Echizen Washi Village

the JR Johana Line

the JR Johana Line

Belles montagnes et mer  the JR Johana Line

The JR Johana Line in Toyama and the poster for the Belles montagnes et mer sightseeing train

 

When foreign visitors think of Japanese railway, the first thing they think of is likely to be the sleek Bullet train/ Shinkansen. As much as I appreciate them, I have a particular soft spot for the slower retro 2-carriage local trains that go through small village stations. These trains and stations are old-school and delightful, and often carrying very few passengers. In Toyama prefecture, I took the JR Johana line which originally started in 1897 by the Chūetsu Railway, but now it is run by JR West. Although the journey was not long, it was lovely nonetheless, and it made me want to take more local train journeys around Japan in the future.

 

ekiben

Japanese train  ekiben

Japanese train station poster

Top two rows: Shinkansen & ekiben for the journey; Bottom row: poster warning passengers not to text while walking at the train stations (we need them in every country!)

 

Another thing I love about rail travel in Japan is the amazing ekiben (station box lunch) that are sold at the train stations. Usually these lunch boxes consist of local produce and specialties that are unique to that region, and so every station would offer something different.

Even more surprising was when I encountered a contemporary craft gallery inside a train station… during my transit at the Takaoka station, I came across Monono-Fu Gallery, where they exhibit and sell exquisite crafts that are made locally. I even noticed the Honeycomb tin basket from our shop; it was good to be able to locate its origin in person. Aside from metal works, the region also produces wood products, washi paper goods and ceramics etc – it is a fantastic idea to promote the local crafts and perhaps more stations should follow suit.

 

gallery monono-fu  gallery monono-fu

gallery monono-fu

gallery monono-fu

gallery monono-fu

Locally-made crafts are promoted and sold at the Monono-Fu Gallery inside the Takaoka train station

 

Although Mino is famous for its washi paper (due to its status as the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage), it is Echizen in the Fukui Prefecture that has the highest production of washi paper in Japan. The history of washi paper-making in this region dates back to 1500 years ago, and currently there are 70 washi industries in Echizen, mostly family-run businesses, employing around 500 people in the Imadate area called Goka, which includes five villages of the town, Oizu, Iwamoto, Shinzaike, Sadatomo and Otaki. These villages have been producing Japanese paper since 6th century and constitute “Echizen Washi no Sato“. Every spring, there is a Kami festival in Washi-no-Sato that celebrates the paper goddess, Kawa-Kami Gozen and the two local gods at the Okamoto Otaki Shrine.

After learning about the Echizen washi village in Takefu (a small town which is part of the Echizen City), I went online to find out more and on how to reach it. However, I learnt that getting there is no easy task without a car, and I could not find any accommodation nearby either. Eventually I contacted Katz, a local photographer whose contact is on the official website and he kindly assisted me with the accommodation and travel itinerary.

 

echizen

echizen

echizen

A miserable day in Takefu

 

Aside from washi paper, Takefu is also known for its 700-year old knife-making industry and its knife village. I was rather unlucky when I arrived at Takefu, because the scheduled bus didn’t show up at the train station (the third time during my trip), and I had to contact Katz for assistance. Then it was raining cats and dogs by the time I reached the washi village and it didn’t stop until the next morning.

Unlike most of the cities/ towns I visited previously, I saw no foreign tourists, shops, cafes, restaurants nor pedestrians as I was walked towards the washi village. All I saw were residential houses, warehouses, factories and small agricultural fields – it felt very suburban. This town is unlike any towns that I have visited before, and it was quite a shock for me as I was expecting to see a charming town like Arimatsu or Mino. Yet this is the other side of Japan, a side that perhaps not many tourists get to see.

 

echizen washi village

Paper & Culture Museum echizen washi village

Paper & Culture Museum echizen washi village

Paper & Culture Museum

 

There are several buildings in the Washi Village, and one of them is the Paper & Culture Museum. The museum displays ancient documents showing the history and origins of Echizen Japanese paper, but there is little English explanation (probably because there are few foreign visitors here). I think this museum is less interesting than the other two venues in the village, and I didn’t linger for too long. However, there is a washi paper library at the back that displays a variety of washi paper samples, which is worth seeing.

 

Papyrus House echizen washi village

echizen washi village Papyrus House

echizen washi village  echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village  echizen washi village

Washi paper-making workshop at the Papyrus House

 

At the Papyrus House, there is a paper souvenir shop and an area where visitors can try out some washi paper-making which lasts about 20 minutes. I decided to have a go at it and did manage to make a few pieces to bring home.

 

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

A washi paper and stationery shop in the washi village

 

Out of three venues, my favourite was the Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum. Unlike the two other new buildings, this museum is situated inside a former paper maker’s house from the Edo period (1748) , which was later dismantled and reconstructed on this site.

The most fascinating part of the museum is that visitors can watch the process of washi paper making by paper artisans using traditional tools. Unfortunately, I had missed the last session of the Japanese traditional papermaking workshop, but being the only visitor there, I was able to watch the artisan closely while she was working.

 

echizen washi village Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village  echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village  echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum

 

There is also an exhibition hall upstairs that showcase washi paper works from the region. I had a relaxing time here, and was especially grateful to the kind lady who gave me an umbrella to take away as it was chucking it down outside.

