A chopstick making company has whittled down broken baseball bats so sushi can be shoveled with a swing.
Hyozaemon specializes in traditional hand-crafted eating utensils and in 2000 introduced their "kattobashi" chopsticks. The name is a play on words combining the Japanese word for chopsticks, "hashi," with a familiar chant heard at Japanese baseball games.
About 20,000 bats, used and abused by pro and amateur players, turn up at Hyozaemon's workshop each year. So it's a good bet the bats of Godzilla himself, Hideki Matsui, in his pre-Major League Baseball days, will have ended up on a Japanese dining table at some point over the years.
"It's a dying art," says Kazufumi Yoshida of Hyozaemon. "Most young people are unwilling to work at chopsticks factories because the job is not so exciting. And almost chopsticks companies use machines in their manufacturing processes."
Hyozaemon's oldest craftsman has been working for over 40 years and says that he is still training. He's responsible for many of the 600,000 pairs of chopsticks that the company sells each year.
But that number is dwarfed by the amount of disposable wooden chopsticks Japan as a whole stacks up: around 24 billion pairs annually, second only to China.
The disposable variety was devised in Japan in the early 1980s to make use of scrap wood. But as well as threatening the artisans at Hyozaemon and other chopstick-making companies, throw-away chopsticks have been blamed for their part in deforestation in Asia.
China is by far the largest producer of disposable chopsticks, churning out around 60 billion pairs each year; millions of quick-growing trees like birch, spruce and bamboo are felled in the process. An environmental campaign in 2006 led to a five percent environmental tax on the export of disposable chopsticks from the country, but other Southeast Asian nations, like Indonesia and Vietnam, have stepped up to sate the undiminished appetite for one-use wooden chopsticks.
Driven by concerns for the environment rather than a love of the aesthetic of reusable chopsticks, campaigns against disposables have sprung up in Japan, China and elsewhere. Some restaurants and shops in Japan have added incentives like in-store credit for people using their own chopsticks.
For those at Hyozaemon, "disposable" is a dirty word, as a throw-away society goes against their values of care and quality.
"We think that making chopsticks in the old way is our mission; to keep the traditional craft of chopsticks," said Yoshida.
"At our factory five young men are working (as craftsmen). We hope they hand the craft down to the next generation."
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