Typical Japan – Professions and Vocation

On our journey through Shizuoka Prefecture, we repeatedly meet people who have dedicated their entire lives to their profession. They continue to contribute and pass on their skills well into old age. The Western credo of a work-life balance or the much longer described mid-life crisis, as a way out of which people turn to completely new life concepts, does not seem to be foreseen or even conceivable. Peter Rosei writes in his travel notes:“In the Japanese city, there are often still stores or crafts that exist in a kind of medieval self-sufficiency.” We also sense this frugality and contentment when we meet very different people and their trades.

A life for craftsmanship

Buchweizennudel Produktion. Mit gespreizten Fingern fährt Sumiko Sano durch die dünnen Soba Nudeln. Sie sollen auf keinen Fall kleben / © Foto: Georg Berg
Sumiko Sano runs her fingers through the thin soba noodles. They should not stick under any circumstances / © Photo: Georg Berg

Sumiko Sano is 85 years old, very friendly, hunched by age and very determined in her instructions when preparing soba noodles, the Japanese buckwheat noodles. She has been running the small restaurant in Yuno village at the foot of Mount Fuji for 28 years. At her place, the soba noodles are even cooked in the water of the holy mountain. Sumiko Sano took over the restaurant management from a lady who was also very old at the time. She is currently assisted by two women who are about twenty years younger and ready to take over the title and task in the near future. This has been going on here for generations. More precisely, for 19 genrerations – and buckwheat has been grown in Sumiko Sano’s family for 400 years.

Namagiri – The battle is never over

Mit weit über 80 Jahren ist Herr Serizawa noch im Einsatz. Hier beim Zerlegen von Fisch. Namagiri heisst dieser Arbeitsschritt, bei dem die kleine Thunfischart Bonito geteilt und die Innereien entfernt werden / © Foto: Georg Berg
Well over 80 years old, Mr. Serizawa is still at work. Here he is cutting up fish. Namagiri is the name of this step in which the small tuna species bonito is divided and the innards removed / © Photo: Georg Berg

This Monday, the process from fish to flake begins anew. It’s been going on here for five generations and 138 years. Yasuhisa Serizawa’s manufactory sits inconspicuously in a curve on the way down to Tago Bay in the west of the Izu Peninsula. It is the beginning of a process based on the division of labor, in which everyone knows his place and his task. Everything begins with blood, water and fire. There is steam, water splashing from the hoses. The work surface is constantly being cleaned with a gush of fresh water. There is never any idle time. Each of the 15 or so employees knows what needs to be done.

Erinnerungen eines arbeitsreichen Lebens. Serizawa Senior zeigt Reporterin Angela Berg Fotos seiner aktiven Zeit als Chef des Familienbetriebs / © Foto: Georg Berg
Memories of a busy life. Serizawa Senior shows reporter Angela Berg photos of his active time as head of the family business / © Photo: Georg Berg

In this clockwork of precision in processing some two tons of tuna, Yasuhisa’s father stands out. He has been producing katsuobushi, known to us as bonito flakes, for more than 60 years. He has run this business for many decades. Now in his old age, he just keeps going. Serizawa Senior also knows what to do. But he can no longer keep up the pace. He moves as if in slow motion, but at the same time with somnambulistic certainty. Without looking, he climbs over every water hose. Kneels down to light the fire for the first smoking process or cuts the fish in half. Later, he shows me photos from his active days. They are pictures of events where he is awarded for the particularly high-quality honkarebushi of his manufactory. Among them, however, is a photo from an amusement park that seems particularly important to him. Perhaps his only amusement outing?