 

echizen washi village

echizen washi village  echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum

 

After the museums closed, I had to wait around for the heavy rain to ease slightly before walking back to the minshuku, which was fairly basic with few amenities ( not even wifi). I didn’t see other guests and I thought the place was not very clean, but since I was only there for one night, I just turned a blind eye to it. When I tried to locate restaurants nearby for dinner with google map, there were few and far between, hence I decided to wander around to see what I could find.

Eventually I found a soba restaurant that had a ‘closed’ sign hanging outside, even though it was supposed to be opened until 9pm. I walked up to the door to try my luck, and it turned out that the restaurant was indeed opened! The soba restaurant is run by an elderly couple, and aside from a young male customer, there was no one else around. I sat down and picked one a set meal from the Japanese menu, which I have to say was one of the best meals I have had throughout the trip. It was so simple, and yet so delicious. I thought the tempura was even better than the ones I had at the expensive Tenichi Ginza Honten with my friend in Tokyo a few years back. The homemade soba noodles tasted great, too. I thought it was ironic that I randomly walked into an almost empty restaurant in the suburbs and had a surprisingly satisfying meal. Perhaps the food tasted better because I was tired, cold and wet; or because i had no expectations. Anyway, that meal did make me feel happy at the end of a rather miserable day.

 

echizen washi village

A heartwarming dinner was what I needed on a cold and rainy night

 

The next morning, I went to say goodbye to Katz, and he said he was hoping to take me to some washi paper studios in Echizen if I had spent more time there. I was grateful for his generosity but at the same time felt quite disappointed with my stay (I think the heavy rain didn’t help either). I am sure that one day was not enough, and there must be many interesting washi paper studios in the area that are worth visiting. Since this area is not a touristy region, it probably requires more research and planning beforehand, so perhaps it does deserve a second visit in the future.

 

Save

Save

Ainokura & Gokayama washi

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

 

Unlike Shirakawa-go in the Gifu prefecture, the remote Gokayama region in the Toyama prefecture is exempt from big bus tourism and seems to attrach more independent travelers. Even though the two areas are both declared as UNESCO world heritage sites, they are located in two different prefectures, and I have a feeling that the Gifu tourist association has been promoting Shirakawa-go more heavily than Toyama. Even the buses to the Ainokura village are less frequent, and I was the only person who got off the bus at the stop, which was a huge contrast from the bus full of tourists all getting off at Ogimachi earlier in the morning.

After being dropped off by the road side up on a mountain, I was slightly hesitant because aside from mountains, there was no sight of the village. I followed a small path and after about 15 mins’ walk, I finally saw the village down in the valley. Like Ogimachi, it snowed quite heavily a few days before, and so the grounds of the village was covered in snow.

 

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura  Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

 

Perhaps it is unfair to compare Ainokura with Ogimachi, because the two villages are quite different. However, I was relieved not to see coaches of tour groups in the rather sleepy Ainokura, which to me felt more authentic already. This quaint village is much smaller in size, and there are are not as many tourist attractions. There are 24 Gassho-style houses, including residences, temples, dojo studios, and huts. Most of them were built between the end of the Edo Era and the beginning of the Meiji Era, and many of the residences are unoccupied now.

One of the main attractions here is the wonderful Ainokukura Folklore Museum (with 2 buildings), where visitors can learn about the local culture, festivals, folk art and music. There are also some traditional musical instruments on display like the Binzasara, which is made of many pieces of wooden plates strung together with a cotton cord. There are handles at both ends, and the stack of wooden plates are played by moving them like a wave (which I got to try out later in the evening).

A walk up to the attic enables visitors to appreciate the architecture and structures of the Gassho-style farmhouses. The exhibits also reveal the locals’ frugal lifestyles, yet they are compensated by the village’s strong community spirit, and this collective and cooperative way of living is called yui.

 

Ainokura Folk Museum

Ainokura Folk Museum

Ainokura Folk Museum  Ainokura Folk Museum

Ainokura Folk Museum

Ainokura Folk Museum Binzasara

Ainokura Folk Museum  Ainokura Folk Museum

Ainokura Folk Museum

 

Gokayama is also famous for washi paper, which was thought to have arrived from Kyoto at the end of the Heian Period when survivors of the Taira Clan escaped to this region after their defeat by the Minamoto Clan.

There is a Washi Workshop Hall and shop in the village, where a washi paper artisan works and sells his work and other local washi paper products. The artisan also conducts short paper-making workshops daily; however, when I arrived, he was busy teaching two other travelers (who turned out to be staying at the same minshuku as me), so I missed the opportunity to do the workshop with him. Nonetheless, I did buy some beautiful and one-of-a-kind washi paper products made by him, and it felt good to meet the face of the artisan behind the products.

 

Ainokura  Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

gokayama washi

gokayama washi

Ainokura washi workshop hall

 

There are a few minshuku in the village, and I chose Minshuku Yomoshirou, which is an Gassho-style houses run by a middle-aged couple. The farmhouse is 250 years old with thatched roof, and in the middle of the house, there is a traditional irori (fireplace) where grilled food is prepared.

On the wall, there are also photos of the variety of local vegetables and herbs, as well as how the community worked together to construct or fix the thatched roofs.

 

Minshuku Yomoshirou

yomoshirou

yomoshirou Binzasara  yomoshirou

yomoshirou Binzasara

Ainokura

Ainokura

Minshuku Yomoshirou

 

Dinner was served in the living/dining area with three other guests, including a Canadian artist, an Amercian/Korean photographer (whom I had already spoken to earlier at the washi paper hall) and a young woman from Russia. We were served grilled local fish with vegetables and herbs that are picked locally – all of which were delicious.

