My name is Cameron Appleford (known in Japan as Apple), I run Jigoku Studios and perform most of the Tsukamaki, Lacquering, Saya and Tsuka woodwork, Habaki and most other aspects of Koshirae craft and repair although I do work with other craftsman on occasion. All polishing services are performed by a select few Togishi that I work closely with both here and in Japan.
How and why
Looking back now I guess it is no surprise that I have ended up here even though it was not the career I was planning for. Being artistically inclined and somewhat non conformist I had trouble coming to a conclusion what I would do “when I grow up”. I have worked in a number of different industries including in wildlife parks (we still have a large reptile collection) to construction. These were just temporary jobs as far as I was concerned as I wanted to work freelance probably in security due to my combative arts training and a love for action. . . I am also an extreme sports fan and still like freerunning. It was my study of Bujutsu – Japanese combative weapons and unarmed arts over the last 20+ years that inadvertently brought together the different elements of my personality and landed me here. It was during my initial study that I was introduced to the basic maintenance and repair of Japanese swords by my Sensei as part of the traditional training. This was a far cry from the artistic inspired work that we expect today as it mostly consisted of work that would be done on the battlefield. This was things like repairing tsukamaki, saya repair and blade maintenance and repair (chip repair and battlefield grade polish). It was also during this time that I was taught blade smithing (a hobby of my sensei’s), which also called for basic skills in polishing and koshirae. Initially I had a very strong appreciation for practical Koshirae in dull earth colors. . . or just a somewhat tactical matt black but as time progressed my interest in the artistic side increased which encouraged me to explore the finer aspects of Nihonto and especially Koshirae. Self study is not something I would recommend as it is slow and frustrating but back then apart from what was taught to my sensei and then parted to me there was little other options. The book “The art of the Japanese sword” came out a couple of years after I began training and offered some insight and guidance but it was being able to regularly see true Nihonto koshirae that helped me to grasp what it was that I was trying to achieve. Years later and the world is a more accessible place, now I am privileged to have had additional training and guidance from other craftsman in Japan.
Jigoku Studios. . . . was not what you might think
So before Jigoku studios became a Nihonto craft based business it was a Bujutsu Dojo, named Jigoku (hell) Studios due to the Air conditioners that did not work. I had initially moved from Melbourne to Brisbane and due to circumstances ended up in Beerwah (home of Australia zoo). While there I rented a “studio” like space and started to teach Jujutsu and Bujutsu full time. This is where I met Tina (my wife) who had started training and a couple of years later we moved back to brisbane . As most people were more interested in sports martial arts (Bujutsu being combat oriented. . interviews required before memberships approved) I struggled to make much of an income. I refused to commercialise and take “the teeth” out of what I taught so I had to consider an additional income. I had been bladesmithing on the side including making training weapons for a number of instructors, I had also started to offer tsukamaki services to my own students and to a few friends as well as the occasional new tsuka or saya.
From Bujutsu to Nihonto
… after being contacted by a couple of serious collectors including Adrian Schlemmer whom I owe a lot to, things started to fall into place. Adrian has always been honest and critical while occasionally allowing me a little freedom to experiment. This allowed me the opportunity to further develop my skills and knowledge especially with the wide array of different koshirae that I was seeing on a daily basis. Naturally traveling to japan and spending time learning from other craftsman has improved my form and given me greater insight as well as more alternative methods to work with (ie not working in one tradition). I will continue to travel for additional study in all fields of craft and restoration at least twice a year. Traditionally in Japan most craftsmen only did one craft and it would take many craftsmen to complete a sword, but now things are a little different and like myself some craftsman might do 2 or 3 different crafts. . . .
so today through the course of circumstance and time Jigoku Studios is no longer a Hobby but a full time business
Present to future
Over the next couple of years, I would like to focus on classic Koshirae styles as well as wanting to pursue my artistic passion through creating unique pieces of lacquered art. Some for my own collection, others which will become available through our website. These will range from design on Saya to furniture pieces and even Fusuma and canvases.
I hope you enjoy our website.Kam