21.1.15

| The Masters | Toothpicks


There are many mundane objects in our everyday lives that hardly seem worth mentioning. Things that we pick up and use without a second thought about where they have come from or how they came to be. And few things are more commonplace that a humble toothpick. That is, until you find yourself with a box of toothpicks from Saruya.






























Saruya in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, is the only remaining toothpick maker and retailer in Japan. It was established in 1704 and has been run by the same family for 9 generations now. With over 300 years of mastering the production of toothpicks by hand, each and every toothpick has been and is still skilfully cut and sharpened by hand using a particular type of wood known in Japanese as kuromoji (spicewood) selected for its aromatic qualities, flexibility and durability. 



In these days of mass manufactured disposable things, our respect for such dedication to mastering a craft, traditional methods and a devotion to heritage really only grows. 

In Japanese dining, toothpicks are not only used after a meal, but also to hold certain foods together and to serve and eat traditional confectionery or wagashi. 

Our particular box is made of paulownia wood embellished by hand by the current head of Saruya, a tradition that begun in the Meiji period by the 5th generation owner.

Of course, we do not whip out our box of toothpicks on a whim. We like to share them with house guests who we know enjoy quality, an interesting story. I suspect most are just bemused by our strangeness. As for the paper used in the background of the 1st two shots, that was also made by a master of craft. But that is a tale for another day.

| Why We Care |

After a talk with my father-in-law, I have become quite fascinated by the evolution of Japanese aesthetics through the ages. It is his opinion that the prevalent and rampant materialism of Japanese consumerism is eroding traditional, high quality, masterful products in favour of cheap, fast and easy items or international branded goods. Sadly, we agree and it is something that weighs heavy on my mind when shopping in Japan which is why it is a pleasure to support and own something like this. 

Saruya
18-10 Nihonbashi Koamicho,
Chuo-ku. Tokyo.





11 comments:

  1. I appreciate your appreciation for well-crafted things, things that probably were commonplace before mass-marketing came along.

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  2. How fascinating! If I'm honest, I will say that I absolutely never considered where or how toothpicks were made before they began being mass produced in factories. The idea of a master craftsman dedicating his life's work to elevating such a small, humble item to think of true greatness makes my heart warm.
    xox,
    Cee

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  3. What a wonderful post! These toothpicks are amazing...they are truly a work of art!

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  4. Oh, I hope this shop will never close!!! Yes, yes, yes, I wholeheartedly agree with you and your father-in-law, small artisans are feeling the pressure of cheap commercialism.. nothing is made as it was before anymore. This is exactly the type of business that we support wherever we go. Thank you for sharing this!

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  5. wow incredible, I'll always have admiration for people dedicated to their craft :)

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  6. Me too but to carry on the tradition for 9 generations in the the same family - truly extraordinary.

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  7. Good point! There where loads of these shops at one point in Japan's history. Today just one.

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  8. This is one of my fav posts in a while. So interesting to hear about something I have no idea about. So delicate, practical but also fancy for the good of it. I want to be one of your guests who deserves to use one of these, you know I'd like that.

    Buckets & Spades

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  9. seriously amazing. i would've never imagined such dedication and history can belong to the making of toothpicks. truly a gem. and 9 generations..! wow. something to be really proud of for their family!

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  10. This is amazing! I must admit I've never put much thought into toothpicks.

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  11. I am glad that others agree too. The more we choose mass manufactured things made purely for profit over soul, the more we suffer from the quality. We cannot let places like this diminish.

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