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Interview with 10¹² Terra

As much as I have always liked the thought of incorporating plant life into our home, the trick was always how to keep them alive. I don’t have much of a green thumb so it wasn’t until my discovery of succulents that I realized how enjoyable plant caring could be. Succulents including cacti are extremely low maintenance and are especially great for any sort of indoor gardening in our Brooklyn apartment. They are much harder to kill than a common houseplant and don’t need a lot of supplies other than water and a vessel to live in. Enter the 10¹² Terra Hydro Terrarium. When we discovered these beautiful glass terrariums, growing succulents became even more enjoyable for the fact that now not only could we appreciate the top half of the plant, but also that there was a whole world to discover below the ground surface. 

Since this revelation, we’ve been slowly filling up our home with cacti corners and learning about all the characteristics of succulents. They don’t need to be buried in soil for one. Succulents can be cared for using hydroponic systems that essentially only require some H2O and adequate nutrients. With soil now being unnecessary, we thought it was brilliant that there was a pair of designers that wanted to create a product that would showcase the unfolding of the roots – a product that would allow the user to observe the transience of life. “We’re making things with a shape, but the point is, we’re pursuing the essential piece that is behind that thing.” Explains 10¹² Terra co-founder Daisuke Tsumanuma.

With a thoughtful concept behind such well-crafted products, we knew we wanted to track down the minds behind the studio on our latest trip to Japan. To our delight, founders Daisuke and Kenichi were incredibly open about their process and easy to talk to. We chatted about plants, watched a demo and were on our way with a parting gift of Japanese snacks and a precious copper lidded terrarium to add to our growing collection of cacti corners. 

The interview was conducted in English and Japanese. Both languages are published so as to not lose any meaning in translation for native readers. 1012_Terra_Backstory_Large_Terrarium

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Daisuke Tsumanuma (left) and Kenichi Yamada (right) in their 10¹² Terra studio

 

For those who don’t know, can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds?

DT: Since my late father was a collector and a scholar of art history (in particular of the art of the Ainu people), I grew up surrounded by nature, beautiful objects and curios, and antique furniture from a young age.  When we went on vacations my father took me with him to various art galleries, museums, and the like, but as a kid I was really into baseball, so at the time I was always pestering him to play catch with me rather than take me to museums.  However, when I think back on it now, those experiences formed the basis for my art and my knowledge of nature – I feel like that was my father’s equivalent of playing catch with his son, and I’m full of respect and gratitude.

KY: I studied user interfaces in product design as a university student, and after that for 10 years worked as a director/designer of web advertising and did planning and design for computer applications.  Presently, along with my work for 10¹² Terra, I’m also an active freelance director/designer for a team called “White”. 

わが社の顧客層の中で多くの人は知れないから、あなた達の履歴について教えてくださいませんか?

DT: 今は亡き父が歴史美術(とくにアイヌ民族の美術)の研究家/コレクターだったこともあり、幼い頃から自然と美術品や骨董品、アンティーク家具に囲まれて育ちました。休みになると父は私を色々な美術館や博物館へ連れて行ってくれましたが、当時野球少年だった私は父に「美術館へ行くよりキャッチボールをして」とせがみました。しかし今思い返せば、それらの経験が僕の美術や博物学に対するベースとなり、それが父親なりの子供との「キャッチボール」だったと感じ、今は感謝と尊敬の念でいっぱいです。

KY: 大学ではプロダクトデザインのユーザーインターフェイスを専攻し、そこから10年、WEB広告のディレクター/デザイナー、アプリの企画開発などを仕事としていました。現在も10¹² Terraと平行して、フリーランスのディレクター/デザイナーとしてWhite*というチームで活動しています。

How did the two of you begin working together?

DT: While Kenichi and I were together in art school majoring in product design, we started out in different jobs after graduating (I was a game designer).  However, we each had strong feelings about objects, and because our tastes in terms of what we liked were similar, when I said to him “why can’t we do something that allows us to work on things together?”, we began creating together as 10¹² Terra.

KY: Originally, we had shared interests in things like household products, industrial arts, and antiques, and our aesthetic sensibilities were close, so we always talked about how it would be nice to work together in a job that dealt with these aspects.  At first we were just thinking in vague terms of getting together some articles we both liked and selling them, but you could say that’s what most interior shops do, and we realized that with all these places dealing in similar items and doing the same things as we were, we needed to have advantages like capital and connections in the industry.  So together we decided on an approach that only we could do – a brand plan of making things that had the power to appeal to both Japan and the rest of the world.

