London Craft Week 19: Contemporary Japanese craft

BUAISOU indigo hands

Indigo Hands installation at Coal Drops Yard

 

At the London Craft week this year, many Japanese craftsmen and artisans were invited to take part and showcase their exquisite craftsmanship. Although Japanese craft is highly regarded worldwide, the future of many traditional Japanese crafts is still uncertain due to the lack of younger people entering these fields. In the past, traditional craftsmanship is passed down from generation to generation within artisan families. However, due to dwindling demand, urbanisation, change of lifestyle and taste in Japan, few young people would want to dedicate their lives learning and perfecting an ‘old-fashioned’ craft. In order to preserve these crafts, artisans have to constantly evolve, collaborate, and innovate.

In recent years, the revival of natural and indigo dyeing proves that there is no such thing as an ‘old fashioned’ craft. After computer and mobile technology took over our lives for the past two decades, many people are now finding comfort and joy in making tactile craft again. 

 

BUAISOU indigo hands  BUAISOU indigo hands

 

Eastablished in 2015, BUAISOU is a young team of Japanese indigo farmers and artisans responsible for the revival of sukumo – dried and fermented indigo leaves – in Tokushima, the hometown of Ai Zome (natural indigo dye). Tokushima was the top producer of Ai Zome garments in Japan in the 19th century with around 4,000 aishi (sukumo farmers), but due to the introduction of synthetic indigo and other various factors, now only six are left.

At LCW, Coal Drops Yard commissioned BUAISOU to produce a series of handmade and hand dyed flags, and the team conducted several onsite dyeing workshops in KIOSK N1C. Unfortunately, I missed the workshops, but I do hope to visit their studio in Tokushima in the future.

At Heal’s, the Japanese Craft Market showcased ceramics, Mino washi, blades, and wood craft produced by thirteen exhibitors from the Gifu prefecture. I visited Mino and Takayama in the Gifu prefecture last year, so seeing the crafts brough back memories for me.

 

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Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

There are several towns in the Gifu prefecture that are famous for ceramics, including Mino, Toki, and Tajimi. In Tajima, there is Ceramics Park Mino, a ceramic museum and park that showcases Japanese ceramics. The town also holds an annual ceramic festival during the second weekend of April which attracts thousands of visitors to this area. The region has a lot of small and large scale producers making tiles and ceramic wares including household items, crockery, sculptures etc. as well as huge furnaces and other equipments for industrial purposes.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market   Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

The ancient town of Mino is famous for Washi (Japanese paper), which is used for shoji doors, umbrella, fans, lanterns and stationery. The high quality and durable handmade paper uses pristine water from the Nagara river and is considered as natioanl treasure in Japan. You can learn more from my previous entry on Mino here.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

As soon as I arrived at Hida Takayama in the Gifu Prefecture, a glass showcase of wood crafted furniture at the railway station caught my eye. The wood-abundant Hida has maintained a woodworking tradition for over 1,300 years. This region is famous for its skilled woodworkers and beautiful handcrafted furniture, and its minimalist aesthetic is similar to Scandinavian design.

I think the exhibition was a good introduction to those who are unfamiliar with Japan’s regional craft and design. I hope the Toyama prefecture will be next on the list.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu  Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

At the Spanish luxury fashion house Loewe in Mayfair, California-based mother and daughter team Shizu Designs demonstrated traditional Japanese basketry weaving techniques that transform rocks into art. Rattan or cane is used to wrap and tie the rocks with ornamental knots used in Japanese ikebana basketry. Shizu Okino and Karen Okino also contributed to the LOEWE Baskets accessories collection which features their signature style.

It was mesmerising to watch the two artisans working side by side. Basketry is another traditional craft that is being revived today, and I believe these collaborations are likely to make people appreciate traditional craftsmanship and see it in a different light.

 

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design  loewe

shizu design

 

To be continued…

 

Noguchi for Danh Vo: Counterpoint at M+ Pavilion, Hong Kong

m+ pavilion   Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi

 

I have always been fascinated by Japanese American modernist artist, designer and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi‘s work, yet I have never visited his museum in New York even though I used to live there. I have seen his work at MOMA and at other art institutions in America, but oddly enough, I have rarely seen his work being shown outside of America. Hence, I was quite excited about his exhibition in Hong Kong before my visit.

