Amita Co. artists: Minai, Torahiko Kanamori, Takeshi

S. Komai Shoten [エス駒井商店] (1841 ~ today)

Komai family is perhaps one of the most recognizable metalworkers of the Meiji era. The family workshop, S. Komai Shoten (エス駒井商店) was established in 1841 at 70 Shinmonzen street, Kyoto, by Komai Seibei (駒井清兵衛), a sword fittings maker. In 1853 Seibei originated a form of damascene, Nunome Zogan, which he used to ornament and decorate swords, guns, daggers and various types of sword fittings. Since then and till 1941 the workshop was advertised as "S. Komai, the originator in Zogan or damascene work".

S. Komai workshop, Shinmonzen street, Kyoto.

Komai Seibei's son, Komai Otojiro (駒井音次郎), opened his own workshop at the adjacent street, Furumonzen-dori, Kyoto, in 1855, but in most of O. Komai's advertisements the establishement year is the one of the family business, 1841. In 1861 Komai Seibei passed away. His two other sons, Komai Yoshitaka (駒井美雄) and Komai Yoshihiro became the proprietors of the S. Komai workshop.

Zogan box by Komai Yoshitaka.

Johannes Rein, a German geographer who spent the first five months of 1874 in Japan studying lacquer, writes in his book "The industries of Japan: together with an account of its agriculture, forestry, arts, and commerce.":
Until some twenty years ago, the decoration with such inlaid work was limited to places on iron kettles. At that time several skillful workmen, formerly armorers of Kioto, especially Komai and Iyenori, turned their attention to the work, and have developed since then this branch of art industry in an astonishing manner, decorating large vases, smoking utensils, plates, dishes, and other articles of cast-iron with remarkable artistic skill, hitherto unknown.

Zogan vase described in the Rein's book.

In the summer of 1875 I obtained from a dealer in Kioto the first pair of such vases - a work which at that time, in Tokio, attracted great attention among Japanese and foreign connoisseurs. They are now in the Royal Industrial Art Museum in Berlin. Later on a second pair with similar work was sent to Germany, acquired by Dr. von Bruning, of Frankfort on the Main, and presented to the Industrial Art Museum at that place. These vases are designated by the authors as "the united work of Komai Yoshitaka and Komai Yoshihiro, inhabitants of Kioto, province of Yamashiro". They are among the most beautiful works of this description, although they are the first of the above-named masters. The four fields, two on each vase, represent silk culture. The picture before us shows the end of the process. One girl is busy with the hurdles upon which the worms have been grown; a second collects the finished cocoons; a third brings them away; a fourth sits at the old simple reeling apparatus, a little stove with a coal fire, on which the water is being heated in the iron pan placed above it. She has thrown in a handful of cocoons and is about to reel off the silk threads. A fifth girl is busy hanging up the strands of reeled silk to dry. The fineness of the embossing goes so far as to give the pattern of the clothing, which is recognizable even in the small scale of the picture. Many of these newer Zogan-works on cast iron are rendered more prominent through the steel blue or dead-black groundwork, a peculiar kind of "Niello", which is made of lacquer putty, or Shakudo, and produces an effect like the works of Zuloaga of Madrid, whose name is known to every friend of art industry and visitor at the great exhibitions, by its magnificent inlaying of iron.
With the major changes brought about by the Meiji restoration and a Haito Edict (March 1876), prohibiting against wearing swords, the Komai family, like many others, had to find another form of livelihood. They applied their damascene craft (inlaid work of gold and silver on iron ware) to creating objects in Western and traditional Japanese styles producing vases, purses, cigar, cigarette and card cases, jewelry boxes, coat buttons, combs, buckles, incense burners, hanging plates, lockets, brooches, charms, spoons, bracelets, cabinets and other items of everyday use. The advertisement of the S. Komai workshop from 1910 says in regard the following:
Our family, the originator and the only manufacturer in Damascene work in Japan, has enjoyed the fame from our forefathers, finding our best patronage among Samurais, scattered all over the land, as the exclusive ornaments on swords, guns and spears, the spirits of them.
The renovation causes by the Restoration of Mei-ji, conducted by Tokugawa Shogun in 1867, equalized all ranks, high and low, and wearing a sword by the Samurai was strictly prohibited. It was therefore our fathers' misfortune that he had to give up the only means of making his livelihood.
Subjected to distress and tragedy, our father struggled to hand the art down to his heirs as he received it from his father. In spite of adversity, with the light of invention came the great chance to apply the work of Zogan on articles in European and American styles. [...]
Komai's work now stands for Damascene, the English name for it.
The inheritance was, indeed so profitable for our family and thanks must be given to the head of it, we therefore shall endeavor our fullest energies to further development of the work, thereby maintaining our family traditions.

Two Nunome Zogan plates from the S. Komai workshop.

Another interesting record of S. Komai workshop is found in the Herbert George Ponting's book "In lotus-land Japan" (1910):
One of Kyoto's most famous crafts is that of damascening. There are two makers whose products are equally good. Both bear the same name, Komei, though I was told they were not related.
I have a cigarette case made by S. Komei. On the front of it there is an eagle sitting on a pine-tree, his feathers bristling with anger at the intrusion of two small birds that have approached. They did not know that their enemy was hidden in the tree, but having just detected him, their mouths are open, crying with fear. The eagle and the tree are beautifully worked in gold of various shades, the branches are heavily laden with silver snow, and a few silver flakes are falling. Every feather and pine-needle is picked out and hammered into the steel, and the bark of the tree is wonderfully natural in its grain. At the back of the case there is a fiery dragon, writhing with rage. He is inlaid with gold of half a dozen different colours, and every scale is inlaid separately, clean cut and free of its neighbours. Inside the case there is a golden outline of Fuji with the snow-cap overlaid with silver. [...]
The workshops of either O. or S. Komei are among the sights of Kyoto. Any one who omits to visit them when in the old city will regret it all his life. After inspection of the works of these Japanese masters the productions of most European metal-workers seem but crude experiments, and can readily be assigned to the level where such art belongs.
Herbert Ponting misspells the Komai family name as Komei, but there is no doubt that he discusses O. Komai and S. Komai of Kyoto. Furthermore, Ponting was told that O. and S. Komai were not related, which is not true. There could be various reasons why Ponting was told that. The most probable case is the economic one. Tourists tend to skip branches of the same company. On the other hand, if two famous companies are advertised as competitors, tourists will visit the shops of both rivals to see what each of them has to offer. In this case, advertising the stores located at the adjacent streets as belonging to competitors was a smart strategy of the Komai family to increase their sales.
In 1910s the proprietor of S. Komai shop was Komai Yaichi (駒井彌一), the grandson of Komai Seibei.
The designs of cigarette cases by S. Komai were so popular that other companies often copied them.

S. Komai's cigarette case (left) and later imitations by Ohayo (center) and another artist (right). Makers' marks are shown at the top right corners. Another "adoption".

The design of the above cigarette cases has been inspired by the James Earle Fraser sculpture "End of the Trail". The original plaster sculpture, made by Fraser at the age of 17, first appeared at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 and later at the San Francisco Exposition of 1915. A copy cast in bronze of a plaster statue is located in Waupun, Wisconsin, United States.
Komai family artworks were presented at national and foreign exhibitions solely by Komai Otojiro.
In 1930's S. Komai had a shop in Shanghai. Komai company also became an agent shop of the Mikimoto Perl Store (御木本真珠店), selling Mikimoto's perl jewelry in their shops in Kyoto. They continued to produce and sell metalwork objects until 1941. After WWII they focused purely on pearl jewelry trade and are selling pearls till today.

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