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Kenjiro Katsuta   勝田憲二郎
Chest master       箪笥士
Mikuni funa-dansu(Boat trunk chest) @Fukui prefeture
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Kenjiro was born in Fukui in 1944. He was inspired by the beauty of Funa-dansu he encountered in Mikuni, Fukui. which lead him to found an artisan unit in 1978 to revive the craft after 7 years of research and self education.

He strive to hand the craft to posterity which once ceased.

Hirofumi Murata   村田浩史
Chest master       箪笥士

Hirofumi was born in Fukui in 1977. In 2005 he encountered Kenjiro and stunned by the funa-dansu. Hirofumi then became apprenticed to Kenjiro to become the heir as the 2nd in 2011.

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Takumi kogei
匠 工芸
Funa-dansu artisan aiming to inherit the traditional craftsmanship and their spirit, wishes to introduce people to its “beautility” that is both strong and beautiful.
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Since starting business in 1978, it is now over thirty years of making precious “Funa-dansu”(the boat trunk chest).  When people from Fukui region hears the word Funa-dansu, you probably instantly think of the “Mikuni-dansu” that once endured the rough sea alongside the seamen on Kitamae-bune(Northern-bound-ships).
At the age of thirty four, I came across Funa-dansu and was completely enchanted by its intricate mechanism, sturdy structure and its original beauty.  Ever since then I have been working on establishing the reconstruction process of Funa-dansu, researching its manufacturing method with trial and error.
Now we are reproducing various types of chest such as Waku-dansu (framed chest), Kuruma-dansu (wheeled chest) and Kaidan-dansu (step chest).  Everything is reconstructed in the same way as original, from the material to the design and to precise details.
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The foremost characteristic of Funa-dansu is that it “floats on water and does not let water get inside”.

I have proved this and the strength of Funa-dansu when I threw in one that I have reconstructed from the rock cliff of Tojinbou in 1994. More here.

I believe the beauty of the lacquering, the feel of the wood grain (elm) and the exquisiteness of the decorative metal fittings on the front panel are all the charm of Funa-Dansu that I hope you will see and feel for yourself.  Every step of production requires attentive and meticulous technique. Every work is filled with the sophisticated craftsmanship and the spirit of the artisan. So I hope you will feel the value of the genuine product.
It will take around four to six months to produce one Funa-dansu and currently we are only able to produce around fifteen per year.  It is all made-to-order production.
Funa-Dansu is an embodiment of “beautility” with its strength and beauty. 
 

The craftsmanship of Japanese artisan outshines the world and lives on in various areas.  I hope Japanese people and the rest of the world will continue to deepen their understanding of the tradition rooted in the nature and culture of its own. And through my work, feel the Japanese beauty with the heart and soul of a craftsmen.

It is our wish to continue the inheritance of craftsmanship and wisdom of the Kitamaebune that have been passed down by our predecessors for over the century.

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The passion of Funa-dansu.
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With its original shape and design indigenous to Japan, is indeed a concentration of artisan wisdom and craftsmanship.  Such cannot be found elsewhere in the world and now many Funa-dansu are preserved in museums.

Funa-dansu is a chest once used by many sailors on board the Kitamaebune(Northern-bound-ships) that travelled along the coasts of Japan Sea from the mid Edo to end of Meiji periods.  It was a time when the west sea route between Osaka and Hokkaido had been established by an Edo merchant Zuiken Kawamura.  Kitamaebune played an active role in couriering all sorts of goods to various regions. A vast fortune was amassed by merchants who took advantage of the discrepancy in the spread of information at the time. Originally the vessels were mainly owned by Oumi merchants from Goushu, serving as a common carrier. Gradually many of the seamen from Hokuriku (north-eastern) ports began to be in charge of the cargo and its sale and purchases, prospering as merchant carriers.

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The beginning of the Meiji period saw the prosperity of five major Kitamaebune owners, namely Gonzaemon Ukon from Echizen, Fukui. However, following the frequent occurrence of marine accidents, ban on the Japanese wooden ship was enforced in 1885.  Following the ban, new land transportation routes were developed. Kitamebune gradually began to decline and Funa-dansu also quietly ended its role. 

To serve as Funa-dansu,

  1. It had to be securely protected by a lock and a complex structure which cannot be opened easily.This was due to the fact it was used to store important documents such as traffic permit, record book and invoice as well as seals and money.

  2. It had to have an air tight structure, enable it to float and protect the contents even in the event of a shipwreck.

are important conditions needed to be fulfilled, according to the documents of the marine accident at the time.

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Curious to find out the truth about these conditions, I conducted an experiment at Tojinbou in Mikuni-cho, Fukui prefecture.  In spring of 1994, we threw one of our reconstructed Funa-dansu from the top of Tojinbou rock cliff (22m in height) into the sea.  It was surely proved that Funa-dansu emerged and floated on the sea surface.  I believe some of you may have seen the live TV broadcasting at the time. I, as someone inheriting the culture of Funa-dansu, had to know the truth in order to confidently explain it to people.  Tales said “Funa-dansu floats in the sea” but no one had ever seen it with their own eyes. Thus my experiment and now I am able to tell people with confidence.

There are several categories of design for Funa-dansu such as Kakesuzuri(as a portable safe) and Cho-bako (for storing books, cash, seals and pens), Hangai (for clothes) and Chiku-Dansu (as a desk).  All designs were created out of necessity, all based on the usage purpose. Cho-bako especially varied in its style and design, making it difficult to find two that are same.  Cho-bako was produced mainly in Sakata in Yamagata, Ogi in Sado and Mikuni in Echizen, but it seems there were other places that produced Cho-bako.  A difference in the assembly, the shape of wood grain, lacquering and metal fittings can be observed depending on which area it was produced.  

So Funa-dansu ended serving its original role when Kitamaebune declined.  However, it was Yanagi Soetsu, Kawai Kanjiro and others that brought Funa-dansu back into its spotlight.  “Do not be afraid of being compared with any kind of art furniture from the world.  There is a Funa-dansu in Japan.” – Their words are the source of firm pride and confidence within me when I continue making Funa-dansu. 

funa-dansu
tojinbo
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