Journey to Japan – Part 2


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.


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! 


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. 


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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. 


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!


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. 


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. 


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. 


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.


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.


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


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. 


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.


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. 


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. 


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


 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!


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.


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… 


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. 


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.


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!


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


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.

Written by Angélique Chmielewski

Angélique Chmielewski

July 09, 2014

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