お二人はどのようにして一緒に作品を作り始めたのでしょうか?

DT: 山田とは美術大学でプロダクトデザインを専攻していた仲間で、卒業後はお互い別の仕事(僕はゲームデザイナーをしていました)についておりましたが、お互い「モノ」に対する想いが強く、好きなモノの嗜好が似ていたため「何か一緒にモノを扱う仕事をできないか」と話し、10¹² TERRAとして制作を開始しました。

KY: 元々、生活用品、工芸、アンティークなどがお互いが好きでセンスも近く、よく何か一緒にモノを扱う仕事ができたらいいねと話していました。はじめは自分たちの好きなものを集めて小売できればと漠然と考えていましたが、多くのインテリアショップにも言えますが、どこも似たような商品を扱っていて、そこと同じことをしても資本やコネクションなどで強みになるものを持たないといけないと思い至りました。そこで自分たちにしかできないアプローチやコンセプト、商品力を持って、日本と世界に発信できるモノを作ろうとブランドのプランを一緒に考えることになりました。妻沼とは大学の同級生、同じ専攻、また大学時代は近所に住んでいました。

It’s great that you both began 10¹² Terra knowing a similar point of view and aesthetic was shared. What’s it like working with the other?

DT: He’s able to see things for me that I can’t see myself. And when you’ve accomplished something, he’s there to drink the best beer there is with you!

KY: At first we were performing on an empty stage at 10¹² Terra, working on things like the lighting and furnishings for the interiors of shops. In the design process for new products, we were on the same page as far as the choices we made, our attitude toward things, our aesthetic senses, etc. – you could say we had a shared understanding, so I think it was easy to communicate. Maybe it’s because as designers we both come from the same field. 

あなたたちは似てる考え方や審美眼を持ってて10¹² Terraを創設しましたが、共同するのはいかがですか?

DT: 自分には見えない部分をちゃんと見てくれる存在。そして、何かをやり遂げた際、一緒に最高のビールを飲める存在。

KY: 最近は10¹² Terraで空間演出をしたり、ショップの内装の什器や照明を作ったりすることもあるのですが、そういった仕事の提案や新しい商品の企画会議では、モノ選びのセンスやモノに対する姿勢や美学が自分の感覚と近いので、共通認識といいますか、とても話が通じやすく、仕事はやりやすいと思います。お互いがプランナー・デザイナーという同じフィールドだからかもしれません。

1012 Terra products are a breath of fresh air for terrarium enthusiasts all around the world. What was the catalyst for creating products so closely tied to plants?

DT: I had an interest in plants from the beginning, and in researching cacti, I learned about the existence of enthusiasts who grow them hydroponically. As for many years only a small number of enthusiasts enjoyed hydroponic cactus growing, most of them were using re-purposed plastic mineral water bottles and the like for vessels, and thinking to myself “it’s a shame to use plastic bottles for something so interesting and beautiful” was one impetus.

KY: Before we started 10¹² Terra, I was living in Canada and traveled in America, and saw terrariums using air plants being sold while I was abroad. When I returned to Japan, this whole culture – even the word “terrarium” – had not yet taken root, and I had a hunch that we could do something new. From the beginning, I’d liked plant roots, and I came up with the branding and concept for today’s 10¹² Terra from having that interest in plants, as well as by drawing upon my interest in fields like mathematical modeling and natural history. I also drew inspiration from the story of the birth of terrariums, in the Age of Discovery (the “Wardian Case”).

どこにいるのでも、10¹² Terraの製品はテラリウムの愛好家にとって清涼剤です。植物にこんなに近く関する製品を作るきっかけはなんでしたか?

