Smithy Your Way to Custom Silver
Sightseeing in Kyoto is usually reserved for temples, shrines, and various other midtown locations. However, if you want to see a cute neighborhood that has an almost countryside feel to it, check out Demachiyanagi.
Here you will find Art Smith, a silver smithing workshop, jewelry shop, and café. The owner and teacher Sawada-san is very laid back and friendly. Sawada-san speaks little English but he does his utmost and always gets his point across, even using a dictionary or drawing things to help you see his meaning better. His teaching style is very effective, and yet relaxed. He starts off with explaining what to do and how, then shows you an example, and then lets you work on your masterpiece. When you inadvertently mess up in your beginning attempts, he always helps you fix your work. You can take a break any time and have a coffee, soda or even a beer if you like. The café only has a drink menu, with no food, but you may go and grab something to snack on, or just have lunch. Art smith is open from 1pm until 9pm, which allows most people to find room in their schedule to drop by.
The class menu, so to speak, goes as follows. For ¥1000 you can do the trial course or tameshi choukin, which will take about an hour. In this class you will create a thin silver band. You can decide whether you want to leave it a smooth circle or to make grooves, stripes, or other designs on the outside as well as to add letters and numbers. This is a beginner course and can be done even if you’ve never done anything of the sort before.
The next-level course allows you to make simple designs. Slightly more difficult than the previous tameshi ring, it costs ¥3000 + materials (usually silver) and it takes several hours to complete depending on the chosen design. Once your accessory is completed, you may take it home on the same day.
The last course is the wax course, which cost breaks down to roughly use of all the tools, and materials. For ¥3000 you have full access to the workshop, and to the teachers’ help, for as long as you need it, whether 2 hours or 5. Materials are paid for based on how much silver, wax or other such materials you used. For this course you will need a day to create your wax carving, then it usually takes around a week for you to receive it from the factory, which will cast it in silver, then another day at the workshop to polish it and put the finishing touches.
For example, I made a pair of earrings that took 2 days of workshop time to complete. The first day I made the shape using wax, I paid ¥3000 for workshop use and instruction + a little under ¥400 for the amount of wax I used. I had to wait a week for the silver cast of my wax carving to come back from the factory to the workshop. I spent the second day polishing the silver cast and creating extra silver parts to complete the earrings.Photo by Bianca Patrasc
The cost of the silver depends on the weight of the item. The cast that came back from the factory was somewhat heavy thus cost ¥3000 on top of the workshop access and instruction cost of ¥3000, the silver that I used that day amounted to about ¥300. Keep in mind that if your item is small, thin or light it will not cost as much. All together it turned out to be a little less than ¥10,000. Not too bad in my opinion for your own perfect present.
In addition to the relatively low costs and great guidance, you can enjoy the atmosphere of the place. Most of the workshop was made by hand, by Sawada-san. Along one wall are bookshelves, and hidden under the counter is a trove of manga ranging from older issues from the 1980’s to more recent ones. If you can read them, good for you (they are all in Japanese), but even if you can’t, looking at them is a treat in its own right. In fact, many of these manga are considered to be rare finds, given their release date.
If you are heading there from around Kyoto JR Station, there are several ways to get to Art Smith. The one I find to be the simplest is to take the Keihan line to Demachiyanagi Station, walk straight across the bridge, over Kamogawa River. When you reach the shopping arcade keep going, and make the first right by the florist shop. Walk straight for about a minute and you’ll find the all-glass front shop slightly below street level.
Alternatively you can choose the Karasuma Line to Imadegawa Station from which you can either take a bus or walk down. Doshisha Women’s College will be to one side and the North part of the Imperial Palace Compound to the other. This will be roughly a 10-15 minute walk. Slightly past the Softbank store, take the left before you reach Kawaramachi-Dori. Walk straight down for a few minutes past the shopping arcade and you’ll see Art Smith.
The neighborhood around Art Smith has several interesting spots. On the Kawabata-Dori side of the Kamogawa River, you will find tons of small cafes and restaurants – some even vegan. Bear in mind that some smaller places close at around noon to give themselves and their workers an afternoon break.
There is also a 7-Eleven a few minutes down from the station if you’re in need of cash. As you’re crossing the bridge over the river towards Kawaramachi-Dori, you have a chance to go up the triangle that splits the river in two. After walking a few minutes, you will find some beautiful shrines in what can only be described as a tiny forest in the middle of the city. Also, not far from this location is the famous Haru Cooking Class. Whatever you choose to do you’ll be all set for your adventure.
Enjoy your class at Art Smith and show off those new skills and jewelry pieces to your family and friends! I bet they’ll be impressed by your custom made accessories!
Demachiyanagi Station (Keihan & Eizan lines) via exit (5); Imadegawa Station (Karasuma Line) via exit 3.
122 Aioicho Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto-fu 602-0827
Opening Hours: 1:00 to 9:00PM