Bidou Yamaguchi - Apprenticeship

Apprenticeship

Hiroki was drawn to the Hōshō tradition. He was introduced to master carver Gendou Ogawa, who is a Living National Treasure in Japan. Hiroki showed him the okina mask he had carved. (Bidou; Japan) The master was surprised that a person could - by himself - carve a mask that so closely emulated the oldest examples of that mask. He accepted Hiroki as his apprentice. After five years, about half the usual time, Gendou awarded him the status of "master carver" and gave him the artist name "Bidō." (AsiaAlive) The name is constructed of two parts, "Bi" from Bishamonten, the God of War, and "dou" meaning "stack of wood." It indicates that Bidou could attack a large pile of old wood like the frenzied God of War, and quickly carve it into masks. (Interview) Bidou (as he spells his name in the English-speaking world) no longer uses the name given him at birth.

Bidou has studied the Hōshō tradition by going to the Hōshō Noh Gakudo in Tokyo, a school and theater with its own archives of antique masks, some of which are about 500 years old. After having carefully studied a particular mask, Bidou chooses an appropriate block of Japanese cypress wood (hinoki), one that has cured for about a century. On it he first draws guidelines, and then begins to shape the piece using traditional Japanese woodcarving tools. (AsiaAlive) The blades of the knives and chisels are made of three layers of steel, just like renowned ancient Japanese swords. In smoothing the surface of the mask for the final time, Bidou never uses sandpaper, but only the sharp edge of his chisel. That surface is then coated with many layers of lacquer, each layer requiring several weeks to dry. The final procedure is to simulate signs of wear and old age on the mask's surface. (Interview)

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