Traces of Japan


I recently made a trip to Japan to visit a few craftsmen and catch up on a couple projects we have in the works for Nalata Nalata.


When I landed in Tokyo, I headed straight for the Te Te Te exhibition. The show was held at the Tolot Shinonome building, home to a contemporary art gallery and the perfect setting to showcase a variety of contempoary homeware brands. 


At the show I ran into Taku and Oji Masanori who we had just hosted in NYC a couple weeks prior for the KUMU exhibition. I also got to see our friends at 10¹² Terra who had their new Showcase Long collection on display and also saw Yamazaki Yoshiki of RetRe, who was showing his new line of metal dinnerware products called Onami – Both collections which we currently have in-store. 


The entire Daiyo candle collection was displayed and I met several makers that we’re big fans of, including Katsuhisa and Mizuho Hira, the husband and wife team behind Studio Prepa. We can’t wait to bring their new glass teapots to the shop!


After the show, Taku offered to take me to a Nabe hot pot style dinner. All the familiar faces came along including Mr. FutagamiDaisuke Tsumanuma, Naoto Yoshida, Oji Masanori, Hajime Imamura and Yoshiki Yamazaki. I’ve been keen to try a traditional one in Japan and was lucky enough to try it in the Ryogoku district of Tokyo, also known as the Sumo Wrestling district, where the best hearty Nabe style cooking is found.


The meal lived up to the expectation and I’m now an even bigger fan of this kind of cooking and already have a few recipes Angy and I will be experimenting with using our clay donabes.


The next day I had a quick lunch with Arthur and Shane over at HAVEN who happened to be in Japan on a buying trip. Arthur travels to Tokyo frequently and knows the city like the back of his hand so when he said he frequents a place called Tonkatsu Maisen that has the best panko crusted pork cutlets… I had to try it! It was amazing and I highly recommend it if you’re ever in the Aoyoma neighborhood.


Afterwards, I hopped on the next train to Kyoto.


It was great catching up with Michael, Koichiro and Nanako from Takaokaya. 


They were gracious enough to come in on the weekend for our meeting, which felt like a super special private tour of their quiet, and still factory on a Saturday morning. 


On our last trip to Japan, we began brainstorming ideas for our handmade Denim Ojami collection and have since launched the exclusive cushions on our website and in-store. We can’t wait to share the next project we have in the works with the Takaokaya team!


I had some free time in Kyoto, which gave me the opportunity to check out the Kennin-ji garden.


The temple is striking with raked sand, beautiful interiors and precise bonsai integration.


Afterwards I headed over to one of my favorite spots in Kyoto, Gallery Yamahon, where I discovered beautiful works by ceramic artist, Masaomi Yasunaga. 


The raw edges and naturally distorted shapes of the ceramic pieces were really beautiful to see in person.


I also had time to visit a couple new spots. Kitone is a store and gallery in a small house with a cozy café in the back. It’s packed with a mix of craft and vintage goods, fabrics and food items.


On the outskirts of Kyoto is the Bolts Hardware store owned by Masaya Asahi. Well worth the hike if you’re in the market for hardware and useful everyday tools. 


Efish is an oldie but a goodie… A nice café to checkout that overlooks the Kyoto river. It also has a small but well curated selection of products. It’s one of our go-to spots for a coffee before jumpstarting the day. 


The last day in Kyoto I paid a visit to Shinichi Takeuchi at Jusan-Ya where he showed me the company’s extraordinary comb making process. Each tooth is carved by hand!! I’m in awe every time I visit and see their collection of boxwood combs.


That evening, Michael brought me to an amazing covert yakitori restaurant. It’s so secret that I don’t even know the name (although that’s the façade pictured above). 


Over beers we had a ton of dishes including toriwasa (raw chicken!) and namatamago (raw egg yolk in it’s membrane). Sorry to send anyone reading this on a wild goose chase but this place is unlike any yakitori restaurant I’ve tried and is definitely worth hunting down! Maybe Michael can give you this ultra classified information!! He’s also a great source for the Kyoto food scene in general. Check out his blog Kyoto Foodie


New day new city. On my way to Kanazawa I had a harsh reality check that I was headed to the cold north as the train ripped through a whiteout skyline. 


I welcomed in the colder climate as it let me explore the country in another light. Kenroku-en garden was an example as most people visit when the flowers are in full bloom but winter was nice in another way. I found it fascinating and will be posting more photos in a separate Journal entry but wanted to share a couple images in the meantime. I loved how the trees were held up with bamboo posts and ropes to support the branches from snowfalls, something that seemed unique to this garden.  


I took in the beauty, made a snowman and snowlady of Angy and I, and headed to the museum.


Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, the same architects who designed the New Museum in NYC around the corner from our shop, designed the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa. It has a circular glass façade so you’re always looking outside as you walk through the museum. 


There was also a Turrell piece called Blue Planet Sky


I was primarily interested in the museum architecture. In general, the space was beautifully designed and had unique spaces for lounging and study. I especially liked the low pile carpets with white furniture.


I also made a pit stop to the Nagamachi District of Kanazawa, known as the samurai district. The earthen walls are patched up with straw in the winter months to protect the homes where the samurai and their families would formerly reside. 



Amidst the winding alleys is the Noruma Samurai House, the restored residence of a high-ranking samurai family. 


The house seamlessly combines inside and outside elements by incorporating sliding door panels, natural stone floors, a garden with ancient trees and a stream. The idea of being able to walk through the house while looking outside at the beautiful scenery was inspiring.


The following day I met with Noriyasu and our friends at Gloini, a great shop for antiques and home furnishings…


Between meetings I dropped by a lifestyle store called Factory Zoomer, on the bank of Kanazawa River. Run by Kazumi Tsuji, it’s in a small and charming building divided into a shop at the front and living quarters. It offers a wonderful selection of glassworks, and custom ceramic pieces.


From Kanazawa, I made a long trek South to Arita to visit the Jicon kiln. This was a much-anticipated visit as I was able to see firsthand the process behind some of our favorite tableware pieces. Meeting Hajime Imamura (above) and his wife Maki Imamura was such an honour and a highlight of the trip! We’ll be sharing another post soon where we delve a little deeper into Jicon’s history and their process. Stay tuned! 

To read more about some of our previous trips to Japan…

Journey to Japan, Part 1
Journey to Japan, Part 2
Hokkaido Artisans and Designers

Written by Stevenson Aung

Stevenson Aung

March 08, 2015

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