Monozukuri refers to Japanese craftsmanship where the emphasis is placed on the object that is made and the process of making it. In Western civilizations,craftsmanship often focuses on the creator and his or her acquired skills. Craftsmen spend lifetimes learning the art of their trade before eventually becoming mastersand the attention to fine details rather than ostentatious aesthetics is valued and appreciated. Traditions and modern culture at first seem at odds with each other incontemporary Japan. On closer inspection however, cultural codes and practices can be seen as part and parcel of everyday life and in that sense traditions becomeintertwined with modern developments, to reveal a thoroughly unique outlook and experience.
A Living National Treasure is a term given to Japanese creators of important, intangible cultural properties. These individuals have attained mastery in certainrecognizable skills. Korehira Watanabe is one of Japan!s last remaining sword smiths and has been honing his craft for 40 years. He aims to pass on the soul andtraditions of the Japanese people through this particular medium. Since 1816, Gyokusendo has been producing hand-hammered copperware using the Japanesetechnique of tsuiki and this tradition is now known nationwide. Gyokusendo recently presented a collection of historic and contemporary pieces at Tokyo Designer!sWeek. Copperware designer, Ken Okuyama was invited to design a collection for the company and he believes that creation is born when humans harmonize withtools and goods. Tajika Haruo is an ironworks that has been handcrafting scissors for four generations. The curvilinear shapes are ergonomically pleasant to the handand age beautifully over time.
Sushi is an integral part of Japanese culture, known and recognized the world over. Jiro is one of Tokyo!s most prominent seafood chefs with decades devoted to thisunique cuisine. Now in his eighties, the sushi maestro still meditates on how he could improve his dishes and values the importance of consistent innovation. Proprietorof Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant in Tokyo, he is recognized as the best sushi chef in the world. He considers every aspect from the raw ingredients to the preparationand presentation, while rigorously training his employees to ensure this craft will continue into the future. His attention to detail means he insists on octopus beingmassaged for 40-50 minutes and requires his chefs to work for 10 years before being allowed to cook his signature egg sushi. This level of craftsmanship and precisionis rare. Horitoku is a tebori tattoo master, one of the few remaining artists who tattoos by hand. The traditional motifs, colors and styles may be lost if thiscraftsmanship is not nurtured and continued for future generations.
Gucci!s craft traditions represent a respected level of heritage and skill. Know-how is being highlighted in Japan through the HAND blog where Gucci focuses onJapanese monozukuri roots and living cultural treasures. This sentiment resonates in a country where passing down skills through generations is highly valued.Contemporary craft retailer, Analogue Life, exhibited a selection of Yoshiyuki Kato!s woodworks as an example of handmade Japanese crafts. Trained originally as ashrine carpenter, Kato!s current geometric wood-works pay tribute to these Japanese traditions. Film series, Spirit and Skill, was collated by Zibasan Hyogo andshowcases a range of typical Japanese crafts like pottery, along with the production of candles, socks and leather. This concentration on craft is integral to Japaneseculture along with the safeguarding of heritage for future generations.
The Japan Creative initiative has been developed to promote and rediscover the tradition-oriented skills of the Japanese in today!s modern society. By working acrossa wide variety of fields from lighting to furniture and ceramics to technology, the project aims to provide a new perspective on Japanese design. During Milan DesignWeek 2012, an exhibition called Simple Vision was presented to express Japan!s craftsmanship in a contemporary context. Koubei-Gama collaborated with IngaSempé on a family of ceramic containers. Paul Cocksedge partnered with Pioneer Electronics to create a graceful wall clock that embraces Japan!s culture ofabundant light. British designer Jasper Morrison worked with Oigen!s craft heritage to develop a series of cast-iron products that are in harmony with modern life. Theteakettle represents the merger of function and ergonomics and reflects traditional manufacturing techniques.
Nendo has created a quirky new product for the Cupnoodles Museum in Yokohama, Japan. Revealed at Milan Design Week this year, the Cupnoodle Urushiintroduces visitors to Cup Noodle!s history and production methods. Lacquerware artisans were invited to paint directly onto ordinary packaging containers, tocombine the concepts of disposability with traditional craftsmanship in an effort to re-establish new contemporary values. Max Lamb was also inspired by typicalurushi lacquer to create a bench and stool from cleft chestnut. The furniture pieces were lacquered in the iconic black liquid, which acts in contrast to the rough-hewn finish of the forms.
Kamidechoemon was founded in 1879 in Ishikawa, Japan and is recognized as a manufacturer of Kutani pottery. In 2010, the heritage company took the boldstep of collaborating with Spanish designer Jaime Hayon. Hayon!s quirky motifs are hand painted onto precisely shaped ceramic vessels to merge traditionaltechniques with contemporary aesthetics. The levels of skill, consideration for intricacy and a less-is-more approach are essential to this design style. Someproducts from this project are currently exhibited at the museum store of the National Art Center, Tokyo.
