Yoshiko Munehiro on her loom

Use Good Tools, My Mother Said.

Where to Place Money and Heart

“Use good tools,” she said, in a frustrated manner.

It was a pair of scissors, with one handle missing. I’d been using it ever since I was in elementary school. My family went on a trip to see our uncle and aunt for a summer holiday in Gujo Hachiman, Gifu. There, we visited a cute museum showcasing tiny paper dolls crafted by a local artist.

Behind the large display glass wall, paper dolls danced to the bon music; the live flute, strings, or a solo vocal performed by the neighbours-turned-artists were the highlights of the summer bon dance festival in the region and called thousands from all over Japan. 

Clattering sounds of geta wooden sandals echoed with the music; sandaled bare feet kicking the floor; the elegant curves of dancing fingertips; twisted tenugui cloth around the sweaty heads, curled up edges of yukata summerly kimono showing the muscular legs under… all of that brought back the time we were at the festival. 

My sister and I were fascinated, completely absorbed in the world of paper dolls, and bought a pair of scissors at the end of our visit. It had a tiger sticker on them. The reflective tiger transformed into a lion as we flipped the scissors left to right, up and down.

Many many years passed, and one of the scissor handles broke, but I learnt to use it without the handle. It was partly because I grew attached to it, but also because I was lazy to get another one. It still cut well after all these years, too. 

My mum came to stay with me in my Tokyo apartment, and that’s when she saw my half-missing scissors.

“Why and how do you use this? Use a good tool. Always”

I explained that I invented a way to use it fine. But she didn’t buy it. What I didn’t understand was that she was almost annoyed. A tone of sternness in her voice. 

One day I was back at my parents’ place. My father was at work in his studio. He made koto, stringed musical instruments.  

A vast collection of sews, planes and hammers, all lined up neatly along the wall, caught my eyes. Some of them were passed down from his father – my grandfather’s time. 

Planes and Saws

To me, these planes all looked the same, until he pointed out the differences in blades’ angles, curves of the handle, sizes and dimensions… it didn’t take too long to realise each tool was serving its unique purpose. 

They were well-used and well-taken care of; the surfaces of the wooden handles were shiny and slightly bent from daily, repetitive use.  

My father did maintenance of his tools by himself; not surprising considering it directly affects the final quality. 

My mother, being a weaver, also used many tools. 

I don’t recall my parents being rich. Growing up, I was blessed with all that I needed but I knew there were talks on how to make ends meet sometimes. But the tools were never something for them to make compromises on. 

As I grew older, I started to cultivate my love for tools. Not only a pair of scissors, but I also bought a letter opener. I came to see that some are better made to last long. Some need regular maintenance otherwise they get blunt.

Having a tool is one thing, having a good tool is another, and constant maintenance is a must either way.

Use good tools, always. 

Yoshiko Munehiro Obi
Yoshiko Munehiro Obi

Yoshiko Munehiro’s works


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