Symbols and motifs have always been an integral part of Japanese aesthetics, both in traditional and modern designs. These symbols can be found integrated in many of the items found at Nalata Nalata through graphics, textiles and applied arts. This is a reference guide that will give you some insights into the meaning behind these motifs and hopefully give you a better appreciation of the symbolic aspects of Japanese culture.
The iconic Japanese symbol is derived from the mythological goddess of the sun, Amaterasu from the Shinto religion. According to myth, the goddess founded Japan approximately 2700 years ago and all the emperors of Japan are known as “Sons of the Sun”, essentially direct descendants of the goddess herself. The design of the national flag reflects the central importance of the sun in Japanese tradition.
Primarily a symbol of purity, the lotus is revered in Japan for its ability to rise from the dirty muddy waters to bloom into a beautiful flower. Most commonly associated with the Buddhist achievement of enlightenment, it has been used as a very popular symbol of living your life to the fullest.
Adopted from Chinese culture, the fan has come to signify a high social status and symbolize the journey of life. The small end essentially represents birth and the blades symbolizing the many paths possible in life’s journey. Historically, Japanese people of every age, gender and demographic have carried fans with many of them beautifully painted to tell stories or convey secret messages.
The Chrysanthemum is a symbol of endurance and rejuvenation. It was first introduced as a symbol by the Japanese Royal Family as an Imperial emblem during the Nara period. The flower is distinctly characterized by its 16 petals and is most commonly used for official Japanese Diet (government) seals. It has the distinct honor to be on the cover of the Japanese passport.
The Daruma is a traditional Japanese wishing doll and the symbol of achievement in Japan. It is an old tradition that is practiced till this day. When you receive a daruma doll, you pick a specific goal you are determined to achieve. You draw in one of the eyes to show your commitment to the goal. Afterwards, you place the doll in a visible area as a reminder of the task at hand. When you have achieved your goal, you draw in the other eye.
Since the Heian Period, the cherry blossom has been revered by the Japanese and closely associated with its philosophy of mono no aware. The flower’s brief blooming time and the fragility of the blossom has always been linked to an association with the transience of life and an appreciation for fleeting beauty.
In Japanese culture, butterflies carry a number of meanings but are most closely associated with the symbolism of metamorphosis and transformation. They are closely linked with recently departed spirits and consequently are represented in a number of traditional family crests.
Cranes are most commonly used to represent longevity and good fortune. Appropriately, they are found during the Japanese New Year and during wedding ceremonies in textile prints. Cranes have also found their way to prominence in the world of origami, where in Japanese culture to fold one thousand paper cranes makes a special wish come true.
The plum flower is one of the first blossoms to open during the year and has always been closely associated with the coming of spring. Unlike the cherry blossom, the plum has a strong sweet fragrance. Since the Heian period, they have been a symbol of refinement and purity, along with a reminder of former lovers.
In Japan, the gourd is often associated with divinity and found in many regional folk tales stemming from Taoist beliefs. Its curvaceous shape is commonly met with affection as a symbol of good luck, good health and prosperity.
At the center of Japanese mythology, is the goddess of the moon, Tsukiyomi. This powerful figure in early times has made the moon a common motif in Japanese arts and crafts. Up till the mid 19th century, Japan even followed the lunar calendar. The symbolic meaning of the moon is closely tied to the act of rejuvenation.
According to Japanese legend, if a Koi fish succeeded to swim upstream and climb the waterfalls at a point called Dragon Gate on the Yellow River, it would transform into a Dragon. Based on this legend, it became a symbol of aspiration and perseverance.
The acorn is considered to be an emblem of good luck. There is a popular Japanese proverb involving the acorn (donguri)…”Donguri no seikurabe”. It literally means, “comparing the height of acorns” and refers to the notion that “they are all alike”.
Here’s a bit more of a look into our latest trip to Japan. It was jam-packed but I just wanted to share some highlights outside of our Naoshima trip. I was able to go on a few new factory tours during the first leg of the trip and then met up with some familiar faces when Angy joined me mid-trip.
If you read our Journal, you’ll notice that one of our favourite cities in Japan is Kanazawa and one of our favourite sites to visit is the 21st Century Art Museum. I always like to see it in different seasons. This time around the skies were clear creating beautiful light within the space designed by SANAA.
I checked out the Turrell room and Leandro Erlich’s “Swimming Pool”. There was also an exhibition of craft artifacts from Kanazawa.
My second stop in Kanazawa was to meet with our good friend Noriyasu along with his wife and son at their shop, Gloini. Noriyasu’s son has the biggest smile I’ve ever seen in my life! The kid is so friendly, just like his parents.
After some catching up, Noriyasu and I make plans to visit Yoshiki Tsukamoto, at his antiques shop entitled Sklo. The namesake just so happens to be the name of his brand that includes artisanal light bulbs, which we recently released on the site.
