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Interview with Mr. Futagami

I first came across the works of Futagami several years ago through pictures showcasing sets of bottle openers and trivets. I instantly connected with them. The minimal, circular and cutout shapes pertained to astronomy and I’ve always had a certain affinity to anything of that nature. While the forms were appealing, so was the material. The gleaming brass was a perfect match for these celestial objects with names like Eclipse, Crescent Moon, Galaxy, and Sun. Recalling ornate relics and Persian vessels, I had never before seen brass casted in such minimal shapes, especially ones that were both aesthetically gorgeous and served a function.

In industrial design, there is always a challenge to find the right manufacturer for any particular idea. That right combination of designer and manufacturer is a very rare occurrence when you think of all the different kinds of motivations, goals and working styles that have to mesh. I believe Oji Masanori and Futagami, is that perfect union – A great example of the right designer and manufacturer working together to innovate and create something contemporary using traditional techniques.

Over lots of sake and nodoguro with president and fourth generation owner, Toshihiro Futagami, we’ve delved into the history of the company and its continual working relationship with Oji and Design. Our encounters with Mr. Futagami have always been informative and we are honored to be able to share our discoveries. In this Backstory, we highlight photos of their infamous casting process and give you a behind the scenes look at the Futagami foundry.

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

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Mr. Toshihiro Futagami in front of the Futagami factory located in Takaoka city

 

Tell us about the inception of the Futagami brand.

TF: Takaoka is a leading production area for copper alloy castings, especially Buddhist objects, to the extent that outside of Takaoka, only Kyoto is comparable. There are a large variety of Buddhist groups, and depending on the group, objects and their place of use (the home, the temple, etc.) range from small devotional objects to very large statues like those found in Nara, Kamakura and Takaoka. Those who produce these statues are very specialized manufacturers and the number of producers who can do each part are limited.

Our company specializes in rindou, which are decorated lanterns used in the Jodoshinshu-Honganji sect of Buddhism. So far, we have mainly produced Buddhist objects, but nowadays demand for these objects has decreased because of trends such as secularization, lower temple attendance, smaller families, and changes in living environment. High-grade decorations, which were the main products of our company, have in particular faced severe difficulties, though there is still some demand.

In this situation, using the techniques we had developed, we have turned to producing items other than Buddhist objects. That was the impetus to create the Futagami brand around 2004. However, no matter how seriously we thought about what we’d like to produce, we weren’t able to find an answer, so we tried participating in various seminars, workshops, and classes to seek inspiration. In 2006, my predecessor passed away, and I succeeded him as head of the company, which resulted in a big change. In 2008, when Mr. Oji participated in a workshop organized by Toyama Prefecture General Design Center, I was introduced to him by the staff of the design center, and helped him with the challenge of creating a bottle opener. At that time we talked a lot about what we were thinking and what we wanted to do, and decided to work together. Then in January 2009, we launched the Futagami brand.

二上ブランドの誕生について教えてください。

TF: 高岡というところは、銅合金鋳物の有数な産地であり、特に仏具は、産地として高岡以外では一部京都に残っている程度です。

仏具といっても幅が広く、宗教宗派による設えの違いや在家用、寺院用、厨子に入るような小さな仏様から奈良や鎌倉、高岡にあるような大仏様までなど々あります。それらはそれぞれ分業化され細分化され請け負う事業者も限定されています。

弊社においては、「輪灯」という浄土真宗本願寺派の飾り照明にほぼ特化して事業をしてきました。これまでは仏具を中心に製造してきていましたが、近年、宗教離れ、お寺さん離れ、核家族化、住環境の変化などのさまざまな社会的要因により仏具の需要が減少してきています。特に弊社が扱うような、高級な装飾品とされるものは特に状況が厳しいですが、かといってなくなってしまうわけでもありません。

そんな中、これまで培ってきた技術を使い、仏具以外でも何かつくりたいと考えるようになったのが二上ブランド誕生のそもそものきっかけです。2004年ごろだったと思います。

しかしながら、いろいろ考えても何を作ればいいのか、何を作りたいのか答えがみつからず、ヒントを得ようといろいろなセミナーやワークショップ、講座などに参加してみたりもしました。

2006年には、先代がなくなり代表を引き継ぐという大きな転機もありました。そして2008年、大治氏が富山県総合デザインセンターの主催するワークショップに参加してきた際に、課題の「栓抜き」をつくることをお手伝いをさせてもらったことがきっかけで、デザインセンターの方にとりもっていただくかたちで、大治氏と引き合わせていただきました。その時にお互いの考えていることや、やりたいことを話しあい、納得し、一緒にやっていくことになりました。2009年1月、二上ブランドが誕生しました。

So, what was the first Futagami product?

