A Closer Look at Jusan-Ya

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

angelique



Journey to Japan – Part 2

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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.

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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! 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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. 

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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!

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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

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 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!

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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.

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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… 

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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. 

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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.

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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!

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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

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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.

angelique



Hokkaido Artisans and Designers

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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!

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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

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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. 

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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.

stevenson



Journey to Japan – Part 1

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While Steve and I were in Japan during this last trip, we crammed every day with meetings and activities. Steve had a head start and flew out a few days prior to me in order to check out the Northern area of the country, Hokkaido. From his stories, Hokkaido was so packed full of studio visits that this particular part of the trip will have to be shared in a separate post of it’s own. For now, here’s part 1 of our trip, starting with a visit with our friend Ryo from Hender Scheme at his Asakusa based studio.

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A time is set to meet Ryo after work hours, take a quick look at his new homeware products in development and head straight for some food and brews!

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Ryo’s assistants Yuma and Gota join for dinner and late into the night we wander to a temple in Asakusa where Steve gets a chance to get a simple fortune read… Verdict? Lots of good luck! Definitely a great way to end the night. We say our good byes knowing it won’t be long till we catch them on the tail end of our trip.

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The next day we head to Chiba near Tokyo for a meeting at the 10 ¹ ² Terra studio that we’ve been anticipating for awhile! We arrive to Chiba main station and are greeted by founders Daisuke and Kenichi. They take us on a short walk to their studio and upon entering, we’re in terrarium heaven! Their studio, adjacent to Daisuke and his wife’s home, is speckled with plant life and decorated with all their terrariums and vases. 

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We’ll have an in-depth Backstory and interview with 10 ¹ ² Terra coming soon, but in the meantime, here are a few photos from our behind the scenes glimpse that we couldn’t wait to share!

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Daisuke demonstrates how the terrariums are made and we end our visit chatting at the dinner table over refreshing Yona Yona ale from Nagano and home made candied yams amongst other snacks. Long story short, if you’ve been following us lately, this is where our whole ‘Japanese snack’ mania begins. So not only can we thank the 10 ¹ ² Terra duo for the incredible hospitality, but also for instilling a snack obsession (both fine and convenient store varieties) within us… Many, many thank yous, Daisuke and Kenichi!

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Afterwards, we head back to central Tokyo but get a bit too distracted by the flashing lights coming from a basement arcade. Spending all our yen doodling on kawaii photos of ourselves seems like the only sensible thing to do. Whoops.

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While chatting with the Hender Scheme crew, Yuma, who’s also a travel agent, suggests that Steve and I take a couple days to relax at Kai resort. The resort is perched in the Japanese Alps and is well known for their 16 styles of onsens. We’re really not sure what to expect since Yuma organized the whole thing but when our taxi pulls up, it’s pretty clear that this was going to be a very, very luxurious stay! 

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The main attraction was the alkaline water hot springs but the tatami rooms were equally as impressive. Divided like a traditional Japanese-style home, our suite came with a nice view, unique layout and private onsen. Not too shabby for an off-site office!

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As an added bonus, Yuma also organizes a trip to Japan’s Yosemite equivalent, Kamakochi. Again, we leave the arrangements up to the travel guru and are surprised when we’re taken through windy, pitch-black roads and tunnels up to a quiet resort nestled deep in the mountains.

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Although not as grand as Yosemite or the Canadian Rocky Mountains that we’re used to, we appreciate this dose of nature after the bustle of Tokyo streets. We stay at one of the park’s few hotels, the Imperial, and hit the trails the next morning. 

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This particular stretch of Northern highlands reaches on average 1500m and is designated as one of Japan’s Natural Cultural Assets, meaning it’s been recognized as a National park and preserved in its natural state. Wildlife, fresh air and plenty of beautiful scenery to enjoy before we head to the contrasting urban sprawl of Takaoka city.

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Takaoka, in Toyama prefecture is rich in natural resources and boasts some of the freshest seafood in the country. It is also the home of the over-a-century-old brass foundry, Futagami. It’s the main reason for our visit to the city and an honor to meet with Mr. Futagami himself.

