Bekko is a product made from a hawksbill sea turtle’s shell called “Taimai”. With translucent and shiny materials that mainly has yellow and black mottled pattern, it is used to create ornamental hairpins, combs, Netsuke (A Miniature Carving Attached to a Cord, used to hang pouches from Obi or Belts), good luck charms, accessories, straps, Bachi (Plectrum) of Shamisen are processed.
Bekko were originally items for people of high ranks such as the Imperial family, but after the war, it spreaded amongst the common people. At that time people who didn’t know it’s value had also increased, bekko ended up having an old-fashioned image. Moreover, the Taimai import ban was enacted according to the Washington Convention in 1993 so craftsman who have no stock of Taimai had to close their businesses and Bekko has been becoming an item with a high rarity. Minoru Isogai, a representative of “Bekko Isogai”, is an Edo-style Tortoiseshell Craftsman.
Some decades ago before the Taimai import was banned, Minoru’s father told him that “From now we probably won’t be able to get Taimai anymore”, and cut his salary to stock up on Taimai with that money. At that time, he couldn’t enjoy any luxuries but thanks to his father’s foresight and sacrafice, now there are Taimai in stock and Inoue can continue working as a craftsman.
Tortoiseshell production starts with holding the shell up to the light and see which parts have patterned you want to use, then use fretsaw to cut it. Find parts that have colors similar to the first one and cut it out 2 or 3 pieces. Heat up the shell with a heated iron plate and steamed towel to make it viscous, then stretch it out. Polish damages on the shell by using a Gangi file or a small knife, and this time doing it conversely by using a waterproof sandpaper or horsetail to make fine scratches. With this process called “Mearashi”, it enhances the joining force of tortoiseshells together. Then, several tortoiseshell pieces are stacked up and pressed between heated iron plates to laminate several sheets of tortoiseshell together without using glue. Use a fretsaw and file to fix the shape of laminated tortoiseshell, then fix lower shells by waterproof sandpaper or horsetail and add polishing agent on grinding cloth and polish.
Lastly, wipe it up with deerskin then the product is finished.
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