We love following Yoshiki’s activities because they are so varied. He’s an antiques shop owner, filament designer and a rice farmer. Needless to say, he’s a bit hard to catch but luckily Yoshiki was at his shop on this particular day to explain his design process and showoff his latest light bulb designs.
We learned that Yoshiki got into filament design because he wanted to create an old world look to the light bulbs that would be paired with his antique lampshades.
After Kanazawa I hopped on a train to the city of Seto in the Gifu district to meet with our friend Mitsuhiro Konishi. It was pouring rain that day so Konishi arrives to pick me up at the train station decked out in a full rain gear suit. The first thing he does is take my inappropriately dressed self to a nearby Family Mart and makes me buy a $5 umbrella so I wouldn’t get wet. The Japanese never lack in hospitality. After the rain settled down, we were finally ready to tackle the city and explore.
We stopped by a couple exhibitions and went all around Seto. The town is renown for it’s pottery culture and a ceramics institute that subsidizes many of the artisans. You could see the strong ceramics history in the works of all the talented craftsmen – some just students but already had impressive works of tea wares and other beautifully shaped pottery that caught my eye. It’s always great touring exhibitions with Mitsuhiro because, trained as a sculptor he has a heightened awareness of three-dimensional space, always examining all angles of objects. Something we think shines through strongly in his mixed metal cutlery.
After playing catch up with Mitsuhiro, I board another train to a very remote destination to visit the Otani family! Husband and wife Momoko Otani and Tetsuya Otani are incredibly hospitable and planned an unforgettable time. More on this stay with the Otani’s in a separate post coming soon!
One thing that is important to us is gaining knowledge about the products we love, which is why we travel to Japan frequently – to get the full story first hand. We love the process and all the steps it takes to produce one product so when Hata of Hatashikkiten invited us to his factory, I was excited to see how the Border and Soji containers were made. It is such a privilege to meet the craftsmen behind the products.
The Hatashikkiten factory, run by Hata and his wife, is in the countryside overlooking beautiful rice patties. The complex is inherited from Hata’s father, and has stayed in the family for many generations.
Immediately as you walk into the main office building, there were rows and rows of the family’s long line of work. Hata immediately shows me the more delicate pieces the company has produced, like the urushi-lacquered canister with gold decals.
Hata then brings me to meet every craftsmen involved in the process, including his wife. Each craftsman is specialized in a particular process, and the lumberyard is full of locally sourced wood.
The lumber is cut into small disks. To put it simply, the shapes are roughed out, turned, left to dry completely to avoid warping and then urushi-lacquered. Hata’s wife does the finishing work including applying the pastel lacquer on all the Tiered Border canisters by hand as the final step.
After the tour, our friends Taku and Yamazaki take me to the city of Takaoka to visit Mr. Futagami, yet again, but this time to get a behind the scenes look at how the “kuro-mura” blackened brass finish on some of the Futagami pieces is achieved.
The kuro-mura process involves several layers of urushi. Essentially it is applied by hand with a torch held to the piece in order to achieve striations and a textured application. Kuro-mura is a delicate process so not a lot of factories in Japan, let alone the world, can produce such a finish.
Finally we end the day talking about MATUREWARE – Futagami’s answer to fine architectural hardware. We discuss the direction of the brand and each object in detail – discussing names, dimensions, appropriate sizing and shapes. We have some exciting news we’ll be announcing about the launch of MATUREWARE in the coming months, so stay tuned!
The next day I make a pit stop in Osaka to cross something off my architectural bucket list – The Church of Light, by Tadao Ando. It’s an operational church for the surrounding community so there are small time slots throughout the week where you can view the site.
The church consists of two prayer rooms both predominantly lit with natural light. The first room has wood floors and tall concrete walls centered by a timber cross. The second room is a dark concrete space, framed by a cutout of a cross. The entire space is dimly lit accentuating the powerful beam of light. It’s a stunning image right when you go in. There was no sermon at the time but the church is so nice, you can easily sit there for hours just staring into space.
Since I was in Osaka, I rushed to the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum on the other side of town – mainly to see the namesake of our neighbour on Extra Place, Momofuku Ko!
The shop has a ton of beautiful nooks and corners. The main level is the shop floor and the second level is an open space for exhibitions and meetings.
The best part was seeing the behind the scenes areas like KUMU’s basement used for storage, and other gems like the vintage kimono Noriko found while clearing the space. It belonged to her family for many generations, now proudly on display.
We loved the shop’s logo, designed by Oji Masanori, and the official KUMU seal along with Noriko’s careful attention to detail with wrapping our purchases and welcoming us into her little haven. We needed to properly congratulate Noriko and climbed to her stunning rooftop with some brews for a toast. If you’re in Tokyo, head to her shop. It’s in a great district of Tokyo and experiencing KUMU alone, is well worth the visit.
Our last days in Tokyo we hit up some old favourites like Tonkatsu Maisen for pork cutlets, and finally got to try the infamous Ometesando Koffee. It definitely lived up to its reputation.