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The evening we arrive, Mr. Futagami takes us and our mutual friend Taku to a specialty seafood dinner and to his favorite bar spot in the city.

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The seafood is fresh. Tons of Toyama specialties like fried “Nodoguro” (Blackthroat Seaperch), oysters and Firefly squid.

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PM Bar 7:30 is a low-key, hidden whiskey bar. Their motto is “7:30PM, – the time we become ourselves again”! The bartender is skilled and prepares our favorite whiskey sour recipe off-the-cuff like a true expert.  

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We end the night and prep for an early start to meet for our afternoon factory tour. 

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A closer look at the Futagami factory tour is coming soon! Here’s just a short preview of what we saw and a glimpse at how Futagami’s famous brass castings come to life.

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During a Q&A session with Mr. Futagami, we learnt everything about the company from how it was founded by his great-great-grandfather in 1897 as a manufacturer for Buddhist alter items, to what the process of working with Oji Masanori is like. 

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We also had the chance to witness the full process of brass casting. The experience felt a bit like a really intimate up-close performance. We watched the staff glide through the factory as if orchestrated and timed in perfect unison, pouring molten brass carefully into sand casted molds. Everyone on cue. 

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We left feeling incredibly grateful for this rare opportunity knowing that we’d never look at a Futagami product without thinking about the intricate steps that go into making each one again. Thank you Mr.Futagami for the incredible tour!

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That same day, former Futagami employee, Yamazaki Yoshiki of Block Design unexpectedly invites us to his beautiful home and studio to view his new designs. 

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Yamazaki is the designer behind both RetRe and Onami (his latest line) so it was an extra bonus to fit in this visit. It’s always nice to see how designers integrate their own products into their daily lives. In Yamazaki’s case, with upcycled ‘worm bore’ mirrors, clocks, magnets and metal dinnerware within a home that he also had a hand in designing. Such a peaceful live-work environment!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our trip to Japan where we check out a few Kyoto based craftsmen, and circle back to Tokyo before heading back home.

angelique



Japan Withdrawals

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We’re back from a recent buying trip in Japan and our withdrawals are setting in as usual. It was such an amazing trip catching up with old friends, meeting new designers and visiting all the craftsmen behind our products.

To ease our transition back to daily NYC life, our friends at 10¹² TERRA and Hender Scheme have given us Japanese snacks as a send off, which points to the two undeniable facts… 1) that they share our love of junk food and 2) that Japanese snacks are ultimately the best! We have yet to try them all, but so far the winner goes to Lotto’s “pai no mi” (bottom left corner). More from our adventures in Japan in the coming weeks.

stevenson



NYC Design Week 2014

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The third annual NYC X Design week kick started last weekend with a ton of activities throughout the city. We caught a few shows including ICFF, Wanted, Sight Unseen Offsite and Atelier Courbet’s “More than Textile” exhibition. Here’s a roundup of the week’s events!

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We start off by heading to Wanted Design held at the beautiful Terminal Stores building, an old warehouse just off the Hudson River. 

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Bike ID’s showcase of premium bikes never disappoints. Originating from Stockholm with a creative studio in Moscow and New York, the company’s goal remains the same as when they began five years ago: To create the “purest bycicle experience possible”. They showcased the above “Diamond Model” limited edition bike in copper that looks pretty ‘pure’ to us! An uncomplicated, utilitarian design highlighted in a beautiful material.

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The Center for Furniture Craftsmanship based in coastal Maine had a nice display of chairs. Each chair was made by one of the center’s skilled craftsmen. I especially liked the details in the ‘Pi’ Stool by Aled Lewis and ‘Lily Chair by Brian Boggs. Learn more about their hands on woodworking courses here.

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Human Touch is a collection of textiles by Bernhardt Textiles in collaboration with Brooklyn-based design couple Dani Song and Makoto Kishino. 

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Their showcase gave an in-depth look into the couple’s world of hand-painted textiles. Their materials, tools and design methods are traditional, using brush and ink on silk or tea to dye natural cotton. Their work felt irreplaceable and it was inspiring to see that these slow production methods still exist in a world dominated by digital design processes and electronics.  

