Julia Lohmann


From Salmon Skin to Leather

Today, S-AIR hosted the second salmon skin workshop. Under the expert tuition of an Ainu instructor we learned how to transform salmon skins into supple white leather. After a short demonstration he quickly got us to do the work (especially the two boys in the group) while he supervised with a very dignified air.

So how does Ainu fish-leather-making work? The salmon skins are rolled up and laid in a groove cut into a massive wooden block. Under constant turning, they are then hammered with a large wooden mallet until they are soft. They are then ‘broken’ further in another wooden contraption before the scales can be removed with tweezers or pliers. Et voila – salmon skin leather.

Normally, it takes two days of relentless pummeling before the salmon skins are supple enough to be used for clothing. I think everyone who took part will remember the favourite words of our otherwise monosyllabic instructor for a long long time: “mada mada” [phonetic spelling, probably quite wrong], which translates as “Not yet, not yet” – or more to the point: “Get on with it!”.

To reward everyone for their hard labour we concluded the workshop with drinks and a feast of European and Japanese salmon dishes, followed by a screening of German short films from the Sapporo Short Film Festival showreel.


Our instructor shows how it is done.


Salmon skin about to be pummeled into submission


Mada mada!


Get on with it!


Top: unprocessed salmon skin; bottom left: softened skin, scales partially removed; bottom right: the finished salmon skin leather.


Detail of softened salmon skin, scales partially removed.


The workshop participants tuck into a well-earned dinner.

One Response to “From Salmon Skin to Leather”

  1. Ken

    Interesting. First time I had heard of Salmon leather. Makes sense though particularly from and indigenous point of view. Looks like classic hand made crafting work.Two day of pounding! Whew!
    Keep up the good posts

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