We also got a chance to hang out with Ryo and Yuma of Hender Scheme and check out their new company headquarters. Got a bit lost on the way until I recognized Ryo’s preferred mode of transportation!
The new Hender Scheme headquarters is beautiful and full of the latest creations from Ryo’s signature footwear line to new product sketches.
It’s always a great time with these two – they are total foodies and always up for some random wandering. After checking out the brand new Hender Scheme base and its view of the Tokyo Tower, Ryo and Yuma bring us to their favourite okonomiyaki restaurant where you cook up everything yourself on a giant hot plate. We loved it so much they brought us back on two separate occasions.
And for what’s starting to become an annual tradition, we head to the famous Senso-ji temple in the Asakusa district to get our fortunes read. Angy and I both get “good” fortunes.
They are pretty basic – summarized predictions on small pieces of paper, but since we’re pretty superstitious, we obviously do not take them with a grain of salt. With promises of a good year ahead, we were ecstatic and ready to head back to New York, holding onto some awesome memories of Japan and good fortunes folded in our wallets.
More behind the scenes looks from our trips to Japan below:
We recently got back from Japan and have been trying to adjust to the time difference for a good two weeks but I guess after a certain extent you can no longer use jet lag as an excuse for things like staying up all night to binge watch shows and waking up at noon. Point being – our internal clocks are finally back on track and we’re excited to share some snippets from our latest trip to the land of the rising sun.
As some may notice, our trips to Japan are happening more and more frequently but usually one of us stays behind to manage the home front. Rarely do Steve and I have the chance to travel together so when we do, we try to make the most of it by incorporating a few days for pure rest and relaxation. We wanted to make it easy on ourselves this time around and decided on a trip to Naoshima Island.
To get there you have to board a ferry off the port of Uno city about six hours southwest of Tokyo. The ferry ride is short and once you’re on the island some of the most prominent works of contemporary art like the “Red Pumpkin” by Yayoi Kusama quickly greet you.
Naoshima is a great getaway destination since every activity is low-key. “Laidback” is in the island air; everything’s within bike-able distance, the streets are desolate and planning activities in advance isn’t really necessary, unless you plan on staying at the impressive Benesse House complex designed by Tadao Ando. In which case, book far, far in advance. That we clearly did not do. Instead, we found a cozy last minute Japanese style ryokan in the Honmura district and took each of the three days we were there, as they came… writing postcards, eating and drinking olive soda in between looking at art.
Set against Mother Nature’s backdrop, Naoshima is renown for having a dense collection of galleries and installations by contemporary artists and designers like Walter De Maria, Lee Ufan and James Turell. A couple of these works can be found at the labyrinth-like Chichu Art Museum designed by Tadao Ando or the Benesse House Museum, but there are other attractions that are just as magnificent, like the ‘Art House Project’ in the old castle district of Honmura.
The Art House project is a group of abandoned traditional houses that were restored into art installations. Tatsuo Miyajima’s “Sea of Time ’98″ was enchanting. The 200-year-old house was transformed into an installation with LED timers that rest in a shallow pool of water. Each timer was set at a different pace by a resident of the island. A quiet and calm atmosphere envelops the space making it the perfect place for contemplation.
The Haisha House used to be the home and office of a dentist, now completely re-imagined by artist Shinto Ohtake. Using an eclectic mix of materials and objects, the house expresses the attempt of recalling a dream from a small memory.
Of the seven houses, the Go’o Jinja, a restored Edo period shrine by Hiroshi Sugimoto was a personal favourite. With its glass staircase that connects to an underground tunnel, it was a beautiful reflection on the boundaries between heaven and earth. It was also so interesting to see Sugimoto’s works outside of photography.
Many of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s works were found throughout the island, some in the Benesse House complex and others as site-specific work propped up on the side of a cliff! If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would be the one thing you’d have with you? Considering the amount of time Steve can spend staring at one of them, I think his answer would be, a Sugimoto photograph. More specifically one from his time-lapse “Seascapes” series.
Beyond the art sites, the village itself had its own charms. We loved the narrow streets of Honmura and all the tiny cafés hidden within dark-stained wood paneled homes. Some of which were decorated in cotton cord illustrations.
One out of the three days was spent on neighboring island, Teshima. It was about twenty minutes from Naoshima on a rickety boat. Once you land on Teshima there’s the option to rent a motorized bicycle to climb steep hills to the art sites. One of them being Teshima’s art museum, designed by SANAA co-founder, Ryue Nishizawa. As required at many of the art sites, we swap our shoes for cushy slippers and spend the next hour silent, in a white concrete dome staring at the structure and the one piece of artwork it holds, the Matrix by sculptor Rei Naito. Little droplets of water trickle around the space slowly, yet there is something powerful in their movement.
There were so many other great pit stops in addition to the domed museum. We stopped to shoot some hoops at the “No One Wins” installation and also saw “Les Archives du Coeur” by Christian Boltanski. The latter was housed in a small building with an ocean view. We listened to people’s heartbeats from all around the world from their permanent database and tried to make distinctions.
