New York City Streets


As fall approaches, and the leaves begin to hit the ground, I’m suddenly more aware of all the surfaces I walk upon on a day-to-day basis. In such a pedestrian friendly city like NYC, you can’t help but notice the changing landscape as you crisscross different paths. Surfaces can look vastly different from one setting to the next and this has always been fascinating to me. Here are some photos I’ve taken over the years during walks around town – everything from parks, pavement, crosswalks, coffee shops, our home, our studio, grocery markets and cobble stone streets. My favourite of them all being the glass blocks on the sidewalks in Soho. When coal was the predominant energy resource, many buildings built underground vaults to store stacks of coal and often these rooms were very dark. The solution to the darkness was to create the ceilings out of glass blocks to let in light, which is now what you see on many of the sidewalks on Broadway. Despite all the pedestrian traffic in the area, these are the little things about New York that make it so special. Hey New York, it’s ok to look down every once in awhile!




















Not Just Packaging


A quick word on a small thing that makes a big difference…

Steve and I are HUGE packaging nerds. Well designed boxes and bags gives a product an added special something and is also a sign that what it holds must’ve been created with just as much consideration as it’s encasing. In Japan, packaging is so important that artwork is in part evaluated based on the box that it is delivered in. Most of the time, these boxes are made from kiri wood and the nicer the box, the more valuable the artwork.


Not_Just_Packaging_Nalata_Journal_5Some of our favorite packaging comes from brands like Futagami, Kaico, Jicon and Tamanohada. During an interview, Oji Masanori reaffirmed our love of Futagami packaging when he had brought up the fact that he himself had designed it. Little details like perfect-fit boxes, embossed logos, copper staples, waxed wrapping, washi leaflets and beds of shredded paper makes a world of difference!





The Donabe Basics


Lately we’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about the donabes we have in the shop, the top question being how to “season” your donabe? The first thing you’re going to need to do when you get your brand new donabe is season it. Iga Mono donabes are made from very porous clay and naturally come with hairline cracks and tiny holes. Seasoning your donabe basically means to seal all those cracks and holes in order to get your pot prepped for cooking. You do this by boiling rice into mushy porridge and the process takes a few hours. For a step-by-step tutorial check out our friend Michael’s video here at Kyoto Foodie.

The second question we’ve been getting is, what can you cook in a donabe? So I thought I’d direct those of you who are wondering in the right direction and if you’re new to clay pot cooking, share a few starter recipes. Today I will focus on the Kamado-san donabe which is ideal for rice or any type of grain based dishes as the special clay makes any grain extra fluffy. These dishes can get quite elaborate, like delicious crab rice and black bean rice, but below are the absolute fundamentals… Plain White Rice, Brown Rice and one of our favorite side dishes, Lemon Dill Quinoa. 


White Rice

Ingredients: 3 cups long grain or short grain rice, 600 ml water


- Place 3 cups of the rinsed and drained rice grains in the kamado-san donabe. 

- Leave to soak in 600 ml of water for about 15 minutes.

- Use both lids included to close the donabe (with vent holes perpendicular to eachother).

- Turn stovetop to medium-high heat and cook for 15 minutes. Cook for an additional 5 minutes to obtain rice with crispy edges. You’ll know when the rice is ready when steam begins to bubble up.

- Let stand for 20 minutes.

- Fluff rice with chopsticks or spoon before serving.


Brown Rice

Ingredients: 3 cups long grain or short grain rice, 900ml water, dash of salt 


Note: Brown rice should be cooked in advance to account for longer soaking times. Adding salt helps balance the natural bitterness of brown rice. 

- In a separate bowl, soak 3 cups of brown rice, the water and a dash of salt for about 8-10 hours.

- After soaking, transfer the rice and water into the donabe. Cook on medium heat for 35 minutes covered with both lids (steam holes aligned perpendicular). For softer brown rice with crispy edges, cook for an additional 15 minutes.

- Let stand for 30 minutes.

 - Fluff rice with chopsticks or spoon before serving.


