See my other blog posts on coopering:
In 1996, after studying with the last builder of the strangely wonderful taraibune or tub boats of Sado Island, I published my first book on that initial research. Entitled The Tub Boats of Sado Island; A Japanese Craftsman's Methods, I often thought how it could have been entitled The Accidental Cooper. As the name implies, tub boats are basically barrels, and building them encompasses all the techniques of traditional Japanese coopering.
Luckily I would go on to study with other boatbuilders, building "normal" boats, but I did remain interested in coopering. There are far fewer coopers left in Japan than even boatbuilders, and this past September I paid my second visit to what is now the last shop still building wooden sake barrels. Located outside of Osaka in the city of Saki, I had visited once before. The owner is an enthusiastic historian of barrel-making.
I've been wanting to find a magazine that would accept an article about this man and his craft, so on my most recent visit I spent several hours interviewing him. If I ever do publish anything I will be sure to blog out it here.....
Three of the workers were putting new braided bamboo hoops on a typical sake barrel. These are eight feet tall. The barrels themselves last up to fifty years, but the hoops need replacing every five to ten years.
The man on the left is 86 years old and has been with the company since he was 16.
The firm's owner has been saving old barrel parts. These are sections of the bottoms of barrels, with writing on their edges. He's found all kinds of information recorded on plank edges, including date and location of construction, price, owner and even wages.