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Next stop was Sight Unseen Offsite

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Field Experiments had an entire room displaying their collaborative research projects with local artisans of Indonesia. Sketches, photos and over 50 souvenirs were showcased. We loved seeing familiar materials transformed into new objects, especially the paper bags recycled into kites with the help of Balinese kite makers.

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Unlike any terrarium I’ve seen before, Plant-in City uses various wood and metal materials to build diorama-like homes for air plants and succulents.  Each one is custom created to match the materiality and plant style.

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John Hogan Designs had a series of new lamps and art objects. The irridescent glass pieces were especially captivating.

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Remember Pat Kim’s Rocket Trophy from The American Design Club show during last year’s Design week? This year Pat unveiled edition 2.0 with a Rocket enhanced with mother of pearl. He also had candle stands and a white oak with mother of pearl basketball hoop!! Beautiful! I’ve never been much of an athlete but something tells me that if I had this hoop growing up, I might have had a chance.

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Fredericks and Mae puts smiles on faces wherever they go! New tinsel tassels and technicolor tassels were showcased alongside their beloved brushes and brooms.

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It’s always great to run into our talented friend Brendan Mullins of Whyte. After he relocated from NYC to San Francisco, he’s been developing his studio that focuses on American furniture traditions. You may remember Whyte’s beloved Diamonds in beautiful pastel hues. The studio continues to explore unique colour combinations but this year in the form of a brand new wood chair design! The Ascension Chairs came to life as Brendan hand-weaved leather seats on the spot. The black on black version was a standout along with the pale green.

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It was great to see a pendant lamp as original as Damm’s. The amorphous shapes escaping brass chains left us curious to see what else this lighting design studio has in store for the future.

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We’ve always loved the jewelry pieces by L.A. based Brook & Lyn so it was nice to run into this husband and wife studio and see what their up to now! I immediately fell in love with Mimi Jung‘s soft-hued wall hangings. It was great to see her design aesthetic translated into a new series of woven art so successfully. Looking forward to following the duo on this new and exciting direction! 

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Onwards to another event. Atelier Courbet’s shop on Mott Street launched an exclusive line of textiles by Japanese high-end textile company Hosoo in collaboration with NYC based designer Anna Karlin. They were both there to launch the exhibition entitled “More than Textile” with a discussion about their process during the course of their collaboration.

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I’ve been a longtime fan of Anna’s art objects and furniture pieces (including the brass stools above) so I was happy to see her talents extend into textile design as well. I loved the mix of the two worlds of Japanese weaving traditions and Anna’s contemporary patterns. 

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After many email conversations, it was such a delight to meet Toru Tsuji in person and watch him transform thin wire into his intricate mesh baskets. We’re looking forward to visiting his studio during our trip to Kyoto next week!

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Nakagawa Mokkougei was also there to demonstrate how they make their cedar buckets. They brought along a variety of hinoki cypress woods. It was surprising to smell how different each species scent could be. Subtle yet very distinct.

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Great to run into Taka of Kaikado again! This year Kaikado decided to give their fans a closer look into the creation of their amazing brass canisters. Taka himself demonstrated the process with his favourite tools including his father’s old hammers.

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Off to the Javits Center for the big one… ICFF, the highlight of design week. 

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Vancouver based studio Molo was there to wow the crowd with another one of their soft cloud installations near the main entrance.

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Egg Collective’s Hillary, Stephanie and Crystal were present to unveil some of their highly anticipated furniture pieces with expert craftsmanship, as usual. 

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I was already imagining a spot for their new wood “Wu Side Tables” and stunning “Ritter Chest” in our home!

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Rich Brilliant and Willing’s organic shapes were so beautiful! They showcased their new Mori and Palindrome lighting systems. I loved the contrast between the delicate fibers of the silkworm inspired Mori chandeliers with the plated steel tubing of the Palindrome. They definitely showcased their skills with a range of materials, equally working with soft thread and steel with expert craftsmanship.

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The always-innovative design studio Nendo, from Meguro Tokyo is redefining modular furniture with shapely forms and innovative materials.  In collaboration with Emeco, they unveiled a collection of tables and stools in reclaimed materials. We especially liked the reclaimed oak seat and concrete seat composed with recycled glass.

