Mr. Shigeru Matsunuma
President of Matsushin Co., Ltd.
Matsushin Co., Ltd., a wholesaler and retailer of folk crafts and crafts made from Japanese paper, is located near the Chuo University Korakuen Campus in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward. The interior of the company overflows with the flavor of Edo. The shelves are packed with iroha karuta (a Japanese card game), fukuwarai (a game in which a face is made, similar to Pin the Tail on the Donkey), the Japanese board game sugoroku, and other items that have been an essential part of play during the New Year's holidays since long ago. Also found in the store is a glossary of seasonal terms for haiku composers from the Edo Period, as well as Edo toys and Japanese lanterns inscribed with names.
I was greeted at the store by Mr. Shigeru Matsunuma, a 1967 graduate from the Faculty of Economics. Mr. Matsunuma is 68 years old and has a distinguished bearing accented by his thick white beard.
During our first meeting, Mr. Matsunuma handed me two strips of sacred Japanese paper together with his business card. The strips of paper were inscribed with Edo-style characters, with one reading "Hongo Matsunuma" and the other reading "Matsushin-Original Crafts-Edo Hongo." It is said that during the Edo Period citizens of Edo used strips of sacred paper instead of business cards, trying to outdo each other in terms of purity. I felt like I had traveled back in time to the Edo Period. Currently, the demand for Japanese paper has decreased and the strips of paper are now sold as unique stickers.
From part-time work to going independent and starting a business: A coordinator of calligraphy, engraving and printing
Today, Edo culture is a rarity in Japan. When discussing his reasons for establishing a company which conveys Edo culture, Mr. Matsunuma explained that he has always been interested in archaeology. He also cited his experience working part-time at a manufacturer and wholesaler of Japanese paper while studying at university. "I was a member of the Wandervogel outdoor club and I bought local toys at every village when traveling throughout Japan," said Mr. Matsunuma when discussing yet another influence.
Mr. Matsunuma began his part-time work at a manufacturer and wholesaler of Japanese paper during his 4th year at university. The company asked him to become a full-time employee after graduation and he spent 5 years working at the company. Taking advantage of the strong economic growth at that time, Mr. Matsunuma then went independent and started his own company. Originally, he conducted business together with one other former member of the Wandervogel outdoor club.
Upon receiving an order, Mr. Matsunuma consults with customers regarding the design. Once a design has been decided on, he takes the products to a calligrapher in order to have them inscribed with Edo-style characters. He then has an engraver carve a design of cherry trees, after which the design is imprinted by a printer. The printed items are then finished into strips of sacred paper or pouches (gift envelopes). Put simply, Mr. Matsunuma's work is similar to a publisher who coordinates a variety of operations.
Many elderly customers, but overlooked by the younger generation. Popular for gifts to send overseas.
"Our company conducts a rare business. However, the name 'Matsushin' is known by many people and it makes me happy that we bring satisfaction to our customers," said Mr. Matsunuma.
I was shown a design collection of colorful strips of Japanese paper and pouches which have been preserved since long ago. Each unique item possessed dignity and individuality. There are still people who desire such purity of design, even if such items have become a rarity recently.
Sacred strips of Japanese paper are purchased by a wide variety of people, from ordinary citizens to famous entertainers. Actor Hiroshi Abe, a graduate of Chuo University, is a customer of Mr. Matsunuma.
"Elderly people often come to buy things at our company. However, we aren't visited by too many young people nowadays," said Mr. Matsunuma with a worried look. "However, there are some people who come to buy traditional Japanese gifts before they travel overseas." It seems that traditional Japanese crafts are popular with people in foreign countries.
Entered Chuo University at age 20. Traveled throughout Japan with the Wandervogel outdoor club.
