An Interview With Japanese Steampunk Artist Haruo Suekichi

Japanese watch maker Haruo Suekichi is famous for his unique, steampunk style timepieces. Each of the amazing watches is handmade by Suekichi himself, even though he doesn’t have any formal education and actually started his career by hawking the first watches at flea markets. Guest writer Natsuki Yamada sat down with Suekichi in his studio in Tokyo earlier this month to conduct the following interview for CrunchGear.

Your watches have an antique, yet very futuristic form and design. Where do they come from? What inspires you?

– When I make watches, it doesn’t usually start with design but with “fun”: fun gimmicks, fun looking, unique way of wearing them. They need to be fun, because they are more gadgets than watches to me. So the inspiration comes from everything that I find fun or interesting. My latest watch is based on my latest experience of watching the birth of cicada nymphs.

So there are no Japanese anime or historic events that influenced your Steampunk style?

– I had actually never known the word Steampunk before some magazine introduced my work as one. Now I know that brass and leather are significant materials for Steampunk, but I started using them because they are easy to use. Brass is the best material to make these watches, easy to melt, bent and make shapes. As a child, I liked this sci-fi comic book called Galaxy Express 999 by Reiji Matsumoto, and I’d say it must have some influence on my work, but I don’t know how or where. Other than that, I never watched any sci-fi anime. I never was into making those plastic models of ships and stuff either.

Do you make everything from scratch?

– Everything but the movement. That’s the only thing I actually buy. Everything else I make from scratch. Heat the brass with my blowtorch, bent it, make shapes into all the parts from the frames to dial faces. The hardest part is carving the numbers on dial faces. I have my handmade protractor table. I put a plate on it and carve numbers, so that they are accurate. It takes a lot of time and concentration.

Why do you make watches? And for whom?

– All my life, I have always loved to make things on my own, and I have made a lot of things – I still do make lots of other stuff besides watches. But my passion for watches started when I was working in a wholesale store for toys and gadgets. I often visited this watchmaker that was a client of the store. It looked very interesting and I watched and learned how to make watches. I’d say I started making them for myself, like other gadgets and toys I make. I create them to make my fun imagination happen in reality. Luckily, a lot of people started liking them, so now I make them for those people now, too.

What are your plans with these watches?

– The plan is to not have a plan. I’m a pretty impulsive person and when I make a a watch, I need to want to make that watch, you know. I’ve been this way for like 15 years and look how far I have come? So why should I change now?

Will you ever sell them overseas?
– I would love to, if you tell me how to do it. (laugh)

If you could live in any era, which one would it be?

Probably the 1960s, in Japan. I would love to have experienced the Japanese “post-war economic miracle.” Just the idea of growing and changing so much in such short time is exciting. It must have been a lot of energy in creative world too, varieties of opportunities and inspiration… I’d love to be there and just create whatever comes to my mind!

The interview was held by Tokyo-based Natsuki Yamada who works as an editor and writer for printed and online magazines (another interview Yamada did with Suekichi can be found online at 10. Magazine). The photos were taken by Tokyo-based photographer and accessory artist Ikumi Mochida (who also does photo work for 10.Magazine).

If you live in Japan or understand Japanese, the steampunk watches can be bought at Chikyu Saibai (in Yoyogi Uehara, Tokyo) or at Tabasa and Little Tabasa in (Shimokitazawa, Tokyo). Potential buyers outside Japan can try to ask the users of Japanese e-commerce service Flutterscape (in English) to hunt down the watches for them.