This one-room little workshop in an old part of Tokyo was founded just over 90 years ago. Producing handmade tatami (traditional Japanese flooring mats), it’s both a business and a part of the local community — opening, as it does, onto the area’s little shopping street.
Going back to those early years, tatami was ubiquitous in Japanese homes, so presumably it would have been a decent money earner. The situation would also have been very similar when the original owner passed it on to his grandson, the man in the photo below.
Now, however, tatami is nowhere near as common as it once was. Neither, it has to be said, are such traditional little businesses. Younger generations simply aren’t interested in running them. So when the grandson, who is now himself a grandad, finally calls it a day, the shutters will come down on another part of Tokyo’s past.
Cool to see old guys like this keeping traditions alive. So sad nobody wants to take over from him. 🙁
Yes, such places are always a treat to see. Happy to say there are still a good amount of them about too. But yeah, time is sadly limited for the majority of them…
I always like your photos but for me they are even more interesting when they include facts and details like this. I can relate to them much more easily. Thank you!
You are welcome. And thank you. That’s very nice to hear. If I get the chance to speak to someone, it’s always nice to add a few facts. They are reminders to me, and doubly good if other people get something out of them too.
One of your best old business photographs. You have captured so much of this sadly end of line traditional business. The proprietor is centre stage, but the materials, tools and even some of the process is frozen there. Definitely one for your book 🙂
Family businesses that span many generations are a common theme in most of the programs I watch on NHKWorld. 5th, 9th, even as many as 14th generation businesses, whether its making sweets or sake, cultivating rice or persimmons, or running hotels or bars. It’s just something that either doesn’t exist in the UK, or not valued enough to be focussed on. The problem of continuity also features, but it does seem that in some cases at least one of the children gives up their breakaway career as a salaryperson to return home and take over the business. One program I watched last week featured a restaurant where a guy, his father and his grandfather all worked in a line in an incredibly small narrow kitchen prepping, cooking and finishing each dish as patrons waited. It all seems very Japanese to me, or perhaps more valued by the Japanese.
Thanks. Glad you think so. It was a nice moment and he seems like a lovely fella.
That’s a very good point. Hadn’t really thought of that before, but yes, it’s not something that gets the same attention in the UK, is it? A shame, because it probably should do.
I presume a lot of it depends on the viability of the business going forward. Tatami is clearly on the decline, which would make taking over such a place much more of a risk, whereas sake, or potentially a bar are arguably more likely to succeed. That said, a lot of the older bars I go to are in the same situation as the workshop above. The lifestyle or rewards clearly aren’t deemed desirable enough. Understandable in many situations, and the hours must be pretty tough. Little in the way of holidays too. With the Japanese job market rapidly changing, however, and part-time/temporary work becoming increasingly common, maybe attitudes will change and the benefits of such businesses will be appreciated more. Well, provided they are still there to be taken over, of course…
Matt Talbot says
If tatami mats disappear, how will they measure rooms in future? I’ve always thought that the Japanese practice of giving measurements in the number of tatami mats allows one to easily visualise the size of a room. Or is this no longer used by estate agents, landlords etc.?
To be honest I don’t think they will ever dispppear, but their, ahem, heyday definitely seems to have past.
That said, the use of mats to measure rooms will presumably just carry on regardless. Still very much the way to give and understand sizes. Our place is all flooring, but I still only know the size of the rooms by mat sizes.