Minakami in Gunma Prefecture is where castanets, musical instruments most Japanese use as children, are made. Keniichi Tomizawa is the second-generation owner of Castanet Workshop (formerly Plus Hakuosha). He is a master woodworker who makes castanets using hand-made machinery and knowhow based on many long years of experience.

Tomizawa’s castanets, with their characteristic red and blue colors, were shipped throughout the country. At its peak, Hakuosha—with the cooperation of many other workshops—was selling 2.3 million sets a year. Tomizawa made the machines that carved out the rounded form of the castanets as well as the machine that scooped out the hollow inside each piece. He researched the best way to paint the instruments and how to get the best sound out of them.

In 2013, it was no longer possible to get the lumber needed to make castanets, and production was halted. Then, at the encouragement of people in Minakami as well as the Nature Conservation Society, castanet production was revived as a way to teach schoolchildren about trees in the forests.

Today, Forest Castanets are made of natural wood from Japan: wild cherry, dogwood and chestnut. Users can enjoy the texture of the unfinished wood shaped to fit comfortably in the palm of the hand. The sound they make is reminiscent of an unspoiled forest.

Tomizawa, the only castanet craftsman in Minakami, makes all the decisions: what lumber to choose, how deep the hollows will be, and how finely the instrument should be polished.

“At workshops, I let children choose the type of wood they like and then have them paint a picture on the castanets”

said Tomizawa, as he spoke of his plans to continue making castanets for children to enjoy.

<How to make castanets>
1.Wood cut into boards is dried outdoors. Even after trees are cut down, wood continues to breathe, and it expands and contracts depending on the temperature.

2. A hand-made machine is used to process wood into the round shape of a castanet. Only wood free of knots and heavy grain is used.

3. The finished outer surface of the castanet is placed facing up, and the hollow in the middle is carved out. This process determines the sound the instrument makes.

4. The outside of the castanets are polished to a smooth texture. A shaft is inserted on one side to make the protuberance. 5. Castanets are then branded with a design and the type of tree they are made from. Finally, holes are drilled, and an elastic chord is threaded through them and knotted twice to make an opening just the right size to run fingers through.

映像制作:岡本 憲昭
インタビュー/解説:西 涼子