DT: もともと植物に興味があり、サボテンについて色々調べていた時、サボテンを水栽培している愛好家の存在を知りました。サボテンの水栽培は、極少数の愛好家のみによって長年楽しまれていましたが、それらの多くは、ミネラルウォーターなどのプラスティックのボトルを加工して容器として使用されており、「こんなに面白くて美しいことをプラスティックボトルで行うのはもったいない。」と思ったのがきっかけです。

KY: 10¹² Terraを始める前にカナダに住み、アメリカも旅行しましたが海外ではエアプランツを使ったテラリウムがインテリアショップでちらほら売られているのを目にしました。日本に帰国したところ、国内ではまだテラリウムという言葉や文化が根付いていない状態で、何か新しいことができる予感がしました。元々、植物の根が好きだったこともありますが、数学模型や博物学の標本、植物にも興味があり、そこから現在の10¹² Terraのコンセプト、ブランディングを考えました。また、大航海時代に生まれたテラリウムの逸話*からもインスピレーションを受けました。

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Succulents on display at the 10¹² Terra studio

 

… we want to propagate the sort of lifestyle that involves being able to enjoy the act of observation…

-Daisuke Tsumanuma

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Daisuke soldering a Hydro Terrarium

What would you say is 10¹² Terra’s particular style or approach to design amongst your contemporaries?

KY: 10¹² Terra is both a brand and a manufacturer. Our main technique relies on stained glass, a European technology, and I think that sets us apart from both the backgrounds of and the kinds of crafts and product designs made by so-called “Japanese designers”. While we really enjoy being in our field, we’re always experimenting with how to continue our brand in our own style and with our own designs using a different approach than others have. To express the physical forms of the object, we try to integrate aspects of natural history, mathematics, and science.

同業者に比べて、自分達が持つユニークなスタイルやデザインへのアプローチをどのように定義しますか?

KY: 10¹² Terra は、メーカーでもありブランドでもあります。手法もメインはステンドグラスというヨーロッパの技術、バックグランドも所謂日本の職人が作る工芸やプロダクトデザインとも違うと思っています。それは自分たちのフィールドで楽しみながら、いかに他と違うアプローチで、自分たちのスタイルやデザイン、ブランドが持続するかということを実験しているからです。表面的な部分でいいますと、博物学・数学・ のエッセンスを加え、論理的で客観的なモノへのアプローチができればと考えています。

Is there a certain lifestyle you would like to promote with your designs?

DT: These aren’t finished products you buy and then are done with – you raise the plants yourself, and experience the growth of the roots, and we want to propagate the sort of lifestyle that involves being able to enjoy the act of observation – of taking in the wondrous component of whatever you decorate the interior with, whether it be a bird’s nest, a spider’s web, fruit on a tree, crystallized minerals, or whatever.

自分達のデザインによってもっと推奨したいライフスタイルなどがございましたらお聞かせ下さい。

DT: 完成品を買ってそれで完結してしまうものではなく、自分で植物を育て根の生長を感じたり、中に飾るもの(鳥の巣や虫の巣、木の実、鉱物の結晶など)の不思議な部分を “観察する”行為ごと楽しめるようなライフスタイルをどんどん広めたい。

What do you enjoy most about working with plants in mind? What is the most challenging aspect?

DT: The most enjoyable part is when you read the signs that plants give you – “I need more water” or “I need light from this direction” – you make them flower by responding to those signs, and they show their gratitude in the rampant growth of their leaves. As far as difficulties, it’s when you don’t skillfully interpret the plants’ communications, and they show their anger by allowing their leaves to wilt.

KY: With cacti, in many cases the part above the surface of the soil doesn’t grow any bigger and there are few visible changes, while there can be big changes in the growth of the roots in just a few hours.  It depends on the season, but watching those changes and that growth is the most fun thing.  As far as something that’s difficult, I’d say it’s dealing with these plants as articles to be sold.  Because each plant has its own individual idiosyncrasies, our business operation needs an individualized way of dealing with them.

植物と一緒にお仕事をされて、何が一番楽しいと感じますか?また、何が一番困難だと感じますか?

DT: 楽しいことは、植物が出すサイン(もっと水が欲しい、こっちの方向から光が欲しい)を受け取り、それに応えると花を咲かせ、葉を茂らせて感謝を示してくれる時。困難なことは、植物とうまくコミュニケーションが取れず、彼らに葉を枯らして怒りを示された時。

KY: サボテンは地表から上の部分は大きく成長せず変化が少ないもの多いですが、根の成長は、時には数時間でもわかるくらいの大きな変化をします。季節にもよりますが、その変化と成長を見ることが一番楽しいです。苦労することは、やはりその植物を売り物として管理することです。すべて1つ1つ個性があるので、ビジネスのオペレーション上は個別の対応が必要になります。

Have you discovered anything interesting after working with plants for a while?