On our way back to catch the last ferry, we managed to sneak in one last art site. Along with changing our perception of the colour red, the Yokoo House, by Yuko Nagayama also changed our perception of our “couple photos” and it was thereafter that we decided to invest in a selfie stick.
Thinking back on our trip to Naoshima, I realize how extremely valuable it was. When art and nature are in complete harmony, it can bring you to a place of peace and introspection. As much as it was a physically relaxing trip, it was also one that found us rejuvenated mentally. Naoshima is a magical place.
There are always so many great design events going on this time of the year with NYCxDESIGN in full force. In between our own ‘In Boxes’ exhibition, Angy and I had a chance to visit a few of our friends showcasing new work and also see pieces by new designers.
At the Standard East Village hotel, just around the corner from our shop, was Irish brand, Superfolk making prints live for guests to see the process. For those that aren’t familiar, Gearóid and Jo Anne of Superfolk make prints and homewares inspired by the natural environment of Ireland. We really like the handmade quality of their products but we were delighted to see that they also made prints of different sea and plant vegetation of their homeland. Their printing style is very much associated with Japanese traditional wood block prints and they even used washi paper as a base. Jo Anne showed us the whole process and gave us a print to take home! They also make their own tools, which was so pleasing to see!
Collective Fair in Tribeca was another great event. As guests strolled into the venue, light designer and artist Ingo Maurer’s works greeted them. We’re big fans of Ingo Maurer and love checking out the showroom in SoHo to see classic pieces. Although older works like the Porca Miseria light were shown at Collective Fair, it was great to see the new lights and the Toto bulb with ears in person.
As we strolled the fair, we were immediately drawn to the fiber and cast concrete seating series by Dana Barnes Studio called Endolith Casts. They were so compelling with their soft and hard elements existing together to reference lichen growth.
There was also an area called the Secret Garden that was filled with pieces from the Noguchi museum. Objects like the Akari lamp were present along with rock, obsidian and driftwood sculptures that were shaped from the rivers he got them from, all pieces that showcase Isamu Noguchi’s interest with natural rock formations.
We also caught a glimpse of a 1953 Cadillac LeMans, named for the 24hr LeMans race in France. The fiberglass-bodied convertible is one of only four ever built! It was in perfect condition!
It was great to see the car in the middle of the pavilion because it reminded us that industrial design is about so much around us and sometimes we forget that also involves transportation.
Just off the main Collective Fair grounds was the satellite Sight Unseen show. With only several designers on sight, it was a nice way to see their new works intimately. Some works being from Doug Johnston, Mimi Jung and Egg Collective.
We’ve only seen Doug Johnston’s commercial works but it was interesting to see his more sculpture-based pieces, which included wall hangings. The cord pieces have so much dimensionality with beautiful exploration in colour gradients.
A step from Doug was Mimi Jung. Mimi showcased her wall-hung weavings at Sight Unseen last year. We found it so compelling that she went from almost two dimensional-like wall pieces into the third dimension with sculptural pieces that were more about the space that they created.
They had incredible spatial exploration and detail. Like Doug, there were colour gradients seen in her works but Mimi’s was created through the density of the weave – The denser the threads, the darker the area. The cylindrical piece called Black Interior that allowed viewers to walk into was especially appealing with its semi-permeable areas.
Right beside Mimi were our friends at Egg Collective whom we always have the pleasure of running into! They had a small installation with their new customizable Russell Dining Table on display. We’ve always been big fans of this design trio and were so happy to hear they were the winners of the American Design Honors Program, the inaugural award created by furniture company Bernhardt Design and Wanted. Congrats Crystal, Stephanie and Hillary!
Next up was Sight Unseen Offsight, conveniently held near the Javitz this year. The event, now in it’s second year, occupied two floors and had works by some of our friends and many other up and coming local designers from New York and also Canada.
American Design Club and Roll & Hill sponsored a candleholder competition called Curse The Darkness. Designers from Brooklyn, Mahattan and overseas submitted works to be considered for the win. Our friend James Killinger’s two-part candleholder called “Cache” was a standout and the runner up. The base was made of marble, conveniently used to store matches, and topped off with a brass lid.
Gradients seemed to be the theme in a lot of work we liked this year. Calico used the effect to produce gradient wallpaper that came in a variety of tones, all exquisite but we particularly liked the Aurora Heaven style that was a pale peach that bled beautifully into purple.
The Principals had an interactive piece on display. Viewers entered the space and attached a device to their finger that read blood pressure and signaled a light to blink according to the person’s heartbeat.
It’s always great to see a good friend’s newest works! Brendan Mullins from San Francisco based studio Whyte showcased a fittingly all white wood wall hanging that was impeccably crafted. The three dimensional perspective frames were compiled together to look almost two-dimensional from afar.
It was a pleasure meeting Christopher Specce who makes incredible household ladders. His collection includes folding stepladders and climbing ladders.