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MT Casa takes our packaging obsession to another level… 

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Their colourful washi tape adds such a special touch to notes and gifts!

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One of the Pratt Institute’s Industrial Design graduate students, Justin Crocker, showcased his chair. It caught our attention walking by, definitely standing out with it’s innovative structure, combining digital technology and hand-cut leather patterns.

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Crazy speakers as usual from Oswalds Mills Audio! We were enthralled by the sound and look of their collection from last year. This year was no different with their new Monarch and vinyl turntables.

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We end Design Week on a very high note thanks to Jasper Morrison. He was there himself to sign copies of his new book by one of our favorite publishers, Lars Müller. The book is entitled, “The Good Life: Perceptions of the Ordinary”. 

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That concludes another design week in NYC! We discovered a ton of new work and it’s always great to witness the evolution of some of our favourite studios. Thanks to Jasper Morrison for hitting the nail on the head by summing up the efforts of the designers who strive to contribute to “the good life” with their meaningful designs.  Till next year!

View a recap of last year’s NYC x Design Week 2013 here.

angelique



The Rousokuza Candle Tradition

We recently released a selection of candles by the Takazawa Candle Co. and we’re happy to be one of the few retailers introducing a broad range of Japanese candles available outside of Japan. We thought it would be a good time to give a bit of history into the craft and point out some features that have made these candles so popular throughout Japan.

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Japanese candle manufacturing dates back to the Nara period with the spread of Buddhism.  Candles were made from beeswax originally, taken from locally sourced beehives. However in the Edo period, Japanese wax trees began to be cultivated extensively throughout Japan, prompting production processes to shift towards plant and seed based waxes.  

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During this period, the small town of Nanao began to emerge as the focal point of Japanese candle production because of its ideal location as a port for Kitamae ships (cargo ships) regularly carrying plant derivative wax from Kyushu and Japanese washi paper from Iwami. The combination of these two materials is the defining feature of Japanese candles. A cooperative union of Japanese candle makers was formed shortly afterwards called Rōsokuza to streamline production in the town. They remained active until the middle of the Meji period. Today, the Takawaza Candle Co. is bringing the Rōsokuza tradition back to the region by producing candles with traditional processes.

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Japanese candles traditionally came in two different shapes: one called ikari-gata, with a wide base and/or top that tapers in the middle, and another called bo-gata which is long and cylindrical. More contemporary shapes have been developed recently, but the goal with the forms has always been to prevent dripping. I’ve always loved how the word ikari means anchor in Japanese, signifying its origins on the Kitamae ships.

The inner core of the Japanese candle is constructed by rolling a piece of washi paper into a tube, then winding dried juncaceous plant around the paper to form the wick. This structure allows oxygen to be supplied from the base through the hollow tube, enabling the wick to absorb a greater amount of melted wax. As a result, combustion is enhanced and the candles burn with a larger, stronger flame, differentiating it from paraffin candles.

These are some of our favorite candles:

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Look out for our backstory on the Takazawa Candle Co in the coming months where we visit their design studio and factory in Nanao. 

stevenson



Sakura Matsuri Festival

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The annual Sakura Matsuri festival is happening at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens this weekend! Steve and I made our way down to check out the festivities and see how the world famous cherry blossom collection is looking.

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Most of the cherry blossoms seemed to be a bit delayed to bloom this year. In general Spring has come a little late to New York. Regardless, it was still great to see a few at their peak and to see the magnolia trees in full bloom. 

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The most interesting events for us were the traditional and botanical art exhibitions, especially the Urasenke Tea Ceremony and Bonsai Exhibit. There was also an adorable display of ningyo dolls. 

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These traditional dolls were originally created by monks who used excess temple building materials for the dolls in order to avoid waste. Narrow grooves are carved into the solid sculptures and edges of fabric are inserted to create the appearance of actual seams.

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The bonsai display is awesome! Apparently it is one of the largest outside of Japan. We were so intrigued after seeing all the different specimens and wanted to create a mini bonsai world of our own. 

