Chinkin - Ornamental Beauty Created by the Art of Carving

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Training Episode

What are the master's responsibilities?

It is the master's responsibility to raise apprentices to be proficient craftsmen. In the master-apprentice system, “learning from products themselves as well as “learning by observing is essential. A master doesn't really teach directly but is always aware of what is going on with the apprentices by watching and listening. For instance, if the master finds the new apprentice is not accustomed to sitting for long hours, he sends him on an errand. When the master realizes that the apprentice is interested in the work that he is doing, he might sometimes leave his seat for a moment so that the apprentice can come and look at it while the he is away. It is also said that a master can also judge the level of apprentice's skills by listening to the sound of his carving.

The master is aware of the techniques, attitudes and environment necessary for raising an apprentice to become independent. So he assigns various tasks to the apprentice according to his level. The master raises an apprentice by observing him carefully; whether the apprentice watches his master's work with aspiration to learn, whether he makes sure to ask questions if he doesn't understand. It is the master's responsibility as well as pride to raise an apprentice till the end without letting him give up.


The senior apprentice's responsibility

It is part of the responsibility of a senior apprentice to look after a new apprentice. How to hold, sharpen and use chisels as well as manners are taught by the senior apprentice. If a junior apprentice's work is behind schedule or his finished work is not good enough or he behaves badly, it is the senior apprentice's fault, and he gets blamed by the master. It is part of the training for a senior apprentice to take responsibility for the other apprentices. The most senior apprentice is given responsibility to organize work and to give instructions to the other apprentices. He is trained to be able to manage work when he becomes independent. In this way, learning step by step, he develops into a proficient craftsman.


How New Apprentices Learn

On becoming an apprentice to a master, the apprentice is first taught basic manners; tidying up people's shoes left in the entrance hall, how to enter the hallway from the entrance hall, cleaning the house or tidying things up. Starting as an apprenticeship means becoming a member of his master's family. Especially in the old days when live-in training was common, it was normal for a new apprentice to clean the house and run errands. Apprentices used to compete with each other to do these household chores efficiently to impress the master. When starting an apprenticeship, more than learning the work or skills, sitting for long hours was the hardest thing for the apprentice to get used to.

Junior apprentices learn by observing the senior apprentices' work. In the apprenticeship system, the apprentice is expected to do everything exactly in the way he is told to do by his master or senior apprentices; from how to insert the chisel and make it flow for carving. The most junior apprentice only gets work partly done by his master and senior apprentices. So he has to learn by observing the carved work to improve his own skill. He is expected to carve exactly as he is told. However, the apprentice cannot expect to improve his skill only from doing what he is told. He has to watch carefully the work his senior apprentices or master is doing, digest it, and try to make that knowledge his own. This kind of attitude in an apprentice might get the master's attention and favor and has always been the best way to learn to become a Chinkin craftsman.


At a Chinkin craftsman's house

A Chinkin craftsman normally has a workshop at his house where he works. It is said that many of the Chinkin craftsmen are holding a chisel all the time except for when in bed. He works constantly from morning till night except at meal times or when he has other work to do. Because of this, when children get up, the father is already at work, and when they come home from school or go to bed, they see their father still working. They never see their father being lazy. For instance, when the father is doing carving work on chopsticks, he places finished ones on the floor with a regular rhythm. There is even a story that the sound of placing a chopstick on the floor was like a children's lullaby.

In olden times, it was customary that the child of a Chinkin craftsman was also expected to become a Chinkin worker. So it is said that the father used to teach the child the significance of work and how to take good care of things by sending the child on errands or by getting the child to help grinding the whetstones.


This also is part of the training

During the apprenticeship, all tasks assigned to an apprentice are part of the training even if they look like mere chores. For instance, one of the tasks given to an apprentice is to trace the design drawn on a sheet of paper from the other side. This task looks simple but is very difficult. From repeatedly doing this kind of work, he can learn about the composition of pictures in terms of size and balance.

Miscellaneous chores such as running errands to customer's houses or serving tea to visitors are also important as by getting to know these people he is able to make connections which will be important when he sets up his own establishment. All these tasks that might seem mere chores will help him to become an independent Chinkin craftsman later on.


The Benefits of Having Knowledge in Various Fields

As various scenes were typically used in Chinkin, design skills in creating those scenes were a requirement such as in combining landscape, flowers and birds. So for a Chinkin craftsman it was important to be familiar with nature such as the flowers and birds of the different seasons. Knowledge of haiku, tea ceremony and flower arrangement was also important.

When the apprentice finishes his training period and becomes independent, it is said to take him ten years to become a real chinkin craftsman. It is important for a Chinkin worker to keep himself learning. To see the works of other people, to incorporate new ideas into his own work and to continue in the quest to consolidate his knowledge so that he is able develop his own Chinkin style.

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