At another event, Chanel had us focused on the N°5 perfume during design week as a way to celebrate their iconic bottle. When the perfume was launched in 1921, it was packaged in a shockingly modern bottle, uncharacteristically simple for the era. The event was an interactive installation that explained the history of the fragrance. There was a video screen of submerged jasmine flowers in water that, as you waved your hand across, would spread to reveal facts about the bottle. There were also sensorial installations that replicated the complex notes of the perfume with music and a room that released the subtle scent of the fragrance at the end of the installation.
This year at ICFF our first stop was at the booth of our good friend from Canada, fellow Edmontonian Jordan, of Tomnuk Design. Jordan was a finalist of this year’s ICFF Studio Program held in collaboration with Bernhardt Design.
The spot is given to only eleven designers chosen from concepts submitted from all around the world. Needless to say, it was an extraordinary opportunity to display his winning submission – The Divide Lighting series. We especially loved how the lights looked different from various angles as they rotated and the beautiful matte black version.
A lot of great wall coverings this year! Everything from the gradients at Calico to 3-D versions and even one for the Elvis fans.
The tacks, rulers and stationary items designed by Willbaugh stood out along with the beautiful bath collection by Cielo. The sinks are offered in a great colour series and we immediately wanted that bathtub bench for our new home.
Speaking of items we wanted for ourselves… When we saw the new Emeco chairs designed by Jasper Morrison, we knew those were the chairs we’ve been hunting for for our dining room. The wood filled reclaimed polypropylene seat combines with ash legs so elegantly. Now it’s just a matter of choosing out of the four beautiful colours.
We were pretty impressed by the “pink fortress” Apparatus Studio created to showcase their lighting fixtures. The horsehair wall sconces and hanging lights were out of this world!
Lastly we made our way to Wanted, which was held both in Brooklyn and Manhattan this year. At the Terminal, Wanted’s Manhattan location, we saw the winning work by Egg Collective that we mentioned earlier.
We also saw noteworthy pieces like a shelving system made with Dror’s signature QuaDror structural form and the Passivation Tables by Everything Elevated.
Tokyo’s creativity was expressed in a special wing at Wanted dedicated to Tokyo based designers. A mix of technology, kawaii, traditional Edo and contemporary converged all in one room, and we expected nothing less for such a unique city. We especially liked the homage to Ukiyoe woodblock prints with Ross Lovegrove’s special edition print and the Lumibaby mini light designed by Eriko Kasahara, an adorable “mini companion” with a softly glowing head, and the amezaiku works of Shinri Tezuka.
Shinri’s candies were one of the more fascinating displays we saw during design week! The workmanship and skills he’s developed are truly unique – A testament to why we love design week and design week in New York City especially. It’s a city where people from all over the world and types of industries are able to come together to showcase their special talents, highlight iconic designs and unveil their newest works.
Recaps of previous years’ NYCxDESIGN weeks available below:
Our In Boxes exhibition ran last week during NYCxDESIGN! We had such a great time sharing all the unique and magical containers that we’ve accumulated over the years during the event. We just wanted to share some photos we snapped since many of the items showcased aren’t up on the site yet.
We have to say, the Ju-Bako porcelain stacking boxes were definitely a highlight and also amongst our favourite new collections in the shop. Ju-Bakos are traditional Japanese multi-tiered boxes. They are generally used for food and often reserved for special occasions like osechi, a New Year’s dish or for sports meetings and cherry blossom viewings. Ju-Bako represents multilayer happiness and the detailed inban patterns definitely put smiles to our faces.
Syosen’s ‘Karmi’ tea canisters were also another star collection. These wood canisters require extensive hours of handcraft and care. Each piece is made with the core of cherry birch trees making them exceptionally durable. In addition, each piece of wood is temperature adjusted for protection against humidity and climate changes. They are decorated with grooves called Kashobuki and lacquered.
We also revealed our collection of works by husband and wife duo Tetsuya and Momoko Otani. They started their ceramic studio in the middle of the mountains in a small town called Shigaraki. Though their styles are different, they both create functional wares. Momoko specializes in iron-rich local clay treated with slip with distinct applications like hand painting and sgrafitto. We adore her tiny treasure boxes! Tetsuya, on the other hand has a very minimal style but just as detail oriented. Stay tuned for more from this inspirational couple soon. We can’t wait to tour their studio during our upcoming trip to Japan and share their fantastic story!
There were certainly containers on display with very specific purposes and it was a pleasure revealing their function. The cast-iron coil incense burners were one of those items. The ‘Kayariki’ incense coil holder is a great solution to keeping mosquitoes away. Many households in Japan still use a special coil incense that repels pesky mosquitoes so containers are made for this purpose. Vintage kimonos inspire these cast-iron versions designed by Hiroshi Yamasaki.
