As recently as a decade ago, the art of the Japanese pipe was all but unknown in the US. Pressed to name a Japanese high grade, your average collector might have been able to come up with Tsuge's Ikebana line, and that was it. Today, artists such as Hiroyuki Tokutomi, Smio Satou, Takeo Arita and Kei'ichi Gotoh share an equal amount of the spotlight with the legends of Denmark and America. In a smaller analog of the changing US carving scene, Japan is seeing an emergence of newer, younger artists, ones who hold a burning passion for working in the medium and are presenting fresh ideas and inspiration with each and every briar. Tatsuo Tajima ('Tatu') is one of the rising stars in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Tajima-san made his US debut at the 2011 CPCC. Nick, as is his custom, arrived at the CPCC several days prior to the opening of the show, and heard the buzz about Tatu briars floating around the building. He ran up to the room (ok, this is Nick, so it was something of a walk-jog-gasp for breath, then repeat kinda thing), to find a universally respected, big name European competitor loading up his selection like my Mother-in-Law will load a plate at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. One look at Tajima's briars, and Nick started creating 'his' pile (sorry, I can't help but picture the two of them slapping each other's hand, trying to get the last egg roll in the tray).
Once you actually lay hands on Tatsuo's work, I have little doubt that you will understand the excitement. While young, and sporting a kind of Nihon-Bohemian appearance, Tajima-san is a friend and student of the legendary Tokutomi, and possesses a deep respect for the legacy of excellence that has been established by the elder carvers. His naturally-inspired forms, much like Tokutomi, tend to hail from the aquatic, while his more traditional shapes bear that ephemeral, Ikebana-like approach of enhancing a Euro form with subtle, Nihon stylistic choices. His drilling is spot-on and the mating of his chamfered bits into their mortises approach perfection. Universally, Tatsuo creates a nice, easy draw in his briars, one that reminds me a bit of Cavicchi's approach. If I would suggest an improvement (and I have suggested an improvement), it would be the creation of thinner bits to be more complementary to his inspired shapes. Tajima-san is a quality Japanese artisan, and one whose work and stature within the carving community will surely rise. With pipes starting at just $300, and smooth straight grains available at $400, this is one carver that you can't afford to overlook.
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