Although Tokyo remains the undisputed economic hub of Japan, Kyoto is rising as a center of craft and innovation. The city is synonymous with traditions that haveremained unchanged for centuries and retains a need to pass these to future generations. Designers, architects and artists are setting up in Kyoto, partly due to a richheritage of craftsmanship and a slower-paced lifestyle. Kyoto also boasts 37 universities including the Kyoto University of Art and Design. The idea of modernizingtraditions is echoed by Teruhiro Yanagihara!s new label. The Bespoke line sees Yanagihara work with Japanese artisans to develop contemporary designs. DesignerSosuke Nakabo is also based in Kyoto, having spent time in Osaka, Tokyo and London. Nakabo realized the advantages of living in Kyoto while remaining connectedto the rest of the world via the Internet. Kohei Nawa set up the Sandwich creative collective to work with a team on a range of projects from hotel interiors tointernational art exhibitions.
Washi paper has been in use since the 16th century and is made from tree bark washed in ice-cold water to shrink the fibers and strengthen it. Kyoto-based ErikoHoriki evolves ancient techniques by mixing transparent plastic resin into the compound to develop structures. For Baccarat, she created an exquisite chandelier usingcrystals and washi paper. Jacob Hashimoto also makes abstract landscapes using kites as raw materials. The site-specific installations play with layers and lighting togenerate an ethereal effect. Michihiro Sato is a jewelry artist who uses fragility as a theme in his work. His pieces pair weighty brass with paper to delicately mimicbudding flowers. Buddhist teachings also inspire his work, and he interprets these in a refined and thoughtful manner.
Traditional kimono dress is evolving to merge with contemporary fashion. Mamechiyo treats kimonos like modern landscapes where Eastern and Western worldscollide. She also contributed her illustrations to the packaging for a range by Shu Uemura. Hiroyuki Horihata and Makiko Sekiguchi have created the Matohu line,taking cue from traditional Japanese garb. They themselves wear kimonos at the weekends and translate the feeling into modern designs. Hiromi Asai is a New York-based kimono fashion stylist. She recently produced the kimono workshop called Kimono Catwalk at the Museum of World Culture in Sweden. Third generationkimono designer, Jotaro Saito unveiled his Futurism collection with aims to give traditional Japanese dress a modern twist. Classic obi belts and sandals mixed withcontemporary drapery and prints to merge the new with the classic - a theme often echoed throughout Japanese design.
The iconic Japanese brand, Visvim, is recognized for its superior quality and authenticity. For the 10th anniversary collection, the founder, Hiroki Nakamura presentedthe S/S 12 line called Japanism. The collection pays homage to Japanese design, using traditional techniques of Japanese craft along with natural materials and dyes.Nakamura seeks to connect with international customers without losing the rich craft heritage inherent in Japan. Satoshi Suzuki is the founder of Japanese brandLoopwheeler, which makes cotton sweatshirts, T-shirts and cardigans. Everything is designed in-house and made on a loop-wheel circular knitting machine that onlyproduces one meter of fabric an hour. Loopwheeler was launched in 1999 to save the old know-how of making sweatshirts in Japan. Loopwheeler uses the best threadwhile the cut is examined with precision, to ensure a contemporary look and fit. This model cannot satisfy the mass-market but does appeal to the niche consumer whoappreciates the safeguarding of heritage practices.
Japanese brand Edwin has released a short film that goes behind the scenes of denim production. The film conveys the concept of crafted clothing, with artisanalprinciples and attention to detail. It also evokes the emphasis on hard work and everyday people who make their living from denim manufacturing. This narrativewelcomes the consumer into the very fundamental elements of the brand. Likewise 45rpm focuses on the human connection between the brand and its customers. Thecompany is inspired by the Japanese concept of mottainai, which roughly translate as reduce, reuse, recycle. 45rpm uses Ai-dyed fabrics using natural plant dyes,along with khadi fabrics and black indigo dyes. Kapital clothing is a renowned institute in Japan. The denim label is known to be secretive and is rarely stocked outsidethe Japanese stores. Sashiko quilted Japanese fabrics are integral to the brand!s output.
The Neo-Nihonga movement refers to the New Japanese Style, which takes its name from the 17th and 18th century movement of the same name. Several artists arereviving traditional Japanese aesthetics as a backlash against the influx of Western culture. Akira Yamaguchi is one such artist who refers to ancient Japanese paintings.His dense illustrations blend ancient styles with a futuristic vision of the world. Tenmyouya Hisashi is one of the rising stars of the contemporary art scene, and his work is ahybrid of traditional Japanese art and street culture. He mixes motifs from subculture genres, referencing animé, gangs, graffiti and sports to create an eclectic blend. AiYamaguchi uses young apprentices from the Edo Era as her subject matter, yet they are drawn with influences of animé and manga. Kumi Machida is one of the mostacknowledged artists of the Neo-Nihonga movement for her merger of traditional Japanese techniques with contemporary iconography.
Vicky Tsai became intrigued by flawless beauty and looked to geishas, both 19th century and modern day, in the search for perfection. She began with oil-absorbing blotting sheets called Aburatorigami and traveled to Japan to research the meticulously protected geisha art form. The gold leaf speckled papers becamethe first product of her company, Tatcha. Tsai!s latest range is a four-product skincare line based on active ingredients like rice bran oil, red algae and camellia,which she found featured in a 200-year old Japanese book, detailing the secrets of geisha skincare. Tatcha products are loaded with nourishing benefits from selectingredients harvested in Japan.