someone else.” And blushing slightly, admits, “Being able to pursue this way of living all these years, has largely been thanks to the cooperation of my wife, Eiko, whom I married at the age of 23. On top of the time and effort taken to create prototypes and get them through to the stage of being completed products, the work was done without ever being able to see the end, not knowing if it would be successful or not.” He continues, “I have given my wife a great deal of problems to contend with.” Standing beside him, Eiko breaks into a warm smile.

Finished sansho wooden pestles. On sale in select stores and galleries in major cities.

On the internet you can only find information from the past

Mr. Nishiwaki says that he feels that there is a danger in relying too much on information from the web. “Nowadays, everyone is happy with the answer they get by using their smartphones to look something up in an instant, but you know, everything that is written there is history. What adults must take the initiative in, is making predictions about times to come, and thinking for oneself about what kind of way of life will be required for those times. And for that, real-life experience is indispensable. Nishiwaki himself set out to a certain country in Asia for technical guidance when he was in his thirties, and had an unforgettable startling experience. He recalls, “Plastic trash from Japan was stacked up, right in front of my eyes. I felt ashamed as a Japanese person, and thought, ‘I’m going to fix this.’”

And returning to the essence of the issue, he thought that, as he explains it, “I don’t want to add to the amount of trash any further. In the end, it returns to nature; with our own hands, let’s make products that are kind to the earth.”

Products are currently being produced at Shimizu Works, and this is the story that creates the backdrop for the birth of wooden pestles from sansho and scrubbing brushes from windmill palm, among other products. Azmaya Co., Ltd. (headquartered in Shinagawa, Tokyo) and Kozo Co., Ltd. support Nishiwaki’s activities and operation of Takada Kozo Shoten (headquartered in Kainan City, Wakayama Prefecture) as mighty partners.

The budo sansho trees, planted by Mr. Nishiwaki and associates, also thrive

Daisuke Takada, from the third-generation of Takada Kozo Shoten, which deals in a multitude of windmill palm products. He was onsite the day we visited, helping with the processing of windmill palm.

Windmill palm fibers taken from the tree bark

I want to expand our home base

Nishiwaki does not negate the advance of technology by any means. “Even in the middle of these mountains, we take direct orders from customers via the internet. We’re also able to correspond. That’s fun.” What’s more, it appears that they are also drawing attention for their drone technology, anticipated to greatly transform logistics. Nishiwaki explains, “If we combine the best parts of each—craftsmanship techniques handed down through the generations over many years with great care, and cutting-edge technology, then here we can see a bright vision of the future.” He smiles and says, “Let’s dream together.”

But to do this, it doesn’t mean that the level of work to be done by hand at home has been settled. He declares, “I want to join forces with collaborators and for us to go out and expand our base widely.” Recently too, he has not only been making processed goods, but also been pouring energy into forest management, starting to cultivate his own budo sansho among other activities. He explains, “We can still grow. I want to increase the number of supporters. Techniques, ways of thinking, know-how—I will teach you everything.”

Azmaya Co., Ltd.

5-4-20 Higashi-gotanda, Shinagawa ward
Tokyo, 131-0022, Japan
Phone: 03-5798–7510 Fax.: 03-5798-7511

Official Site

Takada Kozo Shoten

97-2 Mukunoki, Kainan city, Wakayama prefecture
640-1173, japan
Phone: 073-487-1264 Fax.: 073-487-3318

Online Store

Back to top