Lemon Dill Quinoa

Ingredients: 1 cup quinoa, 2 cup water, half cup chopped fresh dill, 1 lemon, tablespoon oil, dash of salt


Note: Quinoa, “the Super Grain of the future”, is so easy to cook and a great nutrient rich alternative to basic rice. This recipe is a tasty side dish to curries and stews.

- In a fine mesh strainer, rinse the quinoa while stirring vigorously and drain all water. 

- While the donabe is on the stovetop, turn heat to high, heat one tablespoon of oil, add quinoa and stir for a couple minutes. 

- Reduce heat to medium, add water and salt, stir and cover with both lids (steam holes perpendicular).

- Cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Approximately 12 to 15 minutes. 

- Let rest while covered for 10 minutes.

- Uncover the donabe, stir in chopped dill and squeeze in one fresh lemon (approximately 3 tablespoons).

- Let stand for 5 minutes uncovered and fluff with a fork before serving.


Hope these basic recipes help get you started with this super fun and healthy way of cooking! If you’re in the NYC area, check out one of our favourite Japanese restaurants, Kyo-Ya, in East Village. They specialize in donabe style cuisine and can give you an idea of all the tasty donabe style dishes available out there.


Breakneck Ridge


Rediscovered a love for hiking this past Labour Day long weekend. Angy and I are no strangers to it. We’ve been on some fairly strenuous hikes in the past, one of them being a five day trek up the Punta Union pass in the heart of the Cordillera Blanca mountains in Peru. But it’s definitely been awhile since. When we decided to do the Breakneck Ridge loop this past weekend we were a bit unprepared. Nothing too difficult but there were definitely parts where we had to scramble and get on our hands and knees… It was so worth it! In the past Breakneck Ridge has been voted one of the best hiking trails in North America and offers stunning views of the Hudson River. 



The map below found here is a pretty good indication of the paths you can take up Breakneck Ridge although the most common route is the circular loop on the left that begins at the tunnel and ends at around the same spot. Great for a 3 hour hike and still gives you time to explore the city of Cold Spring nearby! If you’re in the NYC area, it’s only an hour and a half away, perfect for a quick day trip and one that we’d definitely recommend!


We’ve made a vow to hike once a month until winter hits. One being this trail that leads to Sam’s Point. We’re hoping that at the peak of Fall we can catch some ice beginning to form in the caves before it gets too cold!


Architectural Details


We’ve had architectural details on the mind! We often refer to Japanese architecture and interior design for inspiration as they often adopt simple use of materials with an attention to detail. We also love the harmonious connection between indoor and outdoor areas. Since we recently came back from Japan, we’ve been sifting through all our photos and realized we had a ton of reference material for unique space designs and we wanted to share some of these ideas with you. Check out the photos!




















Jeff Koons Retrospective


Sometimes you can precisely reference a day from your past because it had a strong impact on you. For me this occurred on my first day of Art Fundamentals class when I began studying design in University. This particular moment stands out because my professor mentioned something that I’ve kept turning around in my head ever since. He told the class that a good sculpture should engage the viewer and make them feel like walking around the corner to see more. To this day I can’t help but to in part judge a three-dimensional object based on that simple thought. Whether it be imagining how a garment is draped around a human body or observing a cup on a dining room table… If the form entices me to see what’s on the other side, then it’s peaked my curiosity and will most likely make me feel like learning more about it.  


The other day when Steve and I stepped into the Jeff Koons retrospective at the Whitney, I couldn’t help but to recall my old professor’s wise words as we walked around every sculpture. I had seen works by the artist before, but not to this magnitude and mostly only in photographs. Having the chance to walk around and see the “other side” of some of these iconic pieces that I’ve seen so many times from only one view in a magazine or screen was truly fascinating. Especially with the more mammoth-scaled works like “Balloon Dog”, you’re really able to grasp Koons’ mastery. But beyond the obvious charming aesthetics, you also get a sense of his thought provoking comments on consumerism and social issues when you can physically interact with each piece up close and in person. Here are some photos I took during the exhibition. 


























