【Sanshu Gawara】Interview with Ryo Suzuki “Making the World Happy with Onigawara”

Onifuku Co., Ltd. has a workshop in Hekinan City, Aichi Prefecture. This area is known as one of the three major production regions of kawara (roof tiles). The person we interviewed this time was Ryo Suzuki, who has the title of Oni-shi (craftsman for evil), a craftsman who makes Onigawara tiles. When I heard his title, I imagined that he was a tough-looking craftsman, but in fact, he was really friendly. When we spoke with him, we found him to be a humorous craftsman who loves jokes. We interviewed Mr. Suzuki about his background, vision for the future, and product development ideas.

—Were you aware of the possibility of taking over the family business since you were a child?

——Not at all.(Laugh) I just used to play in the workshop all the time. The workshop was like my playground, and I touched the clay and made something every day. My father never asked me to follow his footsteps, and I never thought of taking over the family business even when I was in junior high school and high school.

—When did you start thinking about taking over the family business?

——It was when I took the examination of master degree. I had majored in engineering since my high school and went to university to conduct the further study, aiming for a researcher. However, when it was time to take the graduate examination, I thought about my future career path and the family business of Onigawara came to my mind. I am the oldest brother of three siblings, and there was no guarantee that my younger brothers would stake over the business. From this, I was very concerned that the family business would disappear if anyone taking over. I thought it would be interesting to become a very famous scientist and travel around the world. But if the family business were to disappear, I would regret it for the rest of my life. This enabled me to decide changing my course from a doctoral program to take over the family business.

-Did you go through an apprenticeship before joining the family business?

——I did not go to any training. My father told me to learn the way we do at home. I regret that now as I think it would have been interesting for me to go outside to learn something new.  I think I would have been able to see a different point of view for crafting by training outside.

-What makes you proud to be an Onishi (craftsman for evil)?

——To be honest, I don’t have anything cool to be proud of (laugh). I think it is normal to think like this among people involved in this traditional industry, but I don’t really like onigawara from the bottom of my heart. People generally tends to think that I work for craft industry because I love it, but that is not the case. To be honest, If the family business had been making other crafts instead of making onigawara, I would have become a craftsman who made them. However, I have a special attachment to this industry. I have been fed by this since I was born, and I believe that I am more motivated than others to do something for the industry and for this community.

-What are the moments you enjoy in your work? Or what are the moments when you feel, “This is fun!”

——It is the moment when I am providing the information about Onigawara to public. Now I entrust the crafting process to the younger generations and put more effort on the dispatch of information. I have had the feeling in COVID-19 crisis that waiting won’t help anything, and I am conscious of working with the media to spread the attractiveness of kawara. I am still having fun doing this interview. I am happy when people see the article or video, get to know about our company, and contact us by e-mail, or even by phone.

-On the other hand, what do you think are the difficulties?

——After all, the demand for kawara is decreasing. I mentioned earlier that we are sharing the information about our crafts to the outside world, but we are still thinking what we should make and where we should deliver them, and how we can make the best use of onigawara every day.

—In terms of what you make, I think tissue cases made from onigawara have received media coverage. Where did you get the idea from?

——I just kept thinking about what I could do with onigawara, and when I tried making something out of a crazy idea, I got a few compliment (laughs). When I first started making them, I was asked by many people “What are you doing?” However, I just wanted to share the attractiveness of onigawara. That is all I kept thinking about, and this made me craft such an interesting tissue case.

—What is the great characteristic of these onigawara?

——To be honest, it is not practical or convenient craft. However, we want people to feel the attention to detail and the sensitivity backed by its history. Of course, it is well designed, but I am thinking of a design that fits in with everyday life.

For example, for the past several years, we have participated in the “Nonsense Grand Prix,” which has been held since the pandemic, where people make silly things without regarding any financial or managerial considerations. We have made helmets and drink holder out of roof tiles. We even made a black telephone with roof tiles and these things would actually work! It’s a great fun when I’m thinking of something silly, thinking that my flexibility mind can come up with an idea, something interesting! It’s so romantic!

-You have many interesting ideas… (laughs) The traditional craft industry is facing a lack of successors, but young people might be interested in the craft industry after hearing Mr. Suzuki’s story and wondering if this kind of creative thinking is required in this industry!

——Yes, regardless of the traditional industry, I think we should take on new challenges, even if they fail, without being worried by what has happened to you until now. In the traditional industry, of course, I think it is right to pursue authenticity. I think that if you find the right answer for yourself and go for it, the way will be opened up for you!

-What is your future vision as Onifuku Co.,Ltd.

——I would like to develop new products by using new materials. I can’t tell you what it is yet, but I would like to bring devil’s tiles to you in a different way. I can come up with ideas, but it done not mean it will be accepted by mass. From this, I’m going to keep coming up with ideas like a machine gun and hope to create a unique product!

After the interview

After talking with Mr. Suzuki, I thought he must really love onigawara from the bottom of his heart. The way he creates his tiles with his passion for the region and the industry is something that really appeals to me. You can see how Mr. Suzuki creates tissue cases that make you smile and laugh from the link below. This product is available for purchase on Suigenkyo Online store. We hope you enjoy the world of Onigawara craft!

You can watch the production process of Sanshu Gawara on YouTube!