Chinkin - Ornamental Beauty Created by the Art of Carving

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The Craftsman's Road

The normal method of becoming a Chinkin craftsman is to find a master and be accepted as an apprentice by him. He then receives training as well as serving his master for a fixed period of time. This training/service is called Nenki-hoko. The whole apprenticeship system is called Totei-seido. The apprentice used to live in at his master's house, but today it is common to commute from his own home. The years of service used to be very long ranging from eight to ten years before World War II. Today it is stated by the Association of Chinkin that in order to complete the training period a minimum three years of service is required and that on completion, the apprentice must be entitled by his master to be called a qualified craftsman. So today the training finishes normally in three years.

In this system, becoming an apprentice originally meant becoming a member of the family system of the master. So a new apprentice was expected to do housework as well such as cleaning, tidying up things and running errands for the family. During the service period, he would receive only a very small wage just good enough for pocket money, and was given very little holiday except for Bon mid-August and New Year's holidays. Surviving three years of hard work and training gave an immense confidence to an apprentice as he had become a Chinkin craftsman with a career for life.

Today due to the drastic changes in social conditions, life style and local industries, the conventional apprenticeship method has changed. Therefore the way of handing down traditional techniques and skills needs to be reviewed.

From Admission to the Commencement of Training (From Deshi-iri to Nenki-hoko)

On admission to apprenticeship with a master, the apprentice first learns how to prepare and use tools, which is the basic requirement for Chinkin work, from his master or from senior apprentices. He is taught how to sharpen and hold a chisel and how to carve with it. After practicing this basic skill, he is given some tasks. In carving work, the master copies a design onto a piece and carves the most difficult part. Then the senior apprentice does the next most important part. The easiest part is given to a new apprentice. Tasks can be given even to a new apprentice as any mistakes made in the given task can be corrected by the master.

A new apprentice gets guidance first from his senior apprentices before being taught directly by his master. When he becomes the most senior apprentice, he becomes responsible for a variety of work which ranges from looking after junior apprentices to organizing and allocating tasks and giving instructions to individual junior apprentices. This is for the benefit of the senior apprentice's future. Always being aware of apprentices' abilities, the master gives more difficult work and responsibility according to the level of each apprentice. This is also an important role of the master in training apprentices.

A new apprentice is also expected to help with the housework which includes cleaning and tidying things up. He is motivated to do from his appreciation for his master and the senior apprentices for teaching him. Nenki-hoko training is not only for obtaining skills but also for learning manners, how to serve customers and management skills before becoming a qualified craftsman.

The mark of becoming a qualified craftsman is the completion of his three years of training.

Completion of Training and the Year of Service (Nenki-ake and Rei-hoko)

When the apprentice becomes good enough to become a qualified craftsman, he finishes the training which is called "Nenki-ake". The training finishing ceremony is attended by the apprentice and his family, the master and his family, and the senior apprentices. He wears formal kimono dress or a business suit given to him by his master as a gift to commemorate the finishing of the training. In the ceremony, the apprentice and his master exchange cups of sake as a pledge of "parent and child" relationship. The apprentice is then entitled to a called a qualified Chinkin craftsman. This ceremony is an official announcement to the other concerned parties including people from the related associations and business associates.

After the training years are finished, he starts to receive an ordinary salary. However, in return for the master's kindness in giving him the years of training as well as the finishing ceremony, he serves his master for the first year at a salary lower than normal. This service is called Rei-hoko.

After a year of Rei-hoko, most people become independent, but some remain at their master's establishment. Some also visit their masters from time to time for further learning. Even after completing the years of training, it is said that it takes ten years to become proficient and experienced enough to be a good Chinkin craftsman.