KY: I’ve still only been working with plants for a short time, but I’d have to say it’s just how varied plant ecology can be. One thing I learned from an older landscape designer is that while of course plants grow best and most easily in a place that matches the environment they are ecologically suited for, you can’t underestimate their ability to survive. Maybe it’s the same with people and with nature, and I feel like from working with plants I’ve been taught a few things about how to deal with things such as our relationships with each other.

長い間、植物と共に仕事をする事で、特に学んだものはありますでしょうか?

KY: まだまだ植物の仕事は短いですが、植物の生態は多種多様なものであるということです。ある年長のランドスケープデザイナーから教えてもらったことですが、もちろん植物の生態にあった環境に適したところでのびのびと生きるのがベストですが、植物の生命力をなめてはいけないと。人も自然も同じかもしれませんが、植物と付き合うのは、お互いの関係性やモノへの向き合い方を教えてもらった気がします。

Which creative people or designers do you admire and take the biggest influence from?

DT: There’s no one single person, but I’ve been heavily influenced by the method of constructing Japanese gardens that’s been developed over time by my forebears. In many western gardens, you can take in their symmetry in an unbroken view from a terrace or the like, but in the case of Japanese gardens, because there are many objects which are three dimensionally asymmetrical, it’s difficult to take it all in a single sweep of the eye – rather, the idea that underlies the Japanese garden is that as you walk around with the garden at your feet, and experience the babbling of a brook, the currents of the wind, or a glimpse of a distant mountain through a gap in the trees, you become a part of nature – you become one with the natural surroundings. My designs, which are consequent upon things like chronological order and process, were strongly influenced by that idea of personally integrating with the object of one’s contemplation.

KY: The photographer and artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. I’m deeply interested in his conception of and approach to his work, of course, but his background as an antiques dealer and his documentary film “Memories of the Beginning” are also very interesting.

個人的に尊敬していて、大きく影響を受けたクリエーターやデザイナーについてお聞かせ下さい。

DT: 個人ではないのですが、先人が築き上げた日本庭園の作り方にとても影響を受けました。 西洋の庭園はテラスなどから一望出来るシンメトリーなものが多いですが、日本庭園の場合には左右非対称で立体的なものが多いため一望する事が難しく、自分の足で庭園を歩き、小川のせせらぎや風の流れ、木々の間から見える遠くの山を感じ、季節ごとに移ろう草木を見ながら、人が自然の一部となり庭園を巡り自然と一体になるというものが基本理念だそうです。 そのような、自らも対象と一体化し、時間軸やプロセスを伴ったデザインに強く影響を受けました。

KY: 写真家/アーティストの杉本博司。作品へのアプローチやコンセプトはもちろんですが、骨董商をしていたバックグラウンドなど、ドキュメンタリー映画「はじまりの記憶」もとても興味深いです。

Finally, from all the experimentation we’ve seen at the 10¹² Terra studio, I’d imagine we could expect exciting new projects soon! Can you tell us what’s to come in the near future?

DT: Recently, in addition to making flower vases, there’s been stage-setting, display design, running our shop, producing special events, and so on. Regardless of whether it’s in Japan or abroad, we want to continue to move our business in the direction of actively collaborating on production and development with people from other industries. Thus, I’m thinking about whether we can continue to grow by exploring unknown discoveries and possibilities, not just about our own little world.

最後ですが、10¹² Terraのアトリエで行われる実験に基づいて、新しいそそられる計画が間もなく出る予想があると思います。将来に出てくる計画について教えてくださいませんか?

DT: 最近は花器の制作の他に、空間演出やディスプレイデザイン、店舗やイベント等のプロデュースなどので、今後は日本・海外を問わず、自分たちとは別業種の方々と積極的に組み、商品プロデュースや制作、ディレクション業務などをしていきたい。 そして自分たちの狭い世界だけではなく、まだ知らない発見や可能性を追求し、成長していけたらと思う。

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Kenichi Yamada talking process

 

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A collection of 10¹² Terra terrariums

 

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Succulent roots in glass 10¹² Terra terrariums

 

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The 10¹² Terra studio

 

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A butterfly on display at the studio entrance

 

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Polishing a Hydro Terrarium

 

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Go-to tools at the 10¹² Terra studio

 

Backstory Credits: Photos and Words by Angélique Chmielewski, Translation by Greg Lekich, Special thanks to Roxana Onishi