TF: Certainly it’s the bottle opener, which was the whole reason that I met Mr. Oji.

二上として最初に作った商品は何でしたでしょうか?

TF: まさに大治氏と出会った時の課題であった「栓抜き」です。

Can you tell us a bit more about how you first met Oji Masanori and why you chose to work with him?

TF: The reason we started working together was purely intuition. Through our conversations,  I thought we could thrive working together.

大治さんとはどのように最初に会いましたでしょうか?また、なぜ一緒に仕事をすることになりましたでしょうか?

TF: 出会いは、1)のとおりです。 一緒にやっていくことになった理由は、直感です。 話をさせてもらい、共に生きていけると思いましたし、生きていきたいと思いました。 

In my opinion, brass as a material has recently gained much prominence. Tell me something about the material that most people don’t know.

TF: Brass is highly resistant to corrosion, relatively easy to work with and has been used since the old times in various disciplines such as architectural fittings, marine instruments, and water washing metal fittings. In addition, because of its pliability, an elegant, polished finish can be possessed. It also has a long history of use as a material in art objects and religious Buddhist paraphernalia. As a base material, the surface of brass oxidizes as its ages, and creates a uniquely serene texture. Until now, most brass products have been plated or painted, and due to the coloring that results from being surface-treated in this way, their true character is hidden, which I think makes it difficult to notice the maturing process that results from aging. Consequently, the younger generation tends to think of Futagami’s brass products as new metal or material, while the older generation says they feel nostalgic when they come in contact with our products. 

多くの人が真鍮について知られていないことを教えて頂けますか。

TF: 真鍮は耐食性が強く、加工が比較的容易であり、昔から建築金物、船舶金物、 水洗金具など様々な分野で使われてきました。また、素材の持つ風合いが柔らかく、光沢も優雅で、美術工芸品や仏具などの素材としても長い歴史があります。真鍮素地は、経年変化により使えば使うほど表面が酸化し、独特の落ち着きと風合いが出てきます。今まで、真鍮製品のほとんどがメッキや塗装、着色によって表面処理をして素地をかくしたものばかりだったので、このような経年変化による熟成には気付きにくかったと思います。

そのため、若い世代の人は、FUTAGAMIの真鍮製品を新しい金属だと思い、年配の方は、懐かしいと言ってくださいます。

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Mr. Futagami inspecting the day’s batch of molten brass

 

… there is a certain sense of fulfillment when I take a piece of cast metal out of the mold

and it has taken on the form I imagined.

-Toshihiro Futagami

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The various steps in the making of Futagami brass products from sand casting a mold to revealing the finished product

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Precision pouring molten brass into sand casted molds

As the newest President of the company, what is your favorite aspect of your job?

TF: For me, there is both a management aspect, essentially running the company, and on-site work as a creator. Both have their rewards, and are things I need to do, but there is always a special sense of fulfillment when I take a piece of cast metal out of the mold and it has taken on the form I imagined it in.

仕事において、何が一番好きでしょうか?

TF: 私には、会社経営というマネージメントの仕事と、つくり手としての現場仕事の両方があります。両方ともやりがいがあり、私のやるべきことですが、鋳物を型から取り出した時に、イメージどおりの鋳肌になっていたときの充実感は格別です。

How many staff members comprise the Futagami company?

TF: Including me, there are twelve of us.

御社のスタッフは何人ですか?

TF: 自分をいれて12人です。

So, what does it take to work for Futagami?

TF: Being a fan of Futagami, and of Masanori Oji. Sharing our way of thinking and our value system in regards to craftsmanship. Being honest.

二上で働くためにどんな資格が必要となりますでしょうか?