During and after dinner, our host also performed some folk songs with local musical instruments including the Binzasara, and he made us all try it out. It was a sociable and fun evening.

We were told not to wander around outside in the evenings and early in the mornings, which we thought was rather strange – not sure if it is for safety reasons or something more sinister!

 

yomoshirou

yomoshirou

yomoshirou

yomoshirou

yomoshirou  yomoshirou

 

I enjoyed my stay at this minshuku, despite the thin paper partitions (you could hear every sound from the guests next door), shared toilets and bathroom (something you have to get used to when staying in traditional ryokans and minshukus in Japan). I felt that it offered a glimpse into the lives and cultures of the people living in the region, which I believe are slowly changing… I only wish that this village will retain its charm and not become a mass tourist attraction in the future.

 

Ainokura

gokayama

The bus hut and snowy scenery of the region

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Mino – the ancient washi paper town

minoshi

The preserved townscape of Minoshi

 

I think many people who are interested in Japanese paper would have heard of Mino washi paper, especially after it was was designated an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2014. The origin of this paper dates back to the Nara period (710 ~ 784 CE), and is considered to be the oldest paper in Japan. Located by the Nagara River, Mino is lined with wooden buildings built from the Edo to Meiji period.

I have wanted to visit Mino (the train/bus station is called Minoshi) for years, but never quite made it somehow. On this trip, I decided to include one night in my itinerary; the bus journey was quite straightforward from Nagoya, and it took about two hours. However, I would recommend using the Nagaragawa Railway (which I took when leaving the town) if you get the chance. Aside from the cute trains, there are also some scenic routes that you can enjoy if you want to see more of the Gifu region.

 

minoshi  img_9937

img_9936

minoshi

minoshi

Nagaragawa Railway train and Minoshi train station

 

I would say that Arimatsu and Mino are two of my favourite towns during my entire trip. I love the fact that both towns have preserved their traditional craftsmanship and townscape. There is rich history, beautiful merchant houses, and best of all, they are not swamped with tourists. When you walk around the two towns, you feel as if you have stepped back in time, and it is hard not to be captivated by the ambience and historical architectural details around you. The two main streets in Mino were developed by the feudal lord Nagachiku Kanamori during the Edo Period, and were designated as an “area preserving traditional architecture” in 1999.

 

minoshi

minoshi

minoshi  minoshi

minoshi

minoshi

minoshi

The preserved townscape of Minoshi is full of washi paper merchant houses, shops, sake breweries and temples

 

One unique feature of Mino is its ‘udatsu’ streets. An udatsu was originally a firewall built at both ends of a roof, and its purpose was to prevent fires from spreading. However, during the Edo period, the designs of the udatsu became wealthy washi merchants’ status symbols because of the high costs to install them, and you can still admire them on the rooftops of many buildings in Mino.

 

minoshi  minoshi

minoshi

minoshi  minoshi

minoshi

 

One of the most important buildings in Mino is the Former Imai Residence and Mino Archives built in the mid-Edo period (the end of the 18th century). The gable tiles without decorations are the oldest form of udatsu; they are layered twice on the left and the right, while other houses have only one single layer.

 

mino

minoshi

mino

minoshi  mino

Former Imai Residence and Mino Archives

 

The house was not only a residence, but it also had a reception area where the family used to conduct their wholesale paper business. One interesting feature of the house is a skylight which extends about 3 metres up from the ceiling; it was built during renovations in the Meiji Period.

In the garden, there is a suikinkutsu – a Japanese garden ornament and music device buried underground which creates sound similar to koto/Japanese zither when you pour water over it.

 

minoshi

minoshi

minoshi  mino

 

Aside from the beautiful traditional architecture, the shops and restaurants here all make efforts to decorate their shop fronts to attract customers in.

 

minoshi

minoshi  minoshi

minoshi

dsc_1020  washi paper

minoshi

minoshi

minoshi

img_9844

mino

 

Not surprisingly, when you travel to smaller towns and less touristy places, prices tend to drop considerably. This was what I noticed when I traveled around Japan for weeks. I had lunch at a local soba/udon restaurant called Sansui Honten (1902-2 Motozumi-cho) recommended by the owners of my guesthouse; not only the food was tasty with huge portions, it was also a bargain.

 

minoshi

minoshi

Lunch at Sansui Honten

 

And for dinner, I decided to go to an Italian wine bar/restaurant nearby called Barest, and was quite pleasantly surprised by the food quality and cooking.

 

mino

mino

Barest

 

Yet my favourite cafe/shop in Minoshi has to be The Happy Stand. Opened in the summer of 2017 by a young friendly couple, the cafe is housed inside a building over 150-year-old. The house has been beautifully restored and converted into a shop and cafe with a focus on ocha and matcha tea. I was recommended the Organic Houjicha Latte and it was delicious. The shop area also sells a range of contemporary ceramic ware called Utsuwa that are made locally in Gifu. I particularly loved the extra-tall washi paper lantern hanging in the middle of the shop!

 

happy stand mino

happy stand mino  happy stand mino

happy stand mino

The cute young couple behind The Happy Stand cafe/shop

 

To be continued…

Burmese crafts: papier mâché , lacquerware & pottery

burmese papier mâché maker

burmese papier mâché maker  burmese papier mâché maker

Stumbled upon a papier mâché maker’s home in New Bagan

 

Before my trip to Myanmar, I had no idea that a myriad of traditional crafts are being produced in different parts of the country. Apparently, every region uses local materials to produce in a specific craft that is unique to that area; hence, every region has its own a niche market (a good idea to employ in our increasingly homogeneous Western society).