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When you look at one of these guys long enough, they really draw you in, as if you’re staring at a micro fairy-tale setting. Small yet completely in harmony. They are so cute and I left wondering if the bonsai’s thought they were 50-foot tall trees.

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If you get a chance to check it out, Sakura Matsuri runs for one more day (ends tomorrow Sunday, April 27) and if you can’t make it to the festival, you can track the blooms with the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s cherry blossom tracker here and go when all the trees are at their peak. It’s a gorgeous sight when the cherry esplanade is lined in blossoming plants. Cherry blossoms only last for about 7-10 days a year so catch it while you can!

angelique



Hudson Roadtrip

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Last weekend a few friends and I took a trip upstate a couple hours to recharge in the heart of the Hudson Valley. With the help of a little fresh country air, we managed to pack the weekend full of some of our favorite things: vintage shopping, farm-to-table dining and of course, a little house touring.

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After we checked into our Hudson apartment rental, we made our way to a brunch spot called Le Gamin Country. This original NYC offshoot is French inspired with a traditional French bistro styled breakfast menu of crêpes and eggs. Atmosphere was great. Lemon crêpes were delicious. Overall, we left the place happy customers ready to take on the insane amount of shops that lined the main street of Hudson.

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Hudson is antique central. Almost every store has something unique to offer…

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White Whale Limited (exotica, Americana), Hudson Super Market (vintage furnishings) and LOOK (clothing, jewelry) were amongst a few noteworthy shops but Neven+Neven Moderne was definitely a must-see for any mid-century enthusiast. 

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The George Nakashima floating shelf (above) and the teak Danish planter (below) were a couple stand out pieces that were on display.

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Another great hidden gem was a small shop aptly name Larry’s Back Room. Tucked away at the back of Mark’s Antiques, the place was jam-packed with old industrial tools, primitives and home furnishings from the Victorian era.

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An unexpected discovery was the artwork of Earl Swanigan. His paintings are everywhere in Hudson. Earl is a bit of a town celebrity so you bet we were a tad star struck when we spotted him guarding his paintings on a Warren street sidewalk. Yes, Earl’s artwork is a sort of enigma to us all but you can’t deny that they have an unusual ability to put a smile on your face!

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“Mostly, I paint dogs and cats and chickens doing things like human beings would do,” – Earl Swanigan

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That evening we tried what is claimed to be the first true farm-to-table direct restaurant called Grazin’. The burgers are made from pasture raised grassfed cows… Animal Welfare Approved! The burgers were clean, the brews were local and the diner atmosphere, spot on!

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The next morning we planned a house tour at The Vanderbilt Mansion located about an hour from the town of Hudson. 

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Now a National Historic site, the 54-room mansion was built in the 1890s and the Vanderbilts occupied the home and surrounding 211 acres until the 1930s. At the time the house cost about $2 million to build and furnish.

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The Vanderbilts, like many new wealthy industrialists, commissioned European artists and Beaux-Arts architects to imitate the palaces of European royalty. Their bedrooms were even inspired by Louis IVI and Marie Antoinette’s bedchambers at the Palace of Versailles. 

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The mansion was a seasonal home where the Vanderbilts would retreat during the Spring and Fall months. After the tour we strolled through the grounds and river valley. We ended the trip with the perfect view of the Hudson River!

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For another weekend getaway idea, check out our posts on Cold Spring, Beacon and Maine. For more architectural house tours, view our visits to The Glass House, Stahl House and Falling Water.

Special thanks to Aimee, Sujin and Natty for photographs and late night navigation!

angelique



George Nakashima at Untitled

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The furniture of George Nakashima has always blurred the lines between art and design. His organic approach to wood construction reveals the unique idiosyncrasies of the tree itself, in what he aptly called “the second life.” By utilizing the natural edge of the board and integrating imperfections like burls, knots and cracks, Nakashima’s pieces often lent well to a naturalistic expressiveness. It was so great to see a large body of his works staged in a home setting, the way they were meant to be used and displayed. 

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George Nakashima: In Conversation is being exhibited at the Untitled Gallery at 30 Orchard Street in the Lower East Side till April 20, 2014. The gallery is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 11am till 6pm. 

stevenson