When you visit Kyoto, especially its many temples and shrines, you are likely to hear typically harmonious and spiritual Japanese sounds. Since 1839, the Nanjo Kobo foundry has created traditional musical instruments intended for Japanese Shinto and Buddhist rites. Their specialty? A pure and none undulating sound, resulting from a remarkable handwork, transmitted for several generations, as well as the use of an alloy of two metals called "sahari".
Originally, this foundry was established in 1839, near the famous Fushimi-Inari shrine in southeast Kyoto. After the Second World War, for fear of fires, the city of Kyoto then banned activities using wood-burning kilns. From then on the workshop moved to Uji, and even if the place of production has changed, the technique has remained the same for almost 200 years.
The wood-fired kiln used to harden molds
A long process to obtain a pure and none undulating sound.
It takes work to achieve the desired result. Namely, an instrument producing a pure and none undulating sound, the trademark of this foundry. The first step is the molds’ creation, obtained by a clever mixture of earth, clay and rice husk. The recipe is primordial, because if not worked well, the gas will be trapped during the molten alloy casting. It is also necessary to reach the ideal temperature. Without this reaction, it is all wasted work, the molds and the instruments will be recycled and the process will be started over.
Molds manufacturing and drying.
The "sahari", a copper and tin alloy
Once the molds have been created, it is time for the melting. In order to obtain an inimitable sound, the Nanjo foundry manufactures its alloy on site, according to a recipe that dates back from the creation of the company in 1839, and is one of the only places in Japan to do so. Passed down from generation to generation, the “sahari” is a mixture of copper and tin. This alloy, once molten, will be casted manually into the molds, which must have the right temperature so that the gas can escape. Once cooled, the molds will be broken and the "orins", the singing bowls, will be extracted before a final polishing step; in order to obtain a perfect shape and the desired tone. Any piece that does not pass the test will be recycled, just like the molds. The foundry has the particularity of not throwing anything away. Everything is reused, and in order to obtain a pure sound; the "orins" can undergo dozens of recastings, in order to achieve a sweet melody, which they say, will appeal to Shinto deities but also to demanding musicians!
From its fusion to its demolding; the preparation of the “sahari” is done manually.
A traditional and religious musical instrument brought up to date by current artists
Traditionally, "orins" could not be sold directly to users wishing to acquire them. The reason ? These objects were intended for a religious use; either Buddhist for the altars, or Shintoists to create sounds that would appeal to deities. Foundry bells can also be found on some parade floats from the famous “Gion Matsuri” festival in Kyoto. These objects were only sold to wholesalers specializing in religious objects in Japan. In 2019, the Nanjo Kobo foundry created the LinNe brand, with the aim of sharing its know-how with as many people as possible and since then, many artists have turned to these objects, attracted by their unique sound. We invite you to watch the video below, of artist
Samuel André , to get an idea of the sound you could obtain after many hours of practice.
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