If you get the chance to check it out in person, the retrospective runs at the Whitney Museum of American Art until Oct 29th, 2014. If you’re into taking pictures of yourself in reflections, bring a camera. It’s selfie central.


Stacking and Storing


Earlier this week we released wood canisters and containers designed by Mute Studio for Hatashikkiten. We’ve always loved these products for their charming colours but fell even harder for the carefully thought through details that make them great for so many different functions. Mute Studio featured beautiful images that highlight the multiple functions of each container and we wanted to share these with you!




I have a lot of collections, most of them of really miniature objects.   Which is why I personally love these containers so much. They are a great way to store my badges and pins that have accumulated over the years during travels. 



Their food safe coating makes them safe for storing and serving food as well! 




The tall red canisters are ideal for storing loose-leaf tea, the wide containers are great for organizing small household objects and the pastel stacking containers are practically a match made in heaven for bar snacks! One thing’s for sure, we’re definitely breaking these out at our next summer stoop party!

Hatashikkiten wood canisters and containers designed by Mute Studio are available here. Photos by Mute Studio.


A Closer Look at Jusan-Ya


Combs can be very personal items and in some instances seen as spiritual objects. The Japanese word for comb, kushibi, translates to “working with spirits” because in ancient times, people would brush their hair as a ritual believing that each strand held spiritual energy. Recently we introduced combs by Jusan-Ya to the shop because of our fascination with their deep-rooted symbolism and intricate craftsmanship. We managed to delve a little deeper into the history of the company during our visit with the brand in Kyoto. We definitely got lost down the rabbit hole of Japanese comb tradition and artistry and wanted to share some insights into what makes a Jusan-Ya comb the finest in Japan.



Photos by Yasuhide Kuge, via Brutus Casa. (2012. Extra Issue). Magazine House Mook

 The most compelling aspect for us was learning about the comb making techniques that originate from the Nara period (8th C.) that Jusan-Ya implements. True to tradition, the combs are all made from boxwood that is prepared by Jusan-Ya themselves – one of a few comb workshops that in every respect has established a full in-house manufacturing process which begins with growing the trees and finally to polishing each comb tooth entirely by hand. The premium boxwood by Jusan-Ya is planted in the South of Japan. Each tree is ready after about 30 years once it has reached a suitable diameter of 22cm. After they are harvested, the lengthy preparation process of the wood begins. The timber is gathered, cut in boards and fumigated. It is then smoked for another ten years in sawdust to ensure that they are dry and of a suitable hardness that will help prevent warping. 




A formally trained comb maker named Jisakichi Takeuchi founded Jusan-Ya in 1875. His traditions were passed down over the years and today it is run by the company’s fifth generation owner, Shinichi Takeuchi.  Jisakichi originally based the company in Osaka but when combs began to popularize in Kyoto in the Gion district, he re-located there to take advantage of the districts many geisha who used Tsuge Gushi (traditional boxwood combs) on a daily basis for their elaborate hairstyles. The variations of updos shown above are illustrated in a vintage booklet from 1918.


Beauty and grooming customs in Japan were essential parts of daily life and is revealed in artwork from the early part of  the 20th C. Above, the ukiyo-e woodblock print by Utamaro and the photograph entitled “Japan, At the Barber”, 1850, depict common scenes of hairdressing and barbers grooming their patrons on the streets. 


Different types of combs are used for specific purposes. For men, the chonmage was a common topknot type updo for samurai that helped keep their helmets in place during combat. These hairstyles required specialty combs like the Naginata that would fine-tune the overall chonmage and the Hakekoki that would correct the topknot. In contemporary times, boxwood combs for everyday use exist while the more specific varieties function well for modified versions of traditional hairstyles like updated topknots, perms, chignons and crew cuts.

To view our exclusive collection of Jusan-Ya boxwood combs and learn more about each type, follow the link.


Journey to Japan – Part 2


The other day we posted a roundup of Part 1 from our trip to Japan. Here’s the second leg starting with an incredible road trip with Takashi Tomii to visit his workshop and showroom just outside of Kyoto.


