Typically it takes us awhile to get a Journal recap up about our trips to Japan but this time we made it a point to post quicker than usual. This trip was incredible and we wanted to share while the feeling was fresh. Japan has a way of transforming our pace of life, one that is drastically different from our lifestyles in New York. Value systems differ, traditions are adhered to, and time seems to slow down. It’s this combination that keeps the country, at least for us, novel enough to remain curious about what it has to offer even after all these years of traveling there.
We started the trip with a visit to glass artist Kazumi Tsuji of Factory Zoomer in Kanazawa. We’ll be having a Factory Zoomer exhibition this coming May during New York design week so we wanted to discuss details and finalize our collaboration with her beforehand.
From beginning to end Tsuji-san led the way with her upbeat energy. She has a rare outgoing personality in a culture that is often reserved. We first met Tsuji-san when she came to visit our gallery in New York so it was nice that on this occasion we had the chance to meet up with her on her own turf.
As the founder of renowned glass making studio, Factory Zoomer, Tsuji-san is a busy woman. In 2010 she also became the chief director of the Seikatsu Kogei project – a movement that started in Kanazawa with the aim of getting users and creators (or viewers and artists) to think of the importance of the existence of objects in our daily lives. A concept we have always innately used to assess products we carry in our store but only now are able to grasp in words with the help of artisans such as Tsuji-san who are exploring this fairly new realm of “lifestyle crafts”. It’s a big topic to tackle but we’ll share our insights in our Journal as we go.
Tsuji-san predominantly divides her time between three spaces – her glassmaking studio, the Factory Zoomer Shop and the Factory Zoomer Gallery. She also brought us to a couple of her go-to spots outside of “work” and considering all the great places she frequents, it was clear that she knows her way around the city. Right off the bat she brought us to a super good sushi spot for lunch called Reki Reki. We all satisfied our cravings for sashimi with fresh tuna, uni, and mackerel and while we were at it couldn’t resist some afternoon sake. The sushi counter is right at the front entrance of the famous Omi-cho fish market so it really doesn’t get fresher than that!
Tsuji-san is as much of a coffee fiend as us, something we realized when she mentioned she hadn’t had her morning coffee fix yet and ushered us into her fave café, Higashide Coffee. She’s the type that feels like a longtime friend – incredibly open and within five minutes she’s telling us her life story… about her first glass mentor Narcissus Quagliata, her University days in California, about successes, setbacks, and even her early dreams of working for Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons. She says it all with a laugh, never taking herself too seriously. As one of Japan’s most acclaimed artisans, its quite amazing that she has next to no ego.
While we were there she and her staff were preparing for a textile exhibition entitled Light Years. She also displays the works of renowned artisans such as Ryuji Mitani and Masanobu Ando, her good friends that we also had the chance to visit during this trip… we’ll get around to posting about those visits in the coming weeks.
When we mentioned that the first Factory Zoomer piece we acquired for our personal collection was a small glass bowl with tiny polka dots on it’s surface, Tsuji-san immediately packed up a nice little set of similar pieces for us as a gift. To this day the bowl is still one of our favourites for small snacks like dried fruits, so we were so happy to finally add to our collection. We’ll definitely have pieces from this series during the exhibition in May.
We’ve always liked how intimate the shop feels. Sometimes someone is even there to serve you coffee from a small counter. You can then sit back and enjoy it at a small table near the front of the store and feel right at home. We thought the sink Tsuji-san made for the bathroom also added to the intimate atmosphere. When something as commonplace as a bathroom sink is custom handmade, it feels like a lot of affection went into the environment’s creation.
Afterwards, we drove to the next location, the Factory Zoomer glass atelier. It was glass blowing demonstration time. I especially liked seeing Tsuji-san in this setting where she was totally in her element. She looked so comfortable and took command, all the while remaining in control when blowing glass fresh out of 1200 degree furnace temperatures.
Tsuji-san along with her small group of skilled, seasoned staff creates all the pieces by hand. They are well trained in a variety of glass making techniques to accomplish different forms and surface treatments.
After the demonstration we all went to a small building beside the workshop that acted as an office and library. There she explained that her brand is called Factory Zoomer because an ex boyfriend had shortened her first name, Kazumi, to ‘Zoom’ since she was always speedy and on the go.
Near the end of the studio tour while the crew was chatting with Tsuji-san and her staff was working away, I stole a moment for myself to take in the stunning view that surrounds the studio. It overlooks a grape vineyard and by night the gnarled branches look straight out of a surreal Van Gogh painting. In that moment I realized that as much as we try, it’s nearly impossible to grasp the full scope of an artists’ works and thoughts as an outsider looking in. Even after witnessing an artisan like Tsuji-san’s complete operations in person, I felt like her life’s work was so vast and ever changing that it would take years of research and interviews with her to understand the full context. The closest connection we have is maybe to simply own a piece of hers in our homes. In that way something like a cup, bowl or plate slowly becomes a part of our own lives, and eventually gains in beauty. This thought is to some extent the meaning of Seikatsu Kogei – as much as an object may appeal to us as a beautiful work of art, the intent of an artist such as Tsuji-san is for it to be used and appreciated as a functional household object.
One thing’s for sure, for individuals as accomplished as Tsuji-san, it will take more than one studio visit to understand the breadth of her work as a glass artist. Consider this as just the beginning. We’ve only skimmed the surface.
After the enlightening tour we had to take it down a notch in intensity with a good ol’ meal and chatter. Tsuji-san brings us through a labyrinth of narrow twisting streets. We finally arrive at a soba restaurant called Kyomi Kai.
A couple operates the place so of course Steve and I instantly like it. It’s just the two of them – the husband makes seasonal dishes from homemade soba flour while the wife works the front end with the best hospitality we’ve ever seen! The couple was so kind and each dish highlighted a special seasonal ingredient alongside unusual soba preparations.
That’s it! That was our unforgettable day with Tsuji-san. It was made even more memorable because of the awesome people we got to share it with. We actually rolled to Japan this time as a bigger team with the accompaniment of Armando Rafael, one of our talented photographers, and Aya Nihei, one of our talented contributors! You’ll be seeing a lot more of them in our upcoming Journal entries.
If you’re in New York in May, come meet Tsuji-san at our exhibition, she is such a brilliant force.
Special thanks to Kazumi Tsuji and her team for their time.
Photography: Armando Rafael