Ringsmithing in Kyoto

imageWhen you move to a foreign country it can be exciting to peruse the multitudes of new things you can try out. Restaurants with foods you’ve never tried! Dressing in the local culture’s clothing! Visiting temples, shrines, trying adventure sports, the list goes on.

But give it two or three years, and you’ll start struggling to find something New and Exciting to do. Looking at nearby hiking courses make you go “meh”, the thought of arranging a train ticket makes you wave your hand dismissively, and anything more ambitious can make you want to crawl right back into bed and forget you even have a holiday coming up.

This is the difficulty I face, despite living in a culturally rich area with loads to do, so imagine my delight when I found an article about a cafe in Kyoto where you could learn how to make rings!

Art Smith Kyoto is a little cafe about a five minute walk away from Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan Line. You go down some steps into what feels more like a jewelry shop at first, as there are plenty of wares on display from pins to earrings and whatever else jewelry-wearing folk like to buy. There’s a single counter with no more than five or six swivel seats–that’s the “cafe” section of the place. And behind that counter is where the magic happens.

I made a reservation for myself and a few friends through Facebook. The owner was very accommodating in arranging our lesson. The first time you visit the cafe, you take a “trial lesson” that costs 1,000 yen per person and takes roughly an hour- the owner teaches you how to make very simple rings. After that, you can attempt your own projects, which will cost more along the lines of 3,000 yen per session.

Upon arrival, we dropped our bags and immediately got started.

Step 1: Measure the size of your ring using some basic math and cut the appropriate length from a long, thin piece of metal. Then set it on fire I mean, heat it up to make the silver more malleable.

imageEvery step was clearly explained along the way and we were able to watch each other make progress, so none of us struggled… too much, anyway.

Step 2: Start forming the metal into a ring shape. Start by folding it into a square to ensure the ends will meet up cleanly, then once you pass it under fire and bind the two ends together, start to shape it into something rounder.

I really struggled with this point; my friends had to help me match up the ends and the owner made noncommittal, “It’s difficult isn’t it?” comments, which means I was doing a horrible job.

imageStep 3: Make it thoroughly ring-shaped, beat it into submission with a hammer, then have the owner put an initial inside.

Okay, that’s a lot in one step, I agree. Once you have a somewhat round shape going on, you’re provided with a long, tapered metal pole to put the ring on. You are also provided a hammer, and instructed to gently tap the ring until it gets to the roundness and size you want. (Measurements are clearly marked on the poles.)

Once you have it at the right size, you can then choose a particular type of hammer to use in order to give the ring a simple pattern. There was a large, blunt hammer good for a smooth finish, and two smaller hammers that could offer “mirrorball”-like designs.

You then have the option of adding an initial inside the ring; it’s so tiny it’s debatable whether it’s worth getting, and choosing multiple letters can result in the final product looking chipped and not as clean. I chose to go with one letter, and while it’s visible I’m not sure if anyone would notice it unless I pointed it out.


imageFinally… Step 4: Give the ring to the  owner to put into a magical machine so it can be all polished and finalized.

At this point it’s out of your hands; the owner has a large machine on the counter that he feeds the rings into so they’re polished and ready to be worn. The process takes about ten minutes, during which point you can take advantage of the “cafe” part of this lesson. While drinks are not included in the price of the lesson, the prices are reasonable enough. While you’re waiting, there are also photo albums of previous projects done by both the owner and by other customers you can peruse.

At last, you are given your brand new ring to take home!

Pros of this lesson: the owner was very communicative over Facebook, friendly, and took the time to explain every step thoroughly to us. When someone was struggling he was more than willing to help.

Potential cons: The lesson was done only in Japanese, so speakers of other languages might want to bring a friend familiar with the lingo to make things go smoothly. Also, it’s near the covered arcade of Demachiyanagi, and it can sometimes be easy to get turned around if you’re not familiar with the area.

I’m very pleased with the results of this little adventure and recommend it to others who want to make something in Kyoto!

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