He stands in the sun on the stoop of his shop off Kokusai Dori. You’ve seen him before. He smiles, a little impish. Hello, he says. His name is Teruro Hayashi. Today he wears a kimono. On another day, a sports jacket and jeans. He may not look busy, but he is at work. His business is making personal seals.
At any one time, he has several designs in mind. That’s how he works. Turning over ideas. Like writing or painting. Some images come quickly, he says. Others might take two months. They come to me in my sleep, or when I wake up, or in the bath, or on the toilet!
The sign outside says something like, It’s Your Name, Be Proud.
I’ve been in business 120 years, he likes to say. His father was a seal maker too. Their home was in Fukagawa, across the Sumida. Home to the likes of woodblock legend Katsushika Hokusai, he says.
Jumping into the river saved his dad in the wartime firebombing. Young Hayashi was five years old. He was evacuated out of Tokyo. Later he was burned by shrapnel and he’ll even show you the scar on his leg.
Hayashi’s interest is in gago, not the common hanko that are used as signatures for contracts and bank accounts, though he provides those too. Gago are personal, for letters or artwork. His materials include wood and stone and a sort of solid-core bamboo. The bamboo is not quite round, some pieces in cross-section are a little like beans. He lets his customer choose their own.
Edo people were soft in the head, he says. He means they were flexible, supple, adaptable.
To create a seal, he says, you meet the customer and get a feel for who they are, what their name expresses about them, and their line of work. You look at everything, he says. Then you design their characters.
There’s more to it than making clear characters, he says. Your design must mean something. He speaks with a cheerful confidence. There’s no one like me doing this, he says. He wants you to know he has the Edo spirit.
Edo people were soft in the head, he says. He means they were flexible, supple, adaptable. They were open to new ideas. They knew that progress came from conflict.
These tools are not good for anyone unskilled.
He sends his finished design to a carver. He used to carve himself until an accident with his eye, about 20 years ago. He shows you the tools he used. These were my father’s, he says. The blades are very old steel. They don’t make steel like this anymore. It comes from the kozuka, the small knives like shuriken — ninja throwing stars — that slot into the scabbard of the katana sword. Extremely sharp. These tools are not good for anyone unskilled.
One day when you visit, he is designing a seal in reverse, in white on a black ground. Shin, from shin-jitsu, it means Truth. He takes the orthodox rendering then makes it a cursive scrawl in the scribbly style called shouso – grass writing. Then he reassembles it, drawing out the aspect he wants. Now it looks like two people bending toward each other. He holds out his hand, it’s like a handshake, isn’t it? Truth. He laughs.
Asakusa Hayashi is at 1-24-4 Asakusa, Taito-ku tel 03-3842-7415