Our first stop was Bagan, and the most unexpected surprise happened when we stumbled upon a papier mâché maker’s house near our hotel. My travel companion spotted the back of a life-sized papier mâché in the courtyard of the craftsman’s house, which evoked our curiosity… eventually the craftsman noticed us (two suspicious tourists peeking outside his house) and invited us in. Although the craftsman spoke little English, he was keen to show us his fantastic creations. He even climbed into the life-sized papier mâché to show us the interior of it. He told us that these papier mâchés are being employed at Buddhist festivals like Thingyan (Burmese New Year Festival), where other papier mâché toys and masks are being sold.

 

burmese pottery maker

burmese pottery maker

Small lacquer jars made by a local artisan in New Bagan

 

Bagan is the official home of lacquerware in Myanmar, so lacquerware can be seen in shops around the Bagan area. After our stop at the papier mâché maker’s house, we met one of his neighbour, who is a lacquerware artisan and she creates tiny lacquer jars and napkin rings at her house.

Since the small village is away from the touristy area, the villagers were all very friendly and hospitable. It was particularly encouraging to see different craftsmen living side by side and working for themselves rather than in a factory setting.

 

burmese lacquer

burmese lacquer  burmese lacquer

burmese lacquer

burmese lacquer  burmese lacquer

burmese lacquer

burmese lacquer

burmese lacquer

burmese lacquer

A lacquerware workshop in Bagan

 

Two days later, we were taken to a lacquerware workshop in Bagan (as part of our tour), where we observed different artisans working on larger and finer pieces catered for tourists.

Although originated from China, Bagan has been producing lacquerware since the 12th/13th century. The sap used in lacquerware is called Thit-si (which means wood varnish) is collected from Melanorrhoea usitata, a tree native to South East Asia. The base of the lacquer vessels are usually made of coiled or woven bamboo strips mixed with horsehair, and later the surface is painted on the inside and outside with lacquer at least eight to sixteen different layers, then stored in a dry cellar. Since it may take a skilled craftsman six months or up to one year to produce high quality lacquerware, hence the prices of these crafts can come with hefty price tags.

 

burmese pottery maker

burmese pottery maker  burmese pottery maker

burmese pottery   burmese pottery

A village pottery maker outside of Mandalay

 

Unlike lacquerware, pottery is being produced in several areas of the country. And one of them is Nwe Nyein village near Kyauk Myaung, a riverside town along the Ayeyarwady River. Since the clay near Kyauk Myaung produces high quality pottery, therefore the area is known for its 50-gallon glazed jars. Most jars are exported, while others are primarily used for water storage. These water jars can often be seen in the streets or at Buddhist temples providing water for travelers or monks.

Although we didn’t visit this village, we did visit a village outside of Mandalay where we saw some local pottery makers producing pottery (and drying chilies) at their houses.

 

burmese terracotta water jars

burmese terracotta water jars

 

burmese lacquer

burmese pottery

Top & 2nd rows: Terracotta water jars; 3rd row: Pottery shop in Bagan; Last row: miniature pottery kits for children

 

To be continued…

Mino washi from Gifu exhibition

mino washi paper exhibition

Mino washi paper exhibition at The Proud Archivist

 

I have been wanting to visit Mino in Gifu Prefecture in Central Japan for a while. My motive is to do with none other than paper, as Mino is renowned for traditional Japanese paper making.

The origin of Mino washi can be traced back to the Nara period in 8th century; and in 2014, these paper making techniques were added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

 

mino washi paper exhibition mino washi paper exhibition

 

Unsurprisingly, I was quite thrilled when I found out about the ‘Mino Washi from Gifu’ exhibition at The Proud Archivist. The exhibition showcased some of the finest contemporary uses of Mino washi paper, whilst exploring the tradition and craft of this classic Japanese material.

Paper lanterns were the prime focus at this small but well-curated exhibition. The centre of the room was filled with an array of delicate and beautiful washi lanterns in various shapes and sizes, including works by well-known Japanese designers Isamu Noguchi and Shigeru Uchida.

 

mino washi paper exhibition mino washi paper exhibition

 

Aside from lanterns, the exhibition also displayed traditional paper making tools, mulberry bark, miniature paper sculptures of the washi making processes, and a film footage on the topic. Visitors could also purchase paper products sold by Wagumi, a London-based shop that specialises in Japanese design products.

 

mino washi paper exhibition mino washi paper exhibitionmino washi paper exhibitionmino washi paper exhibition

 

I had the opportunity to speak to Yoko from Wagumi, who kindly provided me more information on Mino and other paper-making cities in Japan. Our chat has given more incentive to visit the city when I next travel to Japan, and hopefully, it will be within the next two years!

 

Cross Cultural Live Art Project 2014

haggerston the proud archivisthanqing miao

 Top: Haggerston; Bottom: Hanqing Miao’s performance

 

I used to spend much my time hanging out at the ICA, yet since summer, I have been frequently visiting another new arts/cultural space, The Proud Archivist in Haggerston (an area where I was not familiar with before). I have never eaten in the restaurant downstairs, but I have attended different events in its upper gallery space related to arts, coffee and business. The space seems to be a popular venue for events hiring.