Takashi picks Steve and I up in the morning and we start rolling out. Once we get past the city, traffic starts to clear revealing the beautiful Kyoto countryside. We’re clearly excited about the landscape and open road but Takashi’s quick to tell us that the “real road trip” hasn’t even begun yet! 



After about two hours or so of driving we hit a stretch of mountainous roads. Narrow and winding, completely surrounded by forests full of lush green trees… bamboo, cypress and cedars. Basically, it’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Takashi had mentioned his workshop was based in a “rural area” just outside Kyoto but I guess he was being very modest because what he really meant was… it’s perched on top of a mountain in a stunning woodland, fantasy-like dreamscape! I can safely say that this would most likely be any woodworkers dream workshop. 




It’s even more charming when we discover that it used to be an old kindergarten!! Remnants of a children’s classroom are still around like a panda, monkey bars and swing set in the yard and an old children’s song in Japanese characters boarded to the wall.




After we finally finish gawking over the space, Takashi shows us his favourite tools and demonstrates how he makes his beautiful hand carved wood dishes.


He makes his larger pieces by sitting on the ground and chipping away at the giant block of wood one strike at a time. Using his feet to gauge the angle and force of the chisel, he’s able to have greater control and accuracy. We love seeing the subtle carved grooves on all his works, evidence of truly hand made pieces.






After the demonstration, Takashi invites us into his showroom adjacent to the workshop, shows us the surrounding green tea plantations and we head back to Kyoto before nightfall!




The next morning we ride over to Kyoto main station for our next meeting but have a few minutes to spare for a “Kyoto cake breakfast” at Berry Café, a ritual we’ve coined and continued ever since our first trip to Japan. Full off a hearty breakfast of highly elaborate cakes (aka: sugary masterpieces) we are ready for our tour at the Daruma Thread dyeing factory.



Daruma Thread has been making a specialty silk and cotton thread since 1901. It has a superior strength and noticeable sheen due to the silk content. The company has been passed down within the Yokota family over the years and is now run by Motoki Yokota. 


Their thread has always been synonymous with quality and hard for fashion designers or sewing enthusiasts to find outside of Japan. When they recently re-designed their balls of hand-stitching thread in an updated range of colours, we knew we had to showcase their new selection in North America!




During the tour, Motoki and his assistant Kajihara showed us some vintage product that they’ve kept over the years. They also explained the thread making process from start to end, everything from the initial research in their colour lab to the complex dyeing process. 




We also discovered that a few of the factory’s specialty machines were created by the company itself and are the secret behind their famously vivid colours. 


To continue on our hunt for quality thread and textiles, we head to Takaokaya! We had the chance to meet with Takaokaya’s president and third generation owner Koichiro Takaoka along with his employees Michael and Nanako who told us all about the company’s long history. 


Takaokaya originally started making made-to-order cushions back in 1919 when it was popular for clients to request custom fabric for their futons, similar to ordering a custom kimono.  Because Kyoto has always been a region rich in textile history, it was wonderful to see Mr. Takaoka maintaining the traditions and working with local textile mills along the same vein as his grandfather. Today the company continues to innovate with handmade futons and “Zabuton” cushion designs.



After chatting with the team and discovering their beautiful textiles in person, we were immediately inspired! Especially by their unusually shaped Ojami cushions created in the form of traditional Japanese bean-filled hacky sacks. Essentially, we’re incredibly excited to add the brand to our roster! We’ve been working closely on a special project with the Takaokaya team so stay tuned for more about this collaboration.


Next up, is a meeting with the ever-cheerful Toru Tsuji of Kanaami-Tsuji




Toru was taught the art of mesh wire netting by his parents and continues to devote himself to this highly tedious craft. We had the chance to meet Toru in New York during Design Week but it was great to see him in his shop located in the Koidai-ji Temple district of Kyoto, and to hear all of his family stories. 




Toru pulled out a couple heirlooms for us to see including a cover made by his father and the only remaining work by his late mother still in the family’s possession. His mother liked to incorporate beads into her pieces and also loved the colour blue. Her tray in particular with tiny glass beads was astonishing in person! We left feeling so lucky to have had the chance to see such a rare piece of work.