Last but certainly not least, it was such an honour to be able to display a collection by Norio Tanno. Father to Masakage Tanno, Norio is also the gatekeeper of an uncanny skill-set that he has acquired over decades of experience. With a studio that overlooks a field, he spends his time woodworking and farming – both disciplines requiring attention to detail, care and patience. Now retired, Norio has passed down his trade secrets to his son who continues to push the boundaries of woodcraft with his detailed cases, including the award winning one-push ‘Free Case‘.
Of course we couldn’t have had an exhibition without a bit of celebration. Thanks to our friends Oshin and Ayaka at Matcha Café Wabi, we were able to serve matcha green tea lattes and matcha rice crispies over the weekend. They were so sweet and creative to make little boxes for the treats. If you’re ever in East Village, check them out at 233 East 4th St, just a quick walk from our shop!
Thank you to everyone who came out to our exhibition during the course of the five-day event! For further information about any products showcased, please inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Boxes – An Exhibition of Japanese Craft Boxes
Boxes… they come in various shapes, textures, colors and materials. We use boxes in large and small scales on a daily basis – to transport our lunches, to offer gifts, and to organize all sorts of items from stationary to reading glasses. There is a fascinating quality to boxes because of the mystery of what they contain or the potential of what they can hold. The thrill of discovering the purpose of a box or what is inside of it is what interests us the most!
In preparation for NYCxDESIGN week, we’ve been busy bringing together a selection of finely crafted containers from Japan for our upcoming exhibition entitled, In Boxes. Amongst some of the objects on display will be glass display cases, ceramic jewelry boxes, and a collection of bento boxes. We are also delighted to announce the inclusion of a rare collection of wood business card holders by the renowned Hokkaido craftsman, Norio Masakage. These pieces are amongst some of his last works before he recently retired and passed down his skills to his son Tanno Masakage.
Every object featured in the exhibition will have a very specific usage but are all connected by the fact that they are in essence used as a container. However, it is our hopes that viewers will quickly realize that they are not just a box!
Note: All items on display at the exhibition can be purchased. Pick-up dates of items sold will be organized at checkout and begin following the final exhibition day.
Poster designed by Megan Hall of Basislager Atelier.
As promised, here is a recap of my visit to the Jicon showroom and studio – one of the highlights of my latest trip to Japan!
Jicon was created as an off shoot brand of the ‘house of Imamura’ – a family run porcelain company that derived from the renown Touetsugama kiln founded 350 years ago. Today, Hajime Imamura runs Jicon (designed with Oji Masanori) while his brother succeeded the Touetsugama kiln. The Imamura family and their craft are clearly full of history! Here, with the help of Hajime Imamura and his other half, Maki Imamura, I was just able to scratch the surface but we’re looking forward to learning more about this fascinating story during the upcoming years.
Based in Arita, a city that is rich in porcelain stone and rooted in it’s ceramic crafts, Hajime and Maki have been running Jicon. It is there that the husband and wife team make each porcelain piece by hand in their studio that runs adjacent to a beautiful showroom.
When Taku and I first arrived, we were served coffee and sweets all on Jicon wares on top of a Takahashi Kougei tray, also designed by Oji Masanori! Everything seemed to connect at this moment and I felt like Hajime and Maki’s children got it right with an illustration of their parents’ company relationships – A clever diagram of the parents on top, the designer (Oji Masanori) and the brand representative amongst a sea of Jicon product!
After a tour of the showroom, Maki and Hajime brought me to the studio and on the way we passed their lawn of ceramic shards that they’ve been collecting with their children over the years. With such a long line of porcelain kilns in the city, the streets of Arita are like a living history book where old pieces of porcelain that have been discarded can be found scattered everywhere.
Made with “Amakusa Touseki” (porcelain stone) found in the Arita environs, Jicon is distinct with its durability and satin glaze finish that was specially developed with Oji Masanori. Hajime is pictured above showing me a bucket that indicates “Oji Masanori’s Special Glaze”!
Special techniques are also used in the making of each piece and the couple was kind enough to give a demonstration of the various steps. Hajime prepared the pieces for firing in the kiln; sometimes painting a special iron based rim called “Fuchi Sabi” while Maki carefully polished and finished the pieces.
We’ve always loved the Jicon logo so it was great to hear the story behind how it was derived through the transformation of the Imamura family symbol. We later learned that Oji Masanori had also designed the Jicon logo.
Afterwards we left the studio to walk the streets that were embedded with bits of porcelain. Hajime also wanted to take me to the mountaintop to show me the source of Arita’s rich stone and to the Touzan Jinja – The Porcelain Shrine that had a beautiful porcelain torii gate. This is where many people go to pray for good fortune for their kiln.
We also got a chance to fit in a trip to the Kyushu Ceramic Museum, the entrance of which was not surprisingly covered in ceramic tiles of all sizes.
While there, we saw an extensive amount of pottery works, some dating back to the 1600’s. I could see how these traditional Japanese shapes inspired Oji Masanori for Jicon designs like the chrysanthemum and diamond shaped plates.