Over a week ago, I attended the “Cross-Cultural Live Art Project” led by an independent curator-partnership, Something Human as part of the SEA (Southeast Asian) ArtsFest 2014. The event brought together Southeast Asian and UK/European artists for a 2-day symposium, showcasing performances, talks and a screening programme exploring gendered/feminist notions of “rites”.

I arrived in the afternoon during a panel discussion on ‘Curating live aer in public spaces in UK and Asia’. It was interesting to hear the curators sharing their experiences and obstacles they faced in curating live art in Asia due to cultural differences. The discussion was followed by three live art performances by young Southeast Asian and British practitioners.

 

hanqing miaoKelvin Atmadibrata's 'Yaranaika'jonathan colemanMarc Hagan-Guirey Kelvin Atmadibrata's 'Yaranaika'jonathan coleman

Top left: Hanqing + Megan; Top Middle & 2nd row: Kelvin Atmadibrata’s ‘Yaranaika’; Top right and bottom: Jonathan Coleman’s ‘How to be a man’

 

The first act, “Hanqing + Megan: The Calligrapher” was performed by London-based Singaporean artist Hanqing Miao on the issue of identity, roots, culture and on being a foreigner living in London. The second act was Indonesian artist Kelvin Atmadibrata‘s “Yaranaika on Japanese pop culture, masculinity, sexuality and cultural identification ( a lot of dancing with leeks as props). And the final act was “How to be a man” created and performed by British artist Jonathan Coleman exploring the changing image and role of men today.

During the break, I met a Brazilian performance artist who moved to London 6 months ago, and we had a stimulating conversation on feminism, gender issues and the problems facing Brazil at the moment ( serious topics for an initial conversation)!

 

hattie Newman mayuko FujinoshotopopshotopopshotopopMarc Hagan-Guirey IMG_1457

Top left: Hattie Newman; Top right: New York-based Japanese artist Mayuko Fujino; 2nd row: Work by London-based Shotopop; Bottom left: Marc Hagan-Guirey‘s Horrogami

 

I was also lucky to catch the Paper Cut exhibition before it ended on the next day. The exhibition showcased paper cut work by 25 paper craft artists from around the world. It is rare to find exhibitions focusing solely on paper crafts, so it was an unique opportunity to see some stunning paper craft display. There are regular art and design-related exhibitions being exhibited at the gallery space, so check out the website or sign up to their newsletters to find out more.

 

The Proud Archivist – 2-10 Hertford Road, London N1 5ET.

 

 

 

DesignrsBlock & Design Junction 2014

designersblock P1100467P1100469plumenDome by The Dub ModuleBeth Lewis Williams

Top left: DesignersBlock in Clerkenwell; 2nd row middle: Plumen’s tree installation; 2nd row right: Dome by The Dub Module; Bottom: Beth Lewis-Williams

 

To be honest, I didn’t think DesignersBlock‘s previous venue (South bank) was a suitable one because the show was too scattered and it just didn’t gel together as a whole. This year, the show moved to The Old sessions house in Clerkenwell, and it was a huge improvement (it just shows how much the venue affects the overall impression). In fact, this grade-II listed building (which used to be a courthouse). was my favourite show venues at the design festival. One of the hightlights was the cool Dome projection created by The Dub Module, and you can watch it below:

 

Designersblock Dome Projection – The Dub Module on Vimeo.

 

Another quirky installation was on the top floor of the building, and it was an oak tree in the middle of the room, laced with new lighting collection by Plumen. I loved the idea and the smell of oak!

In another room, some extra large clothing on the wall caught my eye… the project is created by London-based Japanese designer Tomomi Koseki. ‘The Body time machine’ explores the memory of bodies, and the designer made her parents’ clothing according to her current body size based on old family photographs. The project functions as a device to recall body memory, to journey through body transitions, whilst also becoming a device to renew the perception of it.

I also spoke to the designers behind Fanatic House, who have just launched their first collection at the show. I particularly like their Loop lamp, which is made of a single PVC sheet. The lamp is inspired by butterfly cocoon and is illuminated with an LED strip. It is simple, elegant and best of all, energy efficient.

 

P1100473Tomomi KosekiP1100483P1100484Los Enmascarados by Ana Jomenez Palomar

Top row: ‘The Rise of the Plasticsmith’ by Gangjian Cui; 2nd row left: ‘The Body time machine’ by Tomomi Koseki; 2nd row middle & right: Loop lamp & Voltage coat stand by by Design Fanatics;  Bottom: Los Enmascarados by Ana Jomenez Palomar

 

As I entered one of the rooms, I immediately recognised Gangjian Cui‘s ‘The Rise of the Plasticsmith’ from the RCA show a few months earlier. I have written about this previously but it was interesting to talk to the designer about his concept and to watch a video of the making process. I think this is a very thoughtful and intriguing project, not only does it highlight the issues that face China’s manufacturing future, but the use of plastic as a material for craft is very unusual.

 

THE RISE OF PLASTIC SMITH from gangjian cui on Vimeo.

 

Finally, I spoke to Ronnie Chan, a London-based Hong Kong jewellery designer behind the brand Rhapsody in forest. Ronnie’s new collection is inspired by the Baroque style, it is very delicate, sophisticated and modern at the same time.

I think this year was by far the most ‘satisfying’ DesignersBlock show for me. It was also wonderful to have also met and chatted to many aspiring designers there.

