By Japan: The Best In Japanese Craftsmanship For Your Home
Japan is often perceived as a magical arbiter of good taste. Ask any architect, foodie, fashion designer or menswear obsessive which part of the world they seek inspiration from and Japan is likely to be near the top of the list. Buzzwords such as wabi-sabi and ikigai might be used by westerners to sell arty self-help books, but the reason they resonate in the first place is because Japan does certain things very well and the rest of us understandably want a piece of it. The country’s potent cultural identity means that from omakase to Okayama Denim, Tekken to Toyota, Japanese exports represent the best in nearly every field. It’s also why, as well as Italian and American brands on MR PORTER, you’ll find that no small part of our offering showcases a wealth of Japanese design talent.
All of which brings us to By Japan, a project that showcases some of the most special, authentic and original Japanese craftsmanship from the most talented (and often underrated) artisans in Japan. From a century-old glassware company in Tokyo to sake cups carved from hinoki wood in Tokushima, allow us to introduce you to five of them.
Founded by Mr Kinta Hirota in Tokyo in 1899, Hirota Glass specialises in the art of edo kiriko, which means glass cutting. “In order to become an edo kiriko craftsman, there are no schools, so you need to learn on the job,” says Mr Tatsuo Hirota, a descendant of Mr Kinta Hirota. “It is said that it would take about 10 years minimum to learn even the basics.” Japan’s glassmaking industry may have taken inspiration from skills that originated in Europe, but Hirota’s craft is rooted in Japanese sensibility. Mr Hirota mentions Mr Jun’Ichiro Tanizaki’s seminal essay on aesthetics, “In Praise Of Shadows”, as an enduring inspiration for his company’s work and notes how the light and shade that plays on the glass is as important as its function.
“In Japan, wood is a treasured material, as you see in shrine and temple construction,” says 639’s Mr Toshifumi Momose, whose tableware is crafted in Shizuoka Prefecture from exquisite hinoki wood. “What I do and make is an extension of that – an appreciation of the materials that can be used for as long possible. Each wood has its own characteristics and they can change their faces over time.” Mr Momose studied under a traditional Japanese carpenter for 10 years as an apprentice. By using a lathe to shave and plane the wood, 639’s hinoki plates and bowls have what he calls “beautiful curved lines and sharp straight lines that show off the texture and grains, so that you can feel some softness of the wood”.
Jusengama is a family business that specialises in making tea and sake vessels as well as kappo tableware. “Japanese tableware, of course, is designed for food and drink, but at the same time it needs to have an element of elegance,” says master potter Mr Hiroyasu Ando. “My focus is to make tableware that is very much part of dishes created by chefs and which can be enjoyed purely by looking at them.” Ando uses raw materials such as feldspar, silicastone, zinc and limestone, but each piece is unique, thanks to a delicate glazing process he has perfected over the years where he mixes different glazes and adjusts the temperature of the kiln.
Based in Aichi Prefecture in northern Japan, a place known for its history in porcelain craft, Ceramic Japan has been around since 1973. “All our craftsmen learn their basics at a vocational school in Seto city,” says Mr Masayuki Ohashi, the company’s CEO. “Then they polish their skills as apprentices by watching and learning on the job.” By using a technique called slip casting, the ceramicists at Ceramic Japan are able to create unusual shapes that aren’t possible on a wheel, such as the crinkled vases that have the appearance of paper. “Japanese craftsmanship is developed by adjusting to the ways of life and customs of each region,” says Ohashi. “So we are proud to pass on those skills and techniques because it means we can carry on those traditions through ceramics.”
Based in Tokushima prefecture, the source of Japan’s indigo industry, AOLA specialises in dyed wood. It starts by selecting trees that are harvested locally and transforms them into exquisite wooden trays and sake sets that take on a unique patina as they age. “Our techniques and skills are very much rooted in our local culture and history,” says AOLA’s Mr Toshiro Kohama. “All our materials are locally sourced and our craftsmen are local guys.” Using traditional local techniques and skills passed down through the generations, the dyeing process is managed entirely by hand and uses natural ingredients to achieve the distinct midnight indigo hue, through which the grain of the cedarwood is still visible.