Bonsai – in the garden of tamed worlds

Bonsai-Meister und Garten-Inhaber Toshio Ohsugi im Porträt mit einem 500 Jahre alten Pflegefall. Der Baum wurde den Aufzeichnungen nach um 1920 aus den Bergen von einem Felsen genommen. Seine Wurzeln hatten einen Spalt in den Fels getrieben / © Foto: Georg Berg
Bonsai master and garden owner Toshio Ohsugi in a portrait with a 500 year old nursing case. According to records, the tree was taken from a rock in the mountains around 1920. Its roots had driven a fissure into the rock / © Photo: Georg Berg

Bonsai masters undergo a five-year apprenticeship. As a reward for the skills they have learned, they continue to work for their instructor for one year afterwards. As the owner of Gashouen Garden in Izu City, Shizuoka, Toshio Ohsugi owns many of his own bonsais. But a large number of the plants were given into care by their owners. He is vague about the value of the trees. Many are more expensive than a Mercedes Benz, he says. Often the bonsais are brought home by their owners for festivities. Owners of several bonsais change the plants from time to time due to lack of space in their own homes.

Der Bonsai hat schon viele Gärtnergenerationen erlebt / © Foto: Georg Berg
The bonsai has seen many generations of gardeners/ © Photo: Georg Berg

Give the bonsai a face

Every bonsai has a face. The parade side has the special attention of the bonsai master. The face of a bonsai leans slightly forward, toward the viewer. Careful pruning with tiny secateurs, trimming the roots or repotting are tasks of a bonsai master. In the summer months, the trees need to be watered twice a day. Evaluation such as sales and even bonsai rental are part of Toshio Ohsugi’s services. But what makes his job so special for him is the knowledge of the generations of bonsai masters before him who have had the same ancient dwarf tree in their care. He bears such a great responsibility, Toshio says, which makes him humble and grateful.

Der Schriftsteller Peter Rosei schreibt in seinen Reisenotizen, „Die Japaner haben unübersehbar einen Hang zu übersichtlich eingerichteten, ja gezähmten Welten.“ Im Alkoven eines traditionellen Hauses wird mit viel Bedacht nur eine Vase, eine Blume oder ein Bonsai präsentiert / © Foto: Georg Berg
Author Peter Rosei writes in his travel notes, “The Japanese have an unmistakable penchant for neatly arranged, even tamed worlds.” In the alcove of a traditional house, only a vase, a flower or a bonsai is presented with great care / © Photo: Georg Berg

THANKS in Izu – From one who set out to become a baker

Daiichi Sugiyama wears a baker’s jacket with black-red-gold stripes. Dark breads with rye content and grain mixes are stacked in the display, and his house is unmistakably a tribute to German half-timbering. How did this happen? He answers us good-humoredly, using a mobile language translator with virtuosity.

Daiichi Sugiyama trägt eine Bäckerjacke mit schwarz-rot-goldenen Streifen und benutzt virtuos einen mobilen Sprachübersetzer / © Foto: Georg Berg
Daiichi Sugiyama wears a baker’s jacket with black-red-gold stripes and uses a mobile language translator with virtuosity / © Photo: Georg Berg

Japanese are very fond of detail

Sugiyama says he completed his apprenticeship as a baker in Kiel. Since then, he has also worked with wholemeal flour and baked grain breads. He had his machines imported from Germany. The flours produced according to his ideas for Japan have names like Wilhelm and Hanse – and the bakery is even called DANKE. A German word that every Japanese understands. Incidentally, the Japanese arigato is also the word that every foreigner learns immediately. This is because Japanese say thank you so often that it is immediately internalized through constant repetition. The hearty breads are popular. However, more as a side dish for dinner. There is no bread in the Japanese breakfast of miso soup, pickled vegetables and fish.

Manifestierte Erinnerung. Die Fachwerkhäuser in Rothenburg ob der Tauber haben Daiichi Sugiyama so beeindruckt, dass er sein Wohnhaus samt Bäckerei und Ladenlokal nach dem mittelalterlichen Vorbild aus Deutschland nachbauen ließ / © Foto: Georg Berg
Manifest memory. The half-timbered houses in Rothenburg ob der Tauber so impressed Daiichi Sugiyama that he had his home, including bakery and store, rebuilt according to the medieval model from Germany / © Photo: Georg Berg

Click here for a detailed report on soba, sake and satoyama

Click here for a detailed report on the traditional production of Katsuobushi

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