In the movie Forrest Gump Tom Hanks relives some of the most significant moments of Modern American History through the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, the cold war, Vietnam and China. So when I met up with the staff at the Horikin Gold Leaf Design House, it was like I was reliving Kyoto history through the life of the store. It was like the history of Horikin was the history of Kyoto itself.
Horikin was founded in 1711 by Denbei Sunagoya, appointed by the Tokugawa Shogunate as a gold leaf maker. Only ten years had lapsed from the Chushingura, or the battle of the forty seven ronin to revenge the death of their master, Asano Naganori. It was certainly a tumultuous time to start a gold leaf business. Today you can see remnants of some of the historical working papers and license plates after that period. In 1868, in scenes reminiscent of “the Last Samurai”, at the beginning of the Meiji Period, the store caught fire in the Hamagurigomon War in 1864, causing the shop to move to Gokomachi Oike Sagaru. Its fortunes were intractably linked to the of the Government, but since the Meiji Restoration last century, citizens like you and me can have the privilege of visiting this store. They even craft custom made items and are a big part of the Kyoto Handicrafts industry. Today it remains near Kyoto City Hall.
Yuko, our host today, shows us how the tradition of gold leaf making continues at Horikin. It is amazing to see how a bar of gold is beaten and pressed many times over to make gold leaf so thin you can rub it into your skin between your fingers, using a ten step process that takes many weeks to complete. Gold leaf has been used throughout the centuries in Kyoto to glisten and give spirit of many other art forms, from washi paper to tableware.
Walking around this store is like admiring a museum and showcase of gold, which range from edible gold (yes I remember all those stories of gold flaked sake drunk in the bubble years) to gold body tattoos. You can even personalise your iPhone or other belongings with a variety of gold stickers. There are also some products that from imitation gold, like gold colored stationery. A family member of the group the Beatles even came here to buy some gold glittered paint, so there is something here for everyone on any budget.
A person visiting Kyoto for the first time may not see the connection between gold leaf making and Kyoto, but actually Kinkakuji is covered with Gold leaf, and hence earning the moniker “The Golden Pavilion”, as well as a world heritage building that defines Kyoto.
Today it is making history of another kind. From artisans to rock stars, people from around the world flock to this store to create their own works of art, whether it is gold glittered paint or washi paper, there are so many ways to create paintings, sculptures and jewelry from gold leaf products. Who knows which of these creations will stand the test of time?