Contemporising heritage and culture: Tsubame-Sanjo

KOUBA 2019 Tsubame Sanjo | Where My Heart Leads

As you push the door open, the sound of metal work greets you. A hanging sea of living Metal Crafters of Tsubame-Sanjo hold fort.

Entry into ROOTS OF METALCRAFT | 33s

As I walked past the NAFA Ngee Ann Kongsi Galleries on my way to a Saturday afternoon talk, I took note to come back to this exhibition. Who wouldn’t with clean design like this? As a friend says, good design and packaging gives customers cues that it’ll be a good experience.

That’s what I wish to orchestrate – where stellar design infuse and energises user experiences. Why does it matter?

For something seemingly mundane as metal craft, the exhibition manages to pique people’s curiosity – setting up an exhibition with lots to explore. A great exhibition, like a great teacher, can enliven a any topic. Here – through a combination of exhibition design, story-telling, and candid documentary.

Old Towns – New Angles

The Japanese have another oft-cited exemplar of a place transformed by design, art and programs – Benesse Art Site Naoshima. Benesse breathed new life to an area that used to struggle to acknowledge its charm. In the words of Benesse founder and chairman, “Art as means for social transformation.”

While the Benesse Art Site Naoshima started out as a private art collection that eventually transformed the towns; Tsubame-Sanjo reached back into their own histories to offer visitors something they could relate and connect to – their people & their histories.

The two cities TSUBAME and SANJO join forces promoting craft and history.

Shortly after visiting the metal crafter portraits, a staff waved me over to view a demo.

Magic | 38s

How in the world is the seam invisible? The seam is less than half the width of hair I was told. 

A great “magic”- like demo surely enticed me to explore the exhibition further. 

Illustrating history through objects

A large running display in the central hall displays two running lines – Tsubame and Sanjo – their histories in metal craft. 

Tsubame and Sanjo are situated in Niigata, famous for rice-production as well as Sake production. However, as they were affected by floods of the three rivers, the citizens had to look for new ways to make a living. 

Tsubame harvested iron, a harder metal; Sanjo harvested and crafted from softer metals like steel, copper, and titanium. The twin cities began developing their new crafts concurrently. 

Sanjo farming materials. Different ‘heads’ for ploughing different soils. The harder soils in the North, and the softer in the South. Early-Edo 1603-1700.

To offer a deeper understanding of the craft of the makers, a documentary-style video at the end of the gallery captures the cutlery makers, the hand-made kettle crafters, the nail manufacturers at work. Behind the utensils and tools we use every day, there is a face, a person.

Did you know – 90% of “Made in Japan” cutlery comes from Tsubame-Sanjo?

Bridging into the NOW

Another part of the exhibition showcases a hodgepodge of objects: from Miso, to wooden trays, utility sinks, to cast iron pots. Every item has a number and visitors curious can look the number up in the Kouba (Kouba 工場 is Japanese for Workshop) catalog.

Explore the contemporary counterparts of METALCRAFTING history and heritage | 28s

This exhibition serves as a preview to the actual Kouba Main Festival in October 2020; It is a roving exhibition of the 2019 version.

Since 2013, factories in Tsubame-Sanjo have opened their doors during the Factory Festival, welcoming both local and international visitors to explore, exchange and learn of their living heritage. Who’s in?

Stay Tuned.

Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival

Will be connecting in a different way this year 2020 as we are impacted by COVID-19. Updates on website and facebook:

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