On the way out, Hajime shows me a stunning vessel and casually mentioned it was a work by his Father… Incredible to see it as a museum piece!
As our visit drew to a close, we walked to the train along the riverbed and got a chance to pick a few pottery shards of our own as souvenirs.
I owe a huge thank you to Hajime and Maki Imamura for inviting me to their workspace and home for this incredible tour. Thank you also to Takuya Matsuo for guiding the visit!
I had such a wonderful time visiting the Kenroku-en Garden in Kanazawa and came home with so many photos that I thought the outing deserved a post on its own. I didn’t actually plan on visiting the garden in the middle of winter, but found myself with some free time between meetings and thought it would be a good idea to see it in an off-season. The normally crowded garden was empty of tourists, allowing me an introspective moment. The one ultimate truth that became clear, this garden looks gorgeous in any season.
Kenroku-en was erected by the Maeda clan in the 1600s and used as a private garden till it was open to the public in 1874. It is regarded as one of the most beautiful feudal lord gardens in Japan and gets its namesake from the “six attributes” that contribute to the perfect garden landscape – spaciousness, tranquility, artifice, antiquity, water-courses and panoramas. For visitors brave enough to visit during the harsh winter months, you are treated to “yukitsuri”, which literally translates to “snow hangings” in English. This is a method to protect the branches of the ancient trees from breaking from the weight of snowfalls with ropes attached in a conical array. Definitely an interesting view from all angles!
I recently made a trip to Japan to visit a few craftsmen and catch up on a couple projects we have in the works for Nalata Nalata.
When I landed in Tokyo, I headed straight for the Te Te Te exhibition. The show was held at the Tolot Shinonome building, home to a contemporary art gallery and the perfect setting to showcase a variety of contempoary homeware brands.
At the show I ran into Taku and Oji Masanori who we had just hosted in NYC a couple weeks prior for the KUMU exhibition. I also got to see our friends at 10¹² Terra who had their new Showcase Long collection on display and also saw Yamazaki Yoshiki of RetRe, who was showing his new line of metal dinnerware products called Onami – Both collections which we currently have in-store.
The entire Daiyo candle collection was displayed and I met several makers that we’re big fans of, including Katsuhisa and Mizuho Hira, the husband and wife team behind Studio Prepa. We can’t wait to bring their new glass teapots to the shop!
After the show, Taku offered to take me to a Nabe hot pot style dinner. All the familiar faces came along including Mr. Futagami, Daisuke Tsumanuma, Naoto Yoshida, Oji Masanori, Hajime Imamura and Yoshiki Yamazaki. I’ve been keen to try a traditional one in Japan and was lucky enough to try it in the Ryogoku district of Tokyo, also known as the Sumo Wrestling district, where the best hearty Nabe style cooking is found.
The meal lived up to the expectation and I’m now an even bigger fan of this kind of cooking and already have a few recipes Angy and I will be experimenting with using our clay donabes.
The next day I had a quick lunch with Arthur and Shane over at HAVEN who happened to be in Japan on a buying trip. Arthur travels to Tokyo frequently and knows the city like the back of his hand so when he said he frequents a place called Tonkatsu Maisen that has the best panko crusted pork cutlets… I had to try it! It was amazing and I highly recommend it if you’re ever in the Aoyoma neighborhood.
Afterwards, I hopped on the next train to Kyoto.
It was great catching up with Michael, Koichiro and Nanako from Takaokaya.
They were gracious enough to come in on the weekend for our meeting, which felt like a super special private tour of their quiet, and still factory on a Saturday morning.
On our last trip to Japan, we began brainstorming ideas for our handmade Denim Ojami collection and have since launched the exclusive cushions on our website and in-store. We can’t wait to share the next project we have in the works with the Takaokaya team!
I had some free time in Kyoto, which gave me the opportunity to check out the Kennin-ji garden.
The temple is striking with raked sand, beautiful interiors and precise bonsai integration.
Afterwards I headed over to one of my favorite spots in Kyoto, Gallery Yamahon, where I discovered beautiful works by ceramic artist, Masaomi Yasunaga.
The raw edges and naturally distorted shapes of the ceramic pieces were really beautiful to see in person.
I also had time to visit a couple new spots. Kitone is a store and gallery in a small house with a cozy café in the back. It’s packed with a mix of craft and vintage goods, fabrics and food items.
On the outskirts of Kyoto is the Bolts Hardware store owned by Masaya Asahi. Well worth the hike if you’re in the market for hardware and useful everyday tools.
Efish is an oldie but a goodie… A nice café to checkout that overlooks the Kyoto river. It also has a small but well curated selection of products. It’s one of our go-to spots for a coffee before jumpstarting the day.
The last day in Kyoto I paid a visit to Shinichi Takeuchi at Jusan-Ya where he showed me the company’s extraordinary comb making process. Each tooth is carved by hand!! I’m in awe every time I visit and see their collection of boxwood combs.
