Japanese craftsmen use winter cold to make silk strings for traditional instruments

Under cold conditions at the studio of Marusan Hashimoto Co., silk threads are stretched between hooks on pillars and excess glue wiped off with a rag in a process of making strings for Japanese instruments such as koto and shamisen, in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture on Dec. 21, 2021. (Mainichi/Takao Kitamura)=Click/tap photo for more images.

NAGAHAMA, Shiga – Craftsmen at a Japanese musical instrument string maker in this western Japanese city have been busy this winter making extraordinary silk strings using the cold weather of the season.

When the Mainichi Shimbun visited the workshop of Marusan Hashimoto Co. in Nagahama, craftsmen were seen drying many threads dyed yellow with turmeric which were glued and stretched between hooks on pillars approximately 15 meters.

Founded in 1908, the company uses traditional methods to make some 400 types of strings for Japanese instruments, including shamisen and koto. Strings made during the particularly cold period are called “kan no ito” (cold wires), and they are regularly used by professional musicians thanks to their reputation for producing crisp, clear sounds.

Silk threads are boiled with thinly sliced ​​rice cakes during the bonding process to make strings for Japanese instruments at the studio of Marusan Hashimoto Co. in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture, on Dec. 21, 2021. (Mainichi/Takao Kitamura )=Click/tap photo for more images.

Its rope-making process involves 12 steps, including weighing the yarns by type, twisting them with a spinning top, and using dipping techniques to coat them with glue. Only four companies and individuals in the whole country make silk strings for Japanese instruments, and Marusan Hashimoto is said to be the only one to keep the traditional method of twisting the wires with a spinning top.

Chairman Hidekazu Hashimoto, 47, said, “As the difficult conditions brought by the coronavirus continue, musical performances are gradually returning. We want to pass on the tradition by staying in the company.”

(Japanese original by Takao Kitamura, Osaka Photo Department)

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