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One of the first artisans to enter, Shonagon Ishiyama Gen’tarou Yori’i graced our Virtual Queens Prize Tourney with his beautiful project. His entry “the Kyousoku Arm Rest” looks intriguing, and just asks to learn more about it! As we do not have the ability to converse with Shonagon Ishiyama face to face, the Virtual Queens Prize Tourney offers the opportunity to fawn over images and read the documentation right there on the Kingdom Ministry of Arts & Sciences website – even to leave feedback! And to learn a little more about the artisan and their thoughts behind their entry, the organizers decided to broaden our traditional entry of object and documentation with personal interviews.


“Kyousoku” Arm Rest by Ishiyama-shi-i Gen’tarou Yori’ie: A piece of medieval Japanese furniture, made from wood using entirely hand tools similar to those that were available in period, finished in multiple polished layers of artificial lacquer, and decorated in the hira-maki-e (gold paint) style with a karkusa pattern.

Could you tell me a little about you, your persona. Is your entry something your persona would use?

My persona is a late period noble of the “kuge” courtier class. (As opposed to the “buke” warrior class.) The fiefdom of the Ishiyama clan contained a very famous temple (Ishiyama-dera), which was home to some warrior monks who made quite a bit of trouble for the Shogun. It is my conceit that that, as oldest son (“gen’tarou”) of the family, Ishiyama Yori’ie has been summoned to the capital to serve as a court representative of his family and as a hostage to assure their loyalty. He would have been assigned a position in the bureaucracy, but not had much actual work to do. So, Ishiyama took an interest in the crafts of the capital, with an eye toward bringing ideas for trade goods home when it was time for him to take over the family.

By this time in Japanese history, most of the furniture that was based on Chinese culture was no longer used. Japan had evolved into a floor-seated culture, and developed its own furniture to accommodate the new style. In both his work time in the palace and his leisure time at home, Ishiyama would have spent a lot of time sitting while interacting
with others, writing notes on his studies, and writing home to communicate with his family. This does get to be tiring, and I believe he would have had a kyousoku arm rest of this type to support him. The joinery of the legs is left unglued, so it can be disassembled and carried more easily by a servant if he traveled to visit another or went home to visit his family.

What inspired you to make your entry?

Most of my work in the SCA is inspired by desire. I see something, and the Ishiyama part of me says, “I want one.” Even in Japan, most of these things can be difficult to buy, and certainly very expensive. If I want it, I have to make it. If this takes figuring out a good method, learning new skills, or deciding on substitute materials, this is the nature of the challenges I pursue in the SCA.

I’d seen these arm rests in scrolls, books, and movies; and some other SCAdians had made some. This was enough to get “kyousoku arm rest” onto my to-do list. I asked a Japanese woodworking teacher the best way to do the sliding dovetail joinery, and after learning about the taper I had all of the information I needed to get started.This project was a good opportunity to be a stickler about doing all of the work by hand.

What is your intention with your entry? Are you looking forward to start putting your entry to good use, and if so, how could we envision this? Or is it intended as a gift, or a general household item?

I plan to use this arm rest at events, mostly at Pennsic. I already used it a bit in my vigil tent. I may make more of them in the future, but maybe not entirely by hand, and maybe not with the embellishments.

Did the entry throw up any unexpected issues? Or did it go exactly as expected, and what would you contribute to this smooth sailing?

The gold paint I used for the “maki-e” embellishment was not nearly sticky enough. I had polished the black finish very smooth, and then applied all the gold paint. I found that the gold paint was too easy to rub off, but trying to top-coat smeared the paint. I cleaned up the smears as well as I could, repainted the damaged designs, and sprayed the project with clear shellac to seal it. Then, I smoothed that with abrasives before applying several coats of clear lacquer to create a smooth, resilient, top surface. This added about a year to the process while I got over my frustration and waited for it to get warm enough
outside to proceed with finishing.

Did you learn something specific, something you would do differently, or would recommend others to do again?

In addition to the sliding dovetails, I learned how to do the “karakusa” arabesque scrollwork by hand. This gets to be a lot of fun! I wouldn’t use this paint again, though. In the future, I would probably mix metallic powder into clear finish for a more resilient design. In period, they would have used lacquer, which takes weeks to fully cure. Period technique would be to sprinkle powdered metal directly onto the wet lacquer. Sounds messy to me.

What motivated you to enter the Virtual Queens Prize Tourney?

I entered the tourney because I had already intended to show this project in a competition or display, now that it was done. I had taught a class on kyousoku and how to make them, so I had the material assembled for documentation. With Ice Dragon and War Practice cancelled, I was not sure when I’d get a chance to show this off. When the tourney was announced, I realized I was all set to enter!

Thank you, Shonagon Ishiyama Gen’tarou Yori’i, for sharing your wonderful work with our Kingdom’s artisans and populace!

If you would like to see Shonagon Ishiyama’s entry, follow this link. And if you liked his work, have a question to ask, or a tip to share – please leave your comments with his entry! You can “Leave a Reply” at the bottom of the entry’s page. We have four more weeks to peruse, enjoy and interact with the entrants. Make use of the opportunity, if you can!

Would you like to enter your own project? The deadline for entering the Virtual Queens Prize Tourney is June 30th, and you can find all you need to know on how to enter on the KMOAS website.