National | Regional voices: Chubu

Aichi temple priest leads double life as craftsman restoring clocks and record players

Chunichi Shimbun

Saihoji Temple in Kota, Aichi Prefecture, is littered with handmade mechanical dolls, antique clocks and record players — presenting a unique sight for visitors.

Junno Nakamura, chief priest of the temple that has a history dating back to the Muromachi Period (1392-1573), is also a craftsman who restores antique machinery, attracting fans and repair orders from across the nation.

“People who really know (about record players) use cactus spines,” says Nakamura, 71, referring to turntable needles.

In the temple’s main hall sits a wind-up record player released by Victrola in 1927. The 93-cm-high and 65-cm-wide player, which weighs 45 kg, can give off considerably high-volume sounds even without an electricity supply.

Listening to music from the machine, one can also hear the faint buzzing sound of the needle rubbing against the record.

Nakamura makes turntable needles from cactus spines, which are softer than metals, to prevent the records he owns — many produced in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) through the early Showa Era — from wearing out.

He says that although the sounds become lower in volume when cactus needles are used, the quality remains the same as metal needles.

However, one problem is that the tip of a cactus needle must be sharpened with a file after every use.

To make things easier, eight years ago Nakamura developed a cactus needle sharpening machine that can be operated by turning a handle to rub the needle against a file. He has sold roughly 200 so far.

While serving as a priest since his 20s, Nakamura worked at a sewing machine manufacturer in the city of Chiryu in Aichi. Hoping to create in his home the atmosphere of a jazz cafe he frequented after work, Nakamura began collecting antique lamps, record players and clocks.

When the items in his collection broke down, he tried repairing them.

“I fiddled with a clock for a while and somehow I managed to fix it,” he said.

Since both clocks and record players work by winding a spring, he also began repairing record players. Soon, his skills became known among record player aficionados nationwide, resulting in a flood of repair requests.

About a decade ago, he was asked to repair wadokei — a clock made in the Edo Period (1603-1868) by adapting Western clock-making techniques to tell time in the traditional Japanese way.

To get some hints for repairing it, he was reading “Karakurizui,” an illustrated manual of curious machines published in the Edo Period, and he came across a design drawing of a mechanical doll.

Since he had been visiting nursery and elementary schools as a volunteer, he thought children would be interested in mechanical dolls and soon began producing them.

So far, he has made four such dolls, including Shinadama Ningyo, a magician doll with a box containing an item that changes every time the doll opens it, and Hannya Shingyo Kobozu, a little priest doll that chants the Buddhist Heart Sutra while striking a mokugyo wooden drum. The chanting voice of the priest doll was recorded by his grandchild.

“I enjoy coming up with ideas and designs about how to make them,” Nakamura says. “It’s not enough of a challenge to make something that amateurs can produce.”

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Dec. 5.