The ‘Noguchi for Danh Vo: Counterpoint‘ at M+ Pavilion exhibition is based on an ongoing conversation between two artists who never met: Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) and the contemporary Vietnamese Danish artist Danh Vo (born 1975). Vo, who has in recent years explored and researched Noguchi’s life and art, and has included Noguchi’s work in his installations with increasing frequency. This exhibition shed light on each artist’s protean body of work.

 

 Isamu Noguchi This Tortured Earth  Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi    Isamu Noguchi Ghost

 Isamu Noguchi bamboo Basket Chair

 

Occupying the main exhibition space were Noguchi‘s sculptures, furniture, lighting and worksheets. Noguchi‘s biomorphic sculptures remind me very much of another artist from the same period: Barbara Hepworth. Yet he was also a brilliant designer and landscape architect; his iconic coffee table designed in 1944 is still in production (now by Herman Miller/Vitra) after more than seven decades. Another classic design series are his Akari Light Sculptures, inspired by his trip to Gifu in Japan where it is famous for its manufacture of paper parasols and lanterns. Over the years, he created a total of more than 100 models, consisting of table, floor and ceiling lamps ranging in size from 24 to 290 cm.

In the middle of the room, there was a Chinese-style pavilion Untitled (Structure for Akari PL2) designed by Vo to hang Noguchi‘s paper lamp sculptures, and for visitors to rest. It blended extremely well with Noguchi‘s works.

 

 Isamu Noguchi    Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi    Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi Leda

 Isamu Noguchi    Isamu Noguchi

 Isamu Noguchi

 

Outside of the building were a few cargo containers where Vo‘s works were exhibited. Like Noguchi, Vo‘s life was shaped and influenced by Eastern and Western cultures. Due to his refugee background, Vo often addresses the issues of history, identity and belonging in his work. His conceptual works often weave archival fragments together and personal references. He also doesn’t believe in providing explanatory material, hence, it’s up to the visitors to interpret his work. Last year, Vo held a sold exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, so he is undoubtedly one of the most prominent Asian artists working today.

 

Danh Vo  Danh Vo

Danh Vo  Danh Vo

Danh Vo’s conceptual art work

 

 

Manhole cover designs in Japan

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Sakura motifs are often featured in Japanese manhole cover designs

 

If you have visited Japan before, you have probably seen the wonderul manhole covers on the pavements all over Japan – it would be hard to miss them! The popularity of these manhole covers has been growing rapidly both locally and overseas, and often the ‘manholers’ would seek, photograph these covers and share them online to websites like Japanese Society of Manhole Covers (日本マンホール蓋学会), and the Manhole lid museum. Meanwhile, Osaka-based photographer S. Morita has been photographing manhole covers around Japan for several years, and there are close to 2000 designs on the site. However, if seeing the photos doesn’t satisfy you, then you could attend the Japanese Manhole Cover Festival or summit in Tokyo where a variety of manhole cover designs are exhibited, along side with souvenir to bring home.

 

Only in Japan: A factory tour of the Nagashima Imono Casting Factory

 

The history of the manhole covers in Japan is mentioned in the book, Drainspotting: Japanese manhole covers by Remo Camerota. In the 1980s, the modernisation of the sewer system in rural Japan was unwelcomed by the local residents, but a civil servant Yasutake Kameda solved that problem by introducing customised manhole covers in every municipality. By enabling each city/town/village to design their own unqiue covers to showcase their specialities or identites turned out to be a huge success, hence it has become a cultural phenomenon over time. Although each cover is designed specifically for the location, it would generally feature elements such as the town emblem, famous landmark, special event, war battle, official bird, local flowers or local mascots etc. The ones with firefighters indicate that there is fire hydrant underneath it.

Although I am not a manhole cover otaku, I have been photographing these manhole covers whenever I came across them over the years during my trips to Japan, and will continue to do so in the future.

 

Floral theme

manhole cover  manhole cover

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manhole cover  manhole cover tokyo

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Local symbols/ specialties

manhole cover nara  manhole cover nara

Deer and nature in Nara

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Nagoya’s Amenbo (or water strider) is the symbol for Nagoya City Waterworks and Sewerage Office as this insect only lives in clean water

manhole cover

Grapes in Furano, Hokkaido

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Washi paper making in Fukui

 

Local lanndmarks

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Osaka castle

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Shiragawa-go

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Nature

manhole cover

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Firefighters

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Toko firefighters

 

 

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Japonismes 2018: ‘Tadao Ando: The Challenge’ exhibition at Centre Pompidou

tadao ando exhibition

 

In my opinion, French people have always been fascinated by Asian culture and art, much more so than the English. Japonisme and Chinoiserie were extremely popular in Europe during the 18th and 19th centures; and thanks to globalisation, Japonisme is making a comeback. Officially.