Mr. Matsunuma was born into a farming family in Ibaraki Prefecture. He disliked studying when he was a high school student and did not plan on entering university. He worked at a private company for about 18 months after graduating from high school. "However, I learned that the world was more unfair than I had thought," said Mr. Matsunuma. "High school graduates and university graduates are treated completely differently in society." He therefore decided to study at university and entered Chuo University when he was 20 years old. During his first year at university, Mr. Matsunuma studied seriously at university facilities which were located on the Surugadai Campus.
"Unlike today, we didn't have copy machines back then, so I stayed awake all night copying my friends' notebooks," he said. "While students with 20 'A' grades at the time of graduation were considered to be excellent, I acquired 9 A's during my 1st year alone. Since I had a good academic record during my 1st year, I slacked off from my second year onwards. I didn't attend many classes except for language classes," he recalled with a laugh.
Mr. Matsunuma was a member of the Wandervogel outdoor club beginning in his 1st year at university. In addition to overnight trips with the club, he personally visited and walked around Izu Shichito, the Aizu region of Fukushima Prefecture, and other regions throughout Japan. During his 2nd year at university, he used his summer vacation to spend one month in Hokkaido.
When staying in parks and campgrounds during his travels, Mr. Matsunuma pitched a tent which was inscribed with "Chuo University" in large letters. Students from other universities felt a sense of camaraderie and often started conversations. Exchanges with other students were one of Mr. Matsunuma's favorite parts of traveling. "However," he said, "Chuo University students were the only group of students who tended to keep to themselves and weren't outgoing. I've heard that Chuo students today are pretty much the same." Mr. Matsunuma encourages current Chuo students to become more inspired.
First chairperson of the "42 Hakumon" Committee. First captain of the Seibu Lions Fan Club
Additionally, Mr. Matsunuma has been involved in a broad range of activities outside of his work. In 1994, he formed the "42 Hakumon" Committee, a group of students who graduated from Chuo University in 1967 (the 42nd year of the Showa Period). He also served as the first Chairperson of the committee. Mr. Yoshimasa Takahashi, coach of the Chuo University Baseball Team, is a member of the same graduating class as Mr. Matsunuma.
Mr. Matsunuma also serves as both Secretary-General and Secretariat of the Hakumon Bunkyo Branch, a group of people associated with Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward. He served as a member of the Homecoming Day Committee for about 5 years, and even today serves as an advisor to Chuo University, a member of the Hakumon Scholarship Committee, and as an executive on various academic committees.
I was especially surprised to hear that Mr. Matsunuma served as the first captain of the Seibu Lions (a Japanese professional baseball team) Fan Club. "At that time, I had heard that the brothers Hirohisa Matsunuma and Masayuki Matsunuma from Toyo University had joined the Seibu Lions. When I inquired about their birthplace, I found that they were from a small country town just a short distance from where I lived in Ibaraki Prefecture. Actually, at that time, I was searching for the roots of the name 'Matsunuma'," said Mr. Matsunuma when explaining the surprising relationship that was born from his interest in history.
From that relationship, Mr. Matsunuma formed a group to support the Matsunuma brothers. Afterwards, at the request of other fans, he became the first leader of the Seibu Lions Fan Club. "I spent more than 100 days out of the year cheering for the Lions," said Mr. Matsunuma while showing me an album from that time. "I paid for admission and transportation fees out of my own pocket. But, I was invited to the party to celebrate the Lions' championship!"
Mr. Matsunuma has even helped put on vaudeville shows. "The rakugo (Japanese comedy) storyteller Kodanji Yanagiya was a fellow member of the "42 Hakumon" Committee, so we decided to hold vaudeville shows," explained Mr. Matsunuma. "The Chuo graduate and performer Saishi Katsura also participated in the shows." Ten vaudeville shows were held beginning in 2000, although the committee is currently taking a break from production.
Mr. Matsunuma concluded our interview with this message to current Chuo students: "Act fairly and be proud of your heritage as a student of Chuo University" he said.
Written by: Hakumon Chuo 2011 Spring Issue Student Reporter Mutsumi Ogiwara (3rd year student, Faculty of Law)