TF: FUTAGAMIファンであり、大治ファンであること。 モノづくりに対する考え方や価値観を共有できること。 誠実であること。

Futagami has had a long presence in Toyoma. Can you describe Toyoma Prefecture to our readers?

TF: That it’s rich with nature, with both the mountains and the sea nearby. The water is clean, and the food delicious. There are four seasons in Japan, but I don’t think there’s another region in the country where the changing of the seasons can be so clearly felt.

富山県の何が一番好きですか?

TF: 海があって山があって、自然が豊か。水がきれい。食べ物がおいしい。 日本には四季がありますが、これほどはっきり季節の移り変わりを感じる地域は他にないと思います。

The food really is great! What is your favorite dish from the region?

TF: Basically, any dish that uses seasonal ingredients is going to taste good, but I like things that don’t mess around too much and utilize the ingredients themselves. Things like firefly squid sashimi, shabu-shabu, salt-broiled sweetfish, white shrimp sashimi, and seafood and vegetable tempura. It’s not an ingredient, but “yukari” shredded kelp rice balls are also good.

一番好きな地元の料理は何ですか?

TF: 基本的に、旬の食材を使った料理は、すべておいしいですが、 なるべく手を加えすぎない、素材そのものをいかしたものが好きです。 ホタルイカの刺身やしゃぶしゃぶ、稚鮎の塩焼き、白エビのさしみやかき揚げ。 料理ではありませんが、「ゆかり」の昆布おにぎりもいいです。

I assume you’re surrounded by beautiful brass objects daily. Which Futagami product do you use the most frequently?

TF: I think our bottle openers and trivets have now become classics. Among the bottle openers, I like the “Crescent Moon”, and among the trivets the “Galaxy”.

二上の製品の中で、最も使われる商品はなんでしょうか?

TF: 今や定番的になってきた「栓抜き」「鍋敷き」だと思います。 栓抜きの中でも「三日月」、鍋敷きでは、「銀河」。

What is the direction of Futagami in the future?

TF: From this point on, we intend to increase the lineup of the Futagami brand. We are also preparing to launch a new brand centered on architectural components, as the Futagami brand is a little insufficient (in that area). The introduction is planned for this year – we’re thinking not in Tokyo, but a flagship store too in our hometown. In keeping with that, as we have up to this point, we want to go on making items that will be thought of as necessary and will continue to be loved and used for a long time, not flash-in-the-pan items aimed at being smash hits.

二上の今後の活動やプロジェクトについて、見通しについて教えて下さい。

TF: 今後も、FUTAGAMIブランドのラインナップは増やしていくつもりです。 また、FUTAGAMIブランドでは少し手薄だった建築部材を中心にした新ブランドを立ち上げるための準備もしています。発表は、来年2月の予定です。 東京ではなく地元にフラッグシップショップをもつことも考えています。 共に、これまでどおりスマッシュヒットをねらったり面白びっくりなアイテムではなく、長く愛され使い続けられるもの、必然を感じられるものを作っていきたいと思っています。

Finally, what is the best advice you have ever received?

TF: I’m now 54 years old, but when it comes to important junctures or turning points in my life, I don’t have any particular recollections of advice I’ve received from people. Maybe it’s because I’ve always tried to find answers within myself. However, I think the most important thing – what you absolutely need to do – is to always keep a smile on your face, no matter the situation.

あなたがこれまでに受けた最高のアドバイスは何でしたでしょうか?

TF: 私は、現在54歳ですが、これまで人生の重要な節目や転機において、 人からアドバイスを受けたという記憶がありません。 いつも自分の中で答えを見つけ出そうとしていたからかもしれません。 しかし、いつも、どんな局面でも笑顔でいること、いられることが最も大切なことだと思っています。

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The specialty Futagami brass cauldron

 

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Sand casted molds waiting to set

 

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Mr. Futagami supervising the setting molds

 

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Inspecting and polishing objects

 

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A collection of traditional alter objects

 

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Futagami staff carefully polishing a ‘Star’ trivet

 

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Mr. Futagami releasing a fully set object from its mold

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A Futagami brass ‘Myojo’ pendant lamp is revealed from the sand casted mold

Backstory Credits: Photos and Words by Angélique Chmielewski and Stevenson Aung, Translation by Greg Lekich, Special thanks to Matsuo Takuya