Journey to Japan – Part 1


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.


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!


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.


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. 


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!


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!


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.


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! 


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!


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.


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


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.  


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


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.


During a Q&A session with Mr. Futagami, we learned 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. 


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. 


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!


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. 


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.

Written by Angélique Chmielewski

Angélique Chmielewski

June 21, 2014

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