Watch a Japanese Artisan Hand-Craft a Cello in 6 Months

Cel­lists unwill­ing to set­tle for any but the finest instru­ment must, soon­er or lat­er, make a pil­grim­age to Cre­mona — or rather, to the Cre­monas. One is, of course, the city in Lom­bardy that was home to numer­ous pio­neer­ing mas­ter luthiers, up to and includ­ing Anto­nio Stradi­vari. The oth­er, less­er known Cre­mona is a work­shop in Hiraka­ta, an exurb of Osa­ka. There, a mas­ter luthi­er named Takao Iwai plies his trade, which you can see on detailed dis­play in the ProcessX video above. In just under half an hour, it com­press­es his painstak­ing six-month process of mak­ing a cel­lo whol­ly by hand.

The name of Iwai’s shop evokes a rich his­to­ry of stringed instru­ment-mak­ing, but it also pays trib­ute to the place where he honed his own skills. He did so under the luthi­er Gio Bat­ta Moras­si, described in a trib­ute after his death in 2018 as hav­ing “made a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the revival of Cremona’s mod­ern vio­lin-mak­ing,” and indeed hav­ing become “the god­fa­ther of the mod­ern Ital­ian Cre­mona school.”

He seemed to have wel­comed stu­dents no mat­ter their land of ori­gin — France, Chi­na, Rus­sia, and of course Japan — and through them “intro­duced the art of Ital­ian vio­lin mak­ing to the world and raised the lev­el of inter­na­tion­al vio­lin mak­ing.”

Iwai is hard­ly the first ded­i­cat­ed Japan­ese crafts­man we’ve fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, nor even the first ded­i­cat­ed to a Euro­pean art form: take the sculp­tor Etsuro Sotoo, whose decades of work on Sagra­da Família has earned him a rep­u­ta­tion in his home­land as “the Japan­ese Gaudí.” After his time in Italy, Iwai chose to return to Japan, bring­ing his mas­tery of a for­eign craft into a native cul­ture high­ly con­ducive to its prac­tice, where tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese instru­ments have long been made with the very same sense of detail and tech­nique. If you’d like to wit­ness that as well while you’re in Osa­ka, do pay a vis­it to Tsu­ruya Gak­ki in the port town of Sakai; maybe you’ll even get to see a shamisen being made.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How to Build a Cus­tom Hand­craft­ed Acoustic Gui­tar from Start to Fin­ish: The Process Revealed in a Fas­ci­nat­ing Doc­u­men­tary

Watch a Japan­ese Arti­san Make a Noh Mask, Cre­at­ing an Aston­ish­ing Char­ac­ter From a Sin­gle Block of Wood

Watch the Mak­ing of a Hand-Craft­ed Vio­lin, from Start to Fin­ish, in a Beau­ti­ful­ly Shot Doc­u­men­tary

The Art of Tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese Wood Join­ery: A Kyoto Wood­work­er Shows How Japan­ese Car­pen­ters Cre­at­ed Wood Struc­tures With­out Nails or Glue

Japan­ese Musi­cians Turn Obso­lete Machines Into Musi­cal Instru­ments: Cath­ode Ray Tube TVs, Over­head Pro­jec­tors, Reel-to-Reel Tape Machines & More

20 Mes­mer­iz­ing Videos of Japan­ese Arti­sans Cre­at­ing Tra­di­tion­al Hand­i­crafts

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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