After a productive time in Kyoto we have an afternoon free so we ride over to Aritsugu to get a knife for our home collection. 



Afterwards Steve and I make our way back to Tokyo via Gifu with a couple pitstops to say hi to our friend Noriyasu and his wife from Gloini and the Tajika family. 



In Gifu, we stopped by a washi paper studio run by Takeshi Kano and tried our own hand at it. 




 The entire process is exhausting. Everything is done by hand. It was pretty therapeutic smashing pulp to paper all morning though, and especially rewarding kicking back at the end of it and watching our hard work dry in the wind. I will never take hand made paper for granted ever again!




We also had the chance to check out Takeshi’s wife’s lantern shop on one of town’s main streets. She’s been perfecting the craft with the help of her father ever since she was a little girl. Definitely pays off considering she’s won the town’s annual lantern contest several years in a row.


Back in Tokyo, we fit in one last meeting with, Uchino, the Japanese towel kings! Thomas and Natsuki show us around their massive Tokyo headquarters… 



We get to preview new product in person including the Uchino bichotan towels and some bathrobes that will be coming to the shop very soon. They also had garments from recent Chanel resort collections that utilized Uchino’s towels as base fabrics that we thought were a really great use of material. 


Steve and I are lucky enough to spend our last nights in Japan with some truly exceptional folks!… First off, with our friends Ryo and Yuma from Henderscheme. Their fiancées come along and we all spend the evening exploring Ryo’s favourite joints in Nakameguro. His regular spot is a low-key restaurant called “Ai” which means, “love” in Japanese. Fittingly it’s run by chef and owner, Aiko, who clearly puts a ton of heart and soul into each dish.


After the amazing meal, Ryo hits the right note by suggesting Ministop for their specialty ice cream sundaes. You can basically equate Ministop to the American 7-Eleven franchise and I have to say, loitering there was the perfect ending to the night!



The night before our flight back to NYC, Taku brings us to his friend’s restaurant (also in Nakameguro) and we enjoy a great seafood and ramen meal with the whole gang… Rina Ono and her husband Tadanori, Oji Masanori, Naoto of To-Mo-Ni, Hiroyuki of Akarino-Tane and Kenichi and Daisuke of 10¹² Terra


Couldn’t have been a better way to end our trip than to spend it with these wonderful people! And to top it off, we get sent off with our favourite kind of souvenir… Japanese snacks! Thanks JP, till next time…

For Journey to Japan – Part 1, click here.


Hokkaido Artisans and Designers


As soon as I arrive to Asahikawa in Hokkaido, I felt at home! The climate is very similar to that of our hometown in Canada, so seeing patches of snow on the ground in late May was actually a welcome sight. I am immediately greeted by our friends Taku (President of IFJ Holdings) and Naoto (To-Mo-Ni) upon arrival and embark upon a very tight schedule of studio visits and factory tours over the next 30hrs. 


Our first stop is the studio and factory of master craftsman Takahashi Kougei, most notably the maker behind the wood dinnerware brands Cara and Kami and the founder of the Asahikawa group of wood tableware makers. 



Takahashi specializes in producing products on the lathe, initially making table legs and ornamental pillars before turning his attention to producing wooden cups and sugar pots in the late 1980s. 






The company has grown rapidly since partnering up with prominent designers Oji Masanori and Rina Ono, but still maintains a focus on creating simple, functional tableware from locally sourced lumber in Hokkaido. It was truly an honor to see the production behind our latest order of wooden vessels, along with all the specialty tools and trade secrets used to achieve such a design. 

Next stop, the Taisetsu ceramics studio.


During our pop-up in Manhattan, we carried a selection of colorful ceramic bowls with a crystalline finish. To say they were very popular would be an understatement, so I knew I needed to visit the Taisetsu studios to find out the process behind their beloved crystal glaze. 




