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Our annual cycle of trips to Japan begins around this time of year. This time it kicked off to a great start with some special new projects we have in the works, namely a publication set to launch next year. So for the first part of the trip, our friend and photographer Matthew Johnson was my right hand man. This meant a ton of back-to-back visits with craftsmen, designers, manufacturers and a lot of beautiful images from those visits. Basically each day played out in a different city. Without further ado, let’s begin with day 1… out of 18!

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On our first morning in Tokyo, we walked around the historic Asakusa district on our way to Ryo Kashiwazaki’s Hender Scheme headquarters to check out his latest in leather products. His collection grows every time we visit, adding new home good items and new styles to his signature Manual Industrial footwear line. 

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We also got a chance to see the progress of his showroom on the main floor coming along nicely. Ryo added a beautiful rotating wood lined door to the front of his building. The frame is made of wood with a facade constructed from plexiglass panes. He pointed out the small leather swatches that act as washers to secure the frame of the door. With this addition of leather ‘hardware’, Ryo just proved that leather also has a place in architecture. 

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After taking in views of Asakusa from their rooftop, we all head off for soba noodles and call it quits for the night. Jet lag at any age is rough.

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The following day we take off to another prefecture, first landing in Kanazawa to meet our friend Noriyasu. You may remember him from previous trips as one half of Gloini, a specialty antiques home goods store that he runs with his wife. A wonderful, well-curated store. Noriyasu always has the best recommendations so of course we let him lead the charge through one of our favorite Japanese cities.

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Matt takes in the sights and captures beautiful photographs of the town – ‘yukitsuri’ trees, the old samurai district, Kanazawa Castle and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. We’ll be sharing more from his lens in the coming months. Stay tuned for his awesome photos!

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Meanwhile, I paid a visit to Momentum Orii. This is a manufacturer best known in the region for their metal finishes applied onto municipal monuments and statues. The owner, Koji Orii, was kind enough to take me on a tour of the factory and demonstrate some of the unique patinas the company is renowned for achieving.

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The different patinas are created through a combination of surface treatments like heat and acid corrosion. Depending on the base metal, each alloy produces a different result, giving each piece a one of a kind appearance. We are just beginning to understand the process but needless to say, we feel there is a lot of opportunities to explore these finishes within the realm of product design and we are incredibly happy to begin a working partnership with Momentum Orii. Can’t wait to see our latest designs “finished”!

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The following day, Noriyasu also accompanies me to Ono city to visit our mutual friend, Daisuke Tajika, at the Tajika scissor studio. It’s been about two years since our last visit, so it’s refreshing to visit a family that works so closely together. 

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On this particular occasion, we take an in-depth tour, gaining more and more insights about their evolving company and checking out their latest scissor designs. We are planning an exhibition with the Tajika family in October, so you’ll be able to see their entire collection of specialty scissors very soon at our gallery, including a special pair they are making just for Nalata Nalata. 

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What struck me most on this visit was learning how Daisuke’s father had actually constructed most of the machines that they use to make their specialty shears. It’s amazing to think that he not only makes their product line by hand, but also the machines to make the products by hand! Like an Edison reincarnate, creating one of a kind gadgets and tools in order to achieve the perfect shapes and blades in metal.

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Daisuke’s Mom said her goodbyes as she sent the boys off for gyoza and noodles around the corner from their factory at a neighborhood ramen bar.

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Onwards to Niigata prefecture to visit Takashi Tomii – a much-anticipated visit considering how memorable our last visit was to his former studio. Takashi recently moved to Nagaoka. He has been corresponding with Angy and I over the past couple years, updating us with developments of his new works. It was one thing to hear stories of his life long distance and another to witness them in person. His three kids greeted us as we visit his new studio and home – too cute! We still remember the day Takashi announced the birth of his youngest baby to us and can’t believe how big she has grown since.

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His family prepares a light snack for us before we depart and we get a chance to use a deep red urushi lacquered version of the Kikuchichi spoon, designed for eating yogurt. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that Takashi drinks from a familiar item, the Jicon Facet Rock Cup designed by Oji Masanori. 

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Takashi’s new studio is so peaceful. We love how his home neighbors his woodshop so he is able to be with his wife, children and Momo the dog (a.k.a. Matt’s spirit animal) throughout the day.

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In the evening Takashi drives us to catch our train giving us an opportunity to take in the surroundings on a hazy day.

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Our next visit was a big one as it always is at the Futagami headquarters! With our involvement with their latest architectural hardware collection, MATUREWARE, set to release internationally on May 11th during NYCxDesign week at our gallery, we had a lot to discuss. To ease into the big meeting, we arrive the night before and catch up over some Japanese whiskeys at what is quickly becoming our favorite spot in Takaoka city, “PM Bar 7:30”.

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Morning comes and Taku (a very familiar face in our Journal) brings us to the Syouryu metal workshop before heading to Futagami. While we visit them there’s a film crew present and they end up interviewing me on Japanese T.V.

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Eventually everyone gathers at Mr. Futagami’s namesake foundry, including Yamazaki Yoshiki, the designer of MATUREWARE to show us the newest additions to their architectural hardware line. An example of a shelf bracket is pictured above.

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I was thrilled to receive a special gift for our company from Mr. Futagami, a name plaque with our official hand-written logo. It also provides a nice example of the embossed and debossed customizable name plaques that are available from the new MATUREWARE collection.

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After we discuss the upcoming MATUREWARE exhibition at Nalata Nalata, we take a break for lunch at Says Farm located in the Himi woodlands. Says Farm is at once a winery, restaurant and cottage where you can stay over night. The property is so inspirational we will post a separate Journal entry specifically for this visit in the near future.

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As the sun sets and we make our way back into the city, Mr. Futagami and his team begin their daily ‘pour’ and we’re lucky enough to witness the magic of sand casted brass for the second time around.

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It’s amazing every time and was special to see an owner of a company still so involved in the day-to-day operations.

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After our visit we make our way to Kyoto and check in to The Moyashi House – a beautiful townhouse where we had been invited to stay during our time in Kyoto. Incredible place to say the least. More on the Kyoto Moyashi House and Part II of our trip coming soon!