 

angela fungP1100444craft centralangela fungcraft central silo studio

Top left: Angela Fung demonstrating her origami skills at Craft Central; Top middle & right: Pia Wüstenberg; Main: Angel’s origami installation at Craft Central; Bottom right: Silo Studio

 

Coincidentally, I walked past Craft Central, which is situated opposite The Old Session House and I saw jewellery designer Angela Fung ( whom I met at the East London design show last year) sitting behind the glass window. I was quite surprised to see her there folding origami, so I greeted her and went in for a chat. Origami is Angela‘ main passion, which has had a strong influence on her jewellery designs. She has been creating origami installations for various organisations since 2008, and this time, she was selected to create a special installation for the Craft Central. She was also invited to demonstrate on site so that visitors can learn more about her working process. Angela uses Tyvek, a manmade water/tear proof fibre, which has the qualities of paper. The process is long and requires a lot of patience and focus, which is similar to meditation. However, the end result is stunning and again it shows that the art, craft and design is very interlinked in this day and age.

 

Dominic Wilcox's stained glass driverless carDaisy Ginsburg's Mini-synbio Lucy McRae's 'Prep your Body for Space'a child's dream

Top: Dominic Wilcox’s stained glass driverless car; 2nd row left: Daisy Ginsburg’s Mini-synbio; 2nd row right: Lucy McRae’s ‘Prep your Body for Space’; Bottom: ‘A Child’s Dream’ exhibition

 

My last trade show at the design festival was Design Junction in Holborn. This year, the show was bigger with more pop up shops on the ground floor and an additional lighting section was added in the basement.

On the ground floor, Dezeen and MINI’s collaborative project Frontiers showcased work by six young designers exploring how design and technology would shape our future. The most ‘bizarre’ project on display was Lucy McRae‘s ‘Prep your Body for Space’, which involved visitors getting their bodies vacuum-packed! You can read more about the project via the designer’s website above.

I am a fan of Dominic Wilcox‘s quirky and humourous designs. At the show, he presented his driverless glass car prototype with a bed inside, where the passenger can sleep while the car takes them to their destination. The car combines the hand made process of glass work with modern and future technologies to create a proposal of how transport could be in the middle of the 21st century. I hope I will live to see this design becomes a reality!

 

P1100574IMG_0844design by maiLightyears' Aeon Rocket pendantP1100640

Main: Charlie Whinney studio; 2nd row middle: Design by Mai; 2nd row right: Lightyears‘ Aeon Rocket pendant; Bottom: Love Neon

 

Lighting used to the main focus at Design Junction’s previous shows, but this year there were notably more craft-related stands including AfghanMade carpets curated by Wallpaper. Surprisingly, the project was set up in 2006 by the American Task Force for Business Stability Operations to help develop the country’s indigenous industries and bring the country up to speed with contemporary production techniques. This is a highly commendable project, and the final designs are high in quality, rich in colours, and contemporary.

 

P1100631 P1100629IMG_0850P1100634P1100627P1100621P1100622 P1100623

Top left, 2nd row left & middle: Afghan Made carpets; The rest: Ventura London – top right: Amma Studio; 2nd row right: Elements by Jomi Evers Solheim; 3rd row: Polychronic Bowls by Studio Viatopia; Bottom left: Slow living, slow tea by Tianman Song; Bottom right: Emergency Porcelain hammer by Qian Jiang & Ida Kristiansen & Karin Ekwall

 

One of the largest stands at the show was Ventura London, where they curated and presented a variety of work by 31 international designers, design studios, design labels and brands. The one product that brought a smile to my face the Emergency porcelain hammer by Qian Jiang from Lund University in Sweden. The fragile porcelain has been turned into a robust hammer, it is certainly an interesting contrast!

Another interesting display was Polychronic Bowls by British design studio Studio Viatopia. The studio focuses on speculative design and critical craft through material experimentation. Their colourful Polychronic Bowls are the results of a materials research project that investigates contemporary theories of time and alternative approaches to combining materials when making objects in a localised small batch environment.

 

Katherina Gross's Waxploration Katherina Gross's Waxplorationdaniel & emma P1100611 amanda tongdesign junction

Top left: Katherina Gross’s Waxploration; Top right: 2nd row: Daniel and Emma; 3rd row left: Over easy by Yard sale project; 3rd row right: Amanda Tong.

 

Last but not least, I was very intrigued by London-based design student Katherina Gross‘s Waxploration collection, in which she interprets the meaning of home and the relationships between furniture and emotional spaces. Katarina adapted the process of candle making and used wax as a raw material, capturing and freezing movements in time. The strong contrast between the fluidity of wax and the solidity of metal material works well together, creating pieces that are unique and aesthetically appealing. Great work.

 

 

LCC show & New Blood exhibition

London college of communicationsLondon college of communicationsLondon college of communications

 London College of Communications’ Summer Show

 

This summer has been busier than ever, which means I have not had much time to write… this entry is another review of two summer graduation shows in London: London College of Communications and D & AD New Blood.

My friend, Seonyoung Song who studied Book Arts at the London College of Communications invited me to their private viewing at the Elephant and Castle campus on the night when England got knocked out of the World Cup! It was a fun evening, there was ball games, free booze (not the reason why I was there) and we watched the World Cup in the canteen followed by a visit to the Wetherspoon, the evening reminded me of the days when I was a student!