That evening, Michael brought me to an amazing covert yakitori restaurant. It’s so secret that I don’t even know the name (although that’s the façade pictured above).
Over beers we had a ton of dishes including toriwasa (raw chicken!) and namatamago (raw egg yolk in it’s membrane). Sorry to send anyone reading this on a wild goose chase but this place is unlike any yakitori restaurant I’ve tried and is definitely worth hunting down! Maybe Michael can give you this ultra classified information!! He’s also a great source for the Kyoto food scene in general. Check out his blog Kyoto Foodie.
New day new city. On my way to Kanazawa I had a harsh reality check that I was headed to the cold north as the train ripped through a whiteout skyline.
I welcomed in the colder climate as it let me explore the country in another light. Kenroku-en garden was an example as most people visit when the flowers are in full bloom but winter was nice in another way. I found it fascinating and will be posting more photos in a separate Journal entry but wanted to share a couple images in the meantime. I loved how the trees were held up with bamboo posts and ropes to support the branches from snowfalls, something that seemed unique to this garden.
I took in the beauty, made a snowman and snowlady of Angy and I, and headed to the museum.
Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, the same architects who designed the New Museum in NYC around the corner from our shop, designed the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa. It has a circular glass façade so you’re always looking outside as you walk through the museum.
There was also a Turrell piece called Blue Planet Sky.
I was primarily interested in the museum architecture. In general, the space was beautifully designed and had unique spaces for lounging and study. I especially liked the low pile carpets with white furniture.
I also made a pit stop to the Nagamachi District of Kanazawa, known as the samurai district. The earthen walls are patched up with straw in the winter months to protect the homes where the samurai and their families would formerly reside.
Amidst the winding alleys is the Noruma Samurai House, the restored residence of a high-ranking samurai family.
The house seamlessly combines inside and outside elements by incorporating sliding door panels, natural stone floors, a garden with ancient trees and a stream. The idea of being able to walk through the house while looking outside at the beautiful scenery was inspiring.
The following day I met with Noriyasu and our friends at Gloini, a great shop for antiques and home furnishings…
Between meetings I dropped by a lifestyle store called Factory Zoomer, on the bank of Kanazawa River. Run by a husband and wife duo, it’s in a small and charming building divided into a shop at the front and living quarters for the couple. It offers a wonderful selection of glassworks, and custom ceramic pieces.
From Kanazawa, I made a long trek South to Arita to visit the Jicon kiln. This was a much-anticipated visit as I was able to see firsthand the process behind some of our favorite tableware pieces. Meeting Hajime Imamura (above) and his wife Maki Imamura was such an honour and a highlight of the trip! We’ll be sharing another post soon where we delve a little deeper into Jicon’s history and their process. Stay tuned!
To read more about some of our previous trips to Japan…
This past weekend we held a three-day exhibition entitled Kumu at Nalata Nalata. Oji Masanori and Daisuke Tsumanuma and Kenichi Yamada of 10¹² Terra flew in from Japan for the international debut of their new works at our store. It was an honour to have them in town for a week and we had a blast giving them a tour of New York as they have so graciously done for us during our visits to Japan.
We held the opening reception for the event on Friday and thus the exhibition set-up commenced the day before. Here are some photos of the products post set-up the morning of the opening along with some photos of the shop as guests began to arrive near the evening and into the night!
Although Oji Masanori and his friends, Taku and Noriko (owner and curator of the soon to open Kumu in Tokyo) were incredibly jet-lagged, they fought through it like champs to greet guests and introduce the new Jicon vessels and diamond sake decanter designed by Oji himself.
Attendees even had a chance to test the Jicon vessels for themselves as Natalie, Sujin and Aimee served sake throughout the night with the diamond shaped decanters. The three different stemmed vessels provide a unique sake experience as the shape can influence its perception, aroma and taste. Sakaya in East Village provided the premium sake served and each bottle matched a different region of Japan where the products showcased were manufactured. The crowd favourite was the lucid blue Taisetsu Junmai Ginjo from Hokkaido.
Kenichi and Daisuke (pictured above) had a stunning display of 10¹² Terra showcase boxes, terrariums and vases. Their latest series, the “Showcase Long” was unveiled for the first time with an incredibly positive response! The concept of this series aligns closely with their other works that highlight the evolution of plant life. The idea is to first place a single fresh flower stem on a pin that protrudes from the oak base, and then flip it upside down to observe the flower dry while enjoying the progress. When it is fully dry, flip the case again and the flower will naturally stand upright! These will be available in both copper and black online soon!
Thank you so much to everyone who was a part of this exhibition and especially to the following makers for their generous support: Jicon, Futagami, Takahashi Kougei, Hayashi Kougei, 10¹² Terra, Mother Tool, MokuNeji, RetRe, Daiyo, Onami, Ibazen, Akarino-Tane, To-Mo-Ni. The products featured at the exhibition and within these photos will be available online soon.
Special thanks to Armando Rafael Moutela for capturing photos of this special event for us!