Buddha statue maker carves deeper niche for art on YouTube

by

Kyodo

A young Japanese busshi, or carver of wooden Buddha statues, has been posting videos of his work on YouTube, hoping to explain his craft to the world.

Toshiharu Sakagami, 31, has posted some 150 videos online that have garnered more than 230,000 views.

Sakagami had wanted to work with his hands since becoming a teenager, and when he met a busshi in Nanto, Toyama Prefecture, at the age of 19 after graduating from high school in Chiba Prefecture, he became his apprentice, attracted by the master’s personality.

He received permission to set up on his own business in 2008, and opened a studio in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, in 2013.

Production of wooden Buddha statues not only requires delicate physical work, such as very fine chisel strokes, but also efforts to infuse the works with something of the thoughts and feelings of those who commission them.

Sakagami saw these elements as the strength of the tradition, but worried that public appreciation of them was waning.

So he began to post videos related to statue exhibitions and his thoughts on them on YouTube around 2008 to arouse interest in the art of carving Buddha statues. The videos logged only 38 views in the first year.

Then in 2010, he started showing how Buddha statues were made as well as how to use carving knives, aiming at beginners. The views increased by stages and now reach almost 7,000 per month.

While 90 percent of videos are accessed within Japan, some viewers are from abroad, such as the United States and France, and comments are sometimes posted in English. Sakagami even began receiving statue orders from abroad after adding English captions to his videos.

With help from a producer in Hiroshima Prefecture who happened to see some of his videos, Sakagami displayed three of his statues at a cultural fair in Paris in October last year to introduce the prefecture. The favorable reaction encouraged him.