 

London college of communicationsLondon college of communicationsLondon college of communicationsLondon college of communicationsIMG_8678 IMG_8687

Top left: Seonyoung Song (Book Arts and Design); Top middle: Eldon Pickles’ “Hagia Ikea” (Graphic and Media Design); Top right: Paige Cartledge (Surface Design); Bottom left: Laura Vanweydeveld’s 2015 Calendar (Interactive Moving Image); Bottom right: Marika Samek (Graphic and Media Design)

 

Seonyoung Song‘s project is about the South Korean’s ferry disaster. The long scroll is a compilation of the event’s news report at different times. The times are highlighted in bold and the scroll ends in a bucket of water.

In one small room, I was particularly intrigued by Eldon Pickles‘ “Hagia Ikea”, featuring colourful acrylic architectural sculptures. Inspired by Islamic design and AyaSophia Muzesi in Istanbul, the collection combines modern parametric design as an extension of Islamic geometry, with the vibrant neon hues of Post Modern Arabia.

Using the same acrylic material, Marika Samek‘s “Awaken” installation is inspired by the sounds of nature. The aim of this installation is to transform the organic, clear form of wood and translucent acrylic into a shimmering world of light, shadow, and brilliant colour. It is a metaphor for how Sound can integrate with other senses and create beautiful vision in the form of a vibrant picture.

 

New blood exhibition New blood exhibitionIMG_9116

Top row: D & AD New Blood at Spitalfields Market; Main: One minute briefs

 

At the D & AD New Blood exhibition, a vast amount of work from recent graduates around the UK were showcased. One of the booths near the entrance was “One Minute Briefs“, a concept by Nick Entwistle & James Clancy at The Bank of Creativity, which aims to change the way people think about advertising.

 

Adam ChescoeJoseph BoadenKate Parkes's takeaway theatre chairIMG_9109 emily elvin

Top left: Adam Chescoe Top middle: Joseph Boadens paper card models; Top right: Kate Parkes’ Takeaway theatre; Bottom right: Emily Elvin’s “We need to talk about Sleep“.

 

The show featured a large range of graphics work including advertising, packaging, illustrations, poster designs, corporate identities, editorial and designs etc. Here are just some that caught my eye:

Adam Chescoe‘s YCN Fedrigoni Woodstock “Perpetual Deadline Calendar” is a desk calendar for Fedrigoni customers to promote the Woodstock paper range. The paper range made from 80% recycled pre-consumer waste and 20% FSC certified Virgin fibre. If I had a big desk, I would love to have this colourful calendar on my desk.

Kate Parkes“Takeaway theatre” is a flatpack cardboard theatre seat, in its takeaway packaging, designed to be a front row seat in one’s own, personal, theatre. The Takeaway Theatre event is a fictional collaboration between the National Theatre, Cardboard Citizens Theatre Company and homeless charity, Crisis. The performances become fundraisers for homeless charities.

 

IMG_9107 IMG_9099IMG_9111lukas stasytistoby adams

Top right: Josh Ross‘ illustrations; Bottom row left: Poster seen at the University of Leeds’ booth; Bottom row middle: Lukas Stasytis’ Playlist; Bottom row right: Toby Adams‘ “Diversity – The Cyril Diver Project”

 

Lukas Stasytis‘ “Playlist” is a project featuring visual representations of the most popular musical genres within the designer’s personal collection of electronica. The project’s outcomes include animations, a brochure, and a poster indicating where the individual genres emerged.

 

IMG_9094 Jonathan WalleyIMG_9098

Top left: Mandi Halonen’s Long Drink; Top right: Jonathan Walley’s Pilgrim’s choice

 

Mandi Halonen‘s rebranding project for the Finnish Long Drink was awarded the Best in Show award. The Finnish alcoholic drink was banned in Finland due to being considered ‘too tasty’
and ‘too drinkable’. The designer’s project focuses on its Scandinavian heritage through simple and nostalgic graphics, I especially love the poster’s slogan,  “So good, it got banned…”.

I also like Jonathan Walley‘s rebranding of the well known cheese/cheddar brand Pilgrims Choice. Very eye-catching and fun packaging.

 

Caitlin Parks Marianna Madrizsasha moxonIMG_9102David Doran IMG_9106

Top left: Caitlin Parks’ “The Great pacific Garbage Patch”; Top middle: Marianna Madriz’s children book illustrations, “Man from a golden land”; Top right: Sasha Moxon’s “My Grandfather’s war story” on 9 silk-screened postcards; Main: Helen Archer’s DIY artist book for sculptor, Kendall Buster; Bottom left: David Doran’s illustrations

 

Caitlin Parks‘ collection of striking bird illustrations are used in the campaign posters to bring awareness to the oceanic cause “The Great pacific Garbage Patch”. The aim is to highlight the horrific amount of plastic and human waste that ends up polluting and damaging the ocean’s ecosystem every year.

I also love Venezuelan illustrator, Marianna Madriz‘s nostalgic illustrations, especially her children’s book project, “Man from a golden land”, inspired by Venezuela and Latin American folklore musician Simón Díaz.

David Doran is an AOI award winner who graduated from Falmouth University this year. With a strong interest in traditional print techniques, his work explores textures and overlapping colour palettes. Often involving a sense of narrative with conceptual elements, he frequently employs figures and symbolism and his work has been featured in The New York Times, WIRED and Nobrow.

 

 

Our new theme: PLAY

springhatfunnyface1

 

In the past few years, I noticed a “back to basic” trend happening in the developed countries, and even in product designs, many designers have opted for less decorative style and creating products from natural material. Simple wooden toys also seem to have made a comeback, which I am quite happy to see.