We first come across a house converted into a showroom with a small passageway leading to an adjacent building. Opening the doors reveals the organized chaos of any ceramics studio, but heaven to any artist fortunate to work with clay. I immediately have flashbacks to days longs ago when I could consider myself as one of those artists. Specialty tools used to shape clay, smooth surfaces and apply glazes line each table, while shelves packed with unfired forms line the exterior walls. 





The 5 kilns in the studio are both electric and gas powered, in order to create specific desired effects. The notorious Taisetsu crystal glaze being the hardest to achieve, involving a delicate balance between temperature fired, time in the kiln and the amount of glaze applied. I spend the rest of the visit shopping for items to line our cupboards at home and afterwards Taku, Naoto and I grab a bite to eat.




As customary it seems whenever I meet up with these two gentlemen, we fit in some time to indulge upon some of the local delicacies… green tea soba, a Japanese take on a baked potato, soft tofu in ponzu and of course, sake! Oh, they know me so very well! My favorite, definitely the buttery miso ramen. I also learned all about using the word “barikata” upon ordering to ensure your noodles are cooked extra hard. Soft noodles are common for ramen in Hokkaido so ordering hard noodles ensures it will come out perfectly al dente.

Afterwards we continue on the tour and visit Naoto’s very own stomping grounds.



At Naoto’s studio we learn all about the inspiration behind his To-Mo-Ni wrapqraw, the cord management tool for all your devices, particularly useful for headphone cords.



Fun-loving Naoto Yoshida is a former Japanese rock band star and a technology aficionado, so a laptop, ipad, iphone, digital camera, wireless routers and even motion sensors are always within his reach. Now, what do all these items have in common… they all require a variety of cords to function and charge. Hence, the need for cord management tools. Making them look beautiful too, brilliant! We sit down with Naoto’s Mom and enjoy a cup of green tea before heading to meet Hiroyuki Inoue of Akarino-Tane next. 




Hiroyuki Inoue is the maker behind a line of wooden products with his main focus on projects for children. When we visit his wood-shop with shelves lined with photographs of his kids, we clearly see where he gets his inspiration. 




Hiroyuki is best known for the Korokoro Akari lamp constructed of wood veneer triggered by motion sensors that lights up gradually. This lamp is popular amongst children in Japan, but I do have to admit, it also appeals to me. Particularly noticeable amongst the rest of his works is the scale of the pieces. Smaller and more delicately crafted, his works are all about the details, especially apparent in his miniature Chiisaki-Hanaire vases.


Visiting the Tanno Masakage studio was especially exciting. I’ve been admiring their wooden business card holders ever since the day Oji Masanori pulled out his business card from one of their intricately crafted boxes and handed it to me. 



The visit was made even more memorable when we had the chance to meet Tanno’s father, Yuri Masakage. Yuri taught his son the art of wood crafting and Tanno has been continuing the tradition ever since. Since Yuri stopped making his boxes full time,  it was great to see some of his old designs in all of his favorite kinds of wood. We were even able to pick up a selection of Yuri’s boxes for the store, a unique opportunity that we’re so grateful to have. 




The father and son duo have been working alongside each other for years in adjacent workspaces so it’s easy to see where Tanno gets his attention to detail. Their skills are shared and their traditions passed down, making each box meaningful as part of their wonderful family legacy. Maybe one day Tanno’s baby will take over the reigns as well!


Our last stop was to Ibazen, to visit the workshop and home of founder Iba Takahito. Ibazen is best known for their stools that Iba creates with solid oak wood and a special urushi lacquer finish. The results are beautiful! HOKKAIDO_IBAZEN_3





It was nice to see his family making use of the furniture he made with his own hands… wall clocks, a collapsible low dining table and of course his stools in different heights. 


Needless to say, this trip to Hokkaido was pretty incredible! It was great to see how the work of each designer or artisan was influenced by their daily lives. Many, like Iba Takahito, lead a family-oriented lifestyle and we’re so thankful to have been invited into their homes and studios where they work on a daily basis, see their process first hand and to meet their families. Thank you, Hokkaido!

Special thanks to Taku and Naoto for guiding the tour and to Naoto for the additional photos.