To celebrate the 160 years of friendship between Japan and France, the Japonismes 2018 festival was launched to bring Japanese art and culture to Paris from July 2018 to February 2019. One of the major events is a major retrospective of world-renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando at Centre Pompidou.

 

tadao ando exhibition

36 black and white photographs taken by Ando, 1984

 

Tadao Ando: The Challenge‘ focuses on four main themes – the simplicity of space, the urban challenge, project genesis and dialogue with the past. The exhibition covers Ando‘s fifty major projects over five decades via 180 drawings, 70 original plans and numerous slideshows. As soon as I walked in, I was captivated by the striking black and white photographs taken by Ando of his own architecture. The use of smooth concrete, natural light and simple geometry is highlighted in these photos, and there is no need for captions or descriptions.

 

tadao ando exhibition  tadao ando exhibition

Model of the Row House in Sumiyoshi – Azuma House, Osaka, Japan

tadao ando exhibition

tadao ando exhibition

 

The exhibition reminded me of an incident at Toto Gallery Ma in Tokyo ten years ago when my friend and I went there to see Ando’s exhibition. We had no idea that the architect was giving a talk on the day, and was surprised to see him there. However, we were stuck inside for ages due to the crowd – it was quite chaotic by Japanese standard! I didn’t see the architect this time, but at least I got to see the exhibition without leaps of people around me.

 

tadao ando exhibition

tadao ando exhibition

tadao ando exhibition  tadao ando exhibition

 

Besides his famous works like the Church of Light and Azuma House, there are also models and drawings of his unbuilt work, including his rejected plan for Tate Modern, and Nakanoshima Project II, featuring an egg-shaped shell within Osaka City Hall – which I think is quite ground-breaking.

There is also a model of Ando‘s new project in Paris: Bourse de CommercePinault Collection. With an estimated budget of $170 million, Ando was commissioned by François Pinault, the founder of the luxury group Kering and the investment company Artémis, to renovate the 19th-century former stock exchange and transformed it into a contemporary art venue. Even though there is no shortage of art venues in Paris, it is still exciting to see Ando‘s new work in Paris – can’t wait to see it.

 

tadao ando exhibition

tadao ando exhibition

tadao ando exhibition

tadao ando exhibition  tadao ando exhibition

tadao ando exhibition

tadao ando exhibition

pompidou centre

 

Boro textiles at Amuse museum (closed in 2019)

amuse museum Boro – real astonishment exhibition

Boro – real astonishment exhibition

 

After spending so much time in the rural countryside, I found it hard to cope with the hustle and bustle back in Tokyo, and felt slightly dazy and detached from reality. My original Airbnb booking was cancelled by a host in Tokyo at the last minute, (the 2nd Tokyo cancellation on this trip), and at the last minute, I found an apt hotel in Asakusa, which turned out to be excellent and very reasonable.

I usually avoid going to Asakusa whenever I visit Tokyo because it is always packed and very touristy. This time, however, I thought it might be fun to explore an area that I am not familiar with especially while I was staying minutes away from the famous Senso-ji.

One day, I walked past an old building and saw the name Amuse Museum with a shop at the front. It was the poster and indigo textiles that drew me inside. I had never heard of this museum before and had no idea what was exhibiting inside, but seeing the textiles compelled me to purchase an entry ticket. And once inside, I was completely blown away… I couldn’t believe that I stumbled upon this museum right after my Japanese textiles workshop! Serendipity, perhaps?!

 

amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum

 

This private museum opened in 2009 and specialises in Japanese textile and ukiyo-e. The amazing collection consists of 30,000 pieces of Boro clothing and textiles (from the 17th and 19th centuries) collected by folklorist and ethnologist Chuzaburo Tanaka, of which 786 items have been designated as Important Tangible Cultural Properties.

Derived from the Japanese boroboro, meaning something tattered or repaired, boro grew out of necessity rather than fashion. Its concept is almost the opposite of what fashion has become in the 21st century – you can even call it the precedent of ‘slow fashion’ and ‘upcycled fashion’.