I am sure that most people would agree that as technology advances, our lives are improved in a certain way, yet at the same time, our lifestyles are more unhealthy and we are more disconnected with reality and the people around us. The idea of introducing a collection based around the theme “Play” came to me because I feel that perhaps adults don’t play enough these days ( and I don’t mean Candy Crush saga). I remember board or card games that I used to play with friends and families before the internet days, and it was through these games, we got to know the other players i.e. how competitive one can be or how one loves to cheat etc. I was also fond of origami, paper crafts, jigsaw puzzles and building mini cities with Lego, it was through these activities that I was able to apply my creativity, which I believe is crucial regardless of our ages.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMammalD

 

A majority of the products from this collection are Japanese because out of all the Asian countries, Japan offers the most creative and diverse range of games and paper crafts. And products like handmade balloons that can change colours ( Hen-shin balloons) or turn into a dog ( Mammal D) can only be found in Japan! Again, there are some Good design award winners like Funny Face by Cochae, Irokumi colour card set by Studio Pi-pa and Rocca card games by 10inc. I was also quite thrilled to have discovered some less well-known design studios like Mountain Mountain from Japan ( personally, I love the Process balance bird set) and Newcode design studio from Taiwan who have made some wonderful wooden toys including an old time favourite, yoyo.

 

classic2balance8

 

I started preparing for this collection in July and somehow encountered a lot of difficulties due to all sorts of reasons. There were products that I really wanted to stock but was not able to, which was a bit of a disappointment. However, I was lucky to be helped by many including Susumu-san in Japan who contacted the Japanese companies on my behalf without getting paid for it. I am so indebted to him!

From the very beginning, I already knew that I wanted to collaborate with a local Asian game designer to create some simple but fun games for the website to be more interactive. Yet the process of finding this person turned out to be quite a quest in itself! I eventually found Sam Chau by chance via the London College of Communication website, where I saw an announcement of his award-winning game at a competition. He was on holiday when I contacted him and I was on a retreat when he replied, so it took us a while to eventually meet and discuss the project.

The front page and the three games took about 2 1/2 months to develop and complete from start to finish, there were a lot of changes throughout, but we are both happy with the final outcome. I hope that besides the card games, toys and paper crafts available for purchase, users will be able to enjoy the interactive games at the same time.

Remember that play time is not only for children, adults need it too! Enjoy!

 

 

Traditional Chinese paper cuts

As promised, I shall continue to ‘show off’ my vintage collection… and this time, it is traditional Chinese paper cuts that I collected when I was young. As a child, I loved to draw, cut, fold ( origami) and build ( lego). Of course my cutting technique was hardly refined, but I loved folding colourful square paper into smaller squares and then cutting triangles, squares, circles and other patterns on it… The most thrilling moment was when I finally unfolded the paper to see my new symmetrical creations! Would kids these days be thrilled by this? I am not so sure.

 

traditional Chinese paper cuts

Paper cuts from Yangchow/ Yangzhou

 

Paper cutting is a traditional folk art/ craft that originated in China, and eventually spread to other parts of Asia and the rest of the world. Its history could trace back to the invention of paper introduced by Cai Lun ( 50-121 AD). And in 2009, it was recognised and listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Paper cuts are traditionally used for religious and ceremonial purposes ( such as funerals and weddings), and as decorations during festivals such as Chinese New Year. Red paper is often used with Chinese characters that represent good luck, joy, health and hope.

 

traditional Chinese paper cuts

Paper cuts from Yangchow/ Yangzhou

 

Traditionally, the patterns are either first drawn or carved by free hand, and then engraved by knives. The styles and characteristics of the patterns/ designs vary a lot in different regions whilst sharing similar/ common themes. Most of the time, the designs are symmetrical but the ones pictured here are all asymmetrical.

The first two sets seen here are from the southeastern city of Yangchow ( now renamed as Yangzhou), which is said to be one of the earliest regions to adopt paper cutting as folk art. A folk arts and crafts agency was set up in 1955 to revive the neglected art and skills, and in 2007, a Chinese paper cut museum also opened in the city, showing the importance of paper cut in the region.

 

traditional Chinese paper cuts

 Paper cuts from Nantung

 

The third set consists of 6 designs of chrysanthemum and it is from Nantung/ Natong. I had to be extra careful when I tried to photograph these designs made of thin rice paper because they are so delicate. I could see that they were all hand-cut with great skills and patience, a shake in the hand would ruin everything.

The last set, which has a very different style from the others is from the Northeastern county of Yuhsien ( now renamed as Yuxian) in the Hebei province. Dating back to the Ming Dynasty, paper-cutting of Yuxian is especially well-known for its colourful and vivid asymmetrical designs of Chinese opera characters, insects, animals and rural life. The designs shown here are inspired by the mythical Chinese creature, qilin.

Since 2010, the county has been hosting an annual paper cutting art festival and opened its first paper cut museum in 2011, exhibiting over 1200 pieces of art work from across the country. The county is now home to more than 30,000 paper cutting artists and craftsmen, and their work are being sold worldwide generating more than 3% of the country’s GDP!

 

traditional Chinese paper cuts

Paper cuts from Yuhsien/ Yuxian

 

If you are interested in learning more about traditional Chinese paper cutting, there is more information via the following links: The art of Chinese paper cutting and Chinese Traditional arts and crafts.