Tatami Mat Craftsmen Bring Revitalizing Skills to Anderson Japanese Gardens
• A tatami mat, consisting of rush grass (“igusa”) woven surface, has been used in Japan for centuries as a flooring material. The Anderson Garden’s Guest House and Tea House, both built in the traditional Japanese style, have tatami floors. Fifty of those tatami mats had been in need of replacement.
• The 35,000-dollar replacement project was initiated
by the Gardens’ staff, who saw a group of tatami craftsmen from Japan
work on the floors of the Japan House at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
two years ago. The same group – consisting of Yoshiaki Kagami (Kagami
Tatami Co. in Yamagata), Yuichi Yoshino (Ebina Tatami in Kanagawa), Kazuyuki
Oshima (Oshima Tatami Industry in Tochigi), Kazuki Onodera (Misono Tatami
in Iwate) and Takuya Nakashima (Nakashima Tatami in Kagoshima) – were
asked to work on the Anderson Gardens’ project.
• The five craftsmen are part of the network of tatami
mat craftsmen in Japan led by Kagami, who has been nursing a sense of
crisis about the future of the industry.
• On the first day of work, masters Yoshino, Oshima and Onodera were seen working on the tatami surface in the space adjacent to the Guest House, where the five craftsmen were staying along with Jotaro Kashiwakura (a volunteer chef from Yamagata who accompanied the group to feed the hardworking craftsmen).
• As he continued to work, Yoshino explained that only
20% of tatami surface material (igusa) is now produced in Japan (the rest
comes from China), and 98% of the domestic products comes from the city
of Yatsushiro, Kumamoto Prefecture.
Presentation: Tatami and Its Future
• On the first day, Kagami made a presentation about his organization’s activities and the future prospect of the industry, and Oshima demonstrated tatami making skills.
• Kagami began by explaining how uninterested tatami
craftsmen used to be as to where the tatami surface came from – they simply
accepted what was provided by the wholesaler.
• The back-breaking hard work of igusa farmers opened
• Kagami’s organization also revised the existing distribution
system of tatami. Its members now purchase the tatami surface directly
from the producer, skipping the middlemen and wholesalers who are part
of the established system. The igusa producers were asked to form a cooperative
so that Kagami and fellow craftsmen can negotiate the price with them
directly. This way, they successfully eliminated the cost added to the
final sale price, so that the igusa producers are able to increase their
• Igusa grass grown in Japan is known for its high density
and suppleness that results in high durability as a tatami surface. Kagami
hopes to appeal such uniqueness of made-in-Japan tatami products to consumers.
Yuichi Yoshino (L), Kazuyuki Oshima (C), and Kazuki Onodera work for tatami restoration in the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford.
Tatami mat restoration is under way in the House in the Anderson Gardens.
The certificate labels tell where the product came from
as well as the name of the producer.
Tatamiyadojo's logo on a T-shirt
Kazuyuki Oshima (R) demonstrates how to make a tatami mat as Yoshiaki Kagami (L2) and Takuya Nakashima (L4) explains about Tatami.
A scene from an igusa farmer family. It takes 2 years to complete a series of process
to weave tatami surface, final product of an igusa farmer (from Kagami's presentation)
New tatami products were displayed in Paris.
New tatami products were displayed in India.