Exploring the Artistry of Kikuhiro - A Master Craftsman in Traditional Japanese Metal Engraving

Sakura Kojima |

At Morikuni, we have been collaborating with one of the prominent artisans in the field of tansu hardware and metal engraving, Hiroshi Oikawa, the president of Kikuhiro, to create artisanal handcrafted handles. In today’s post, we’d like to dive into his career, his journey into the world of traditional metal engraving, and inspirations that breathe life into his crafts. Oikawa has been immersed in the art of crafting tansu hardware and metal engraving for almost three decades, offering one-of-a-kind pieces that tell a story. 

1. How many years have you been involved in making tansu hardware and metal engraving?

I graduated from the Tohoku Institute of Technology’s Department of Industrial Design in 1996 and began my career in metal engraving by joining Kikuhiro, driven by a deep interest in art and design. I spent the first 5-6 years of my career dedicating to do an apprenticeship and developing the foundational engraving skills.

2. Could you tell us more about the style of tansu hardware and metal engraving that you specialize in?

The handcrafting process involves using a dozen varieties of chisels to carve patterns into metals such as iron and copper. We typically incorporate the traditional motifs which were drawn during the Meiji era. Each piece is unique as it all starts from hand-drawn designs catered to individual customers. I’m involved in every stage of the process, starting from sketching, metal engraving, to finishing.

3. What is your definition of a “craftsman”?

Being a craftsman to me means being immersed in the creation process from start to completion, rather than overseeing or handling parts of the work. Whether you create products for everyday use or decorative purposes,  the craftsman takes pride in transforming his vision into a finished product.

4. Who has been the most influential person in your work?

Both my mentor and fellow colleagues have been a huge support especially at the beginning phase of my career. My mentor, Hiroshi Kikuchi, had laid down the “learn by watching” approach, so I tried to learn by just watching, practicing, and repeating for almost a decade. This process has taught the patience and the work ethics required to master the technical skills.

5. What inspires your designs in tansu hardware and metal engraving?

Traditionally, tansu hardware and other decorative metal designs are often inspired by kimono patterns, traditional Japanese plates, and classic motifs like koi fish, peonies, and dragons. My design is often developed based on customer’s requests and their creative vision. Whether it's a specific request, such as incorporating their beloved pet into the design, or a more open-ended project, each piece holds a unique character. The joy on a customer's face when they see the final product is a significant source of motivation.

6. Could you highlight some of your notable works?

To be honest, I do not have “the masterpiece.” However, I have created approximately 350 original pieces which have all found a home to those who appreciate my art work, and I believe that is something to be noted.

7. How do you think tansu hardware making and metal engraving will change in the future? Could you share your expectations and hopes for the industry?

I envision a future where the craft adapts to changing demands of the customers, perhaps more functional items than hardwares designed for high-end tansu drawers. With the market for traditional tansu shrinking, I hope to create work opportunities for the next generation and continue producing items that meet the expectations of the contemporary needs.

Oikawa’s dedication to the art of traditional Japanese metal engraving is evident in every piece he creates. His journey from an eager apprentice to a master craftsman in the last 3 decades reflects his unwavering commitment to his crafts and the preservation of cultural heritage. 

We’re honored to introduce our Handcrafted Handles in collaboration with Kikuhiro, bringing traditional tansu hardware that is unparalleled in quality. 

Biography of Hiroshi Oikawa

Born in 1974 in Esashi, Oshu, Iwate Prefecture, Hiroshi Oikawa is a renowned Traditional Craftsman of Iwayado Tansu. He graduated from the Tohoku Institute of Technology's Department of Industrial Design in 1996. Upon graduation, Oikawa joined Kikuhiro Metal Carving and Crafts, where he specialized in metal graving craftsmanship and studied under his master, Hiroshi Kikuchi. In 2010, Oikawa was certified as a Master of Traditional Crafts in the Metal Fitting Department of Iwayado Tansu. He later became the President of Kikuhiro Metal Carving and Crafts. Oikawa currently serves as the Vice Chairman of the Iwayado Tansu Production Cooperative and the Chairman of the Traditional Craftsmen Association of Iwayado Tansu.