There are two Japanese terms and concepts that are deeply ingrained into the Japanese culture: Mottainai meaning ‘a sense of regret concerning waste’, and Yuyonobi meaning ‘the beauty of practicality’. In the old days, impoverished rural farmimg families (especially those who live in the north like Tohoku) would mend, repair textiles (clothes and bedding) through piecing, patching and stitching to extend their use. Since the region was too cold to grow cotton, hemp became the most popular choice of material. Later, when old cotton clothing from the south made its way up to the north, scraps of indigo-dyed cotton would be used, and sewn with sashiko stitching (a type of functional embroidery) to reinforce and to quilt layers of cloth together. These ‘rags’ and garments would be handed down over generations, as the testimonies of decades of mending.

Interestingly, this concept is similiar to the robes worn by Zen Buddhist monks in ancient times, when monks used to collect rags and sew them up to create their one-of-a-kind patchwork robes.

 

amuse museum

boro textiles

amuse museum

amuse museum boro

amuse museum

 

For many centuries, Japan was a relatively poor country, and it was around the Meiji period (from 1868 to 1912) that the overall living standard started to rise. This meant that much of the Boro textiles were discarded, and new clothing was bought as fixing or mending became a tradition of the past.

Thanks to the effort of one ethnologist – Chuzaburo Tanaka – we are now able to admire this intricate and fantastic ancient craft and art form, and appreciate its unqiue value.

The special 10th year anniversary exhibition: Boro – Real astonishment showcased a collection of boro textiles along with 34 photo images published by Kyoichi Tsuzuki (the photographer and author of “BORO Rags and Tatters from the Far North of Japan”). This is a touring exhibition, and will be touring until 2020, so people outside of Japan can learn about this outsider art/craft form.

 

amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum

 

Besides the temporary exhibition, the permanent collection also showcases a rotating collection of 1500 pieces of boro clothing and textiles, alongside with other antiques and folk arts from Mr. Tanaka’s collection.

I was particularly glad to see the indigo-dyed firefighter’s jackets hikeshi banten often mentioned by Bryan at the textiles workshop. Made in the Edo period, these reversible jackets often feature a plain side and a decorative side. Firemen would expose the plain side while fighting the fire, but after the fire had been extinguished, they would reverse their jackets to display the decorative side to a cheering crowd. Hence, many firefighter’s jackets were decorated with tsutsugaki (a resist dyeing technique that is similar to Katazome) symbolic images that were meaningful and important to the firefighters. Indigo dye was chosen for its antibacterial and flame-resistant qualities, as well as its resistant to ripping and tearing, cutting and abrasion due to impact. With roots dating back to the 1600s, indigo-dyed fabrics were worn under the armour of samurais to keep bacteria away from wounds and to repel odor and dirt. Therefore, the indigo dye was used not for aesthetic reasons but for its excellent practical properties.

 

amuse museum  amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museumamuse museum

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amuse museum

 

Although I saw Akira Kurosawa‘s “Yume” or “Dreams” years ago, I could barely remember the costumes featured in that film (I watched it again after seeing the exhibition). It was fascinating to learn that the costumes featured in the film were lend to the director by Chuzaburo Tanaka himself. The folk clothing was beautifully showcased in the last segment of the film, Village of the Watermills, and the scene where the villagers all paraded down the village was heartfelt and memorable.

 

yume costumes kurasawa  yume costumes kurasawa

yume costumes kurasawa

The folk costumes featured in Yume/Dreams

 

The museum also has an interesting collection of woodblock prints, and it houses an indigo-dyeing studio where visitors can take part in workshops.

 

woodblock print amuse museum   woodblock print amuse museum

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Woodblock prints and Indigo-dyeing studio

 

After my inspiring tour of the museum, I went upstairs to the rooftop and spent some time admiring the panaromic view of Asakusa and watching the sun set behind Senso-ji (there was literally no other visitor there!). Spending a few hours at the museum made me forget that I was in Tokyo; while watching the sunset was the icing on the cake, it was a perfect end to my day.

 

senso-ji asakusa

 

N.B. Sadly, I learned that the Amuse Museum closed in March 2019, but hopefully it will revive again in another venue somewhere in the city. Fingers crossed.

 

 

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Japanese textiles workshop (Part 2): Katagami & Katazome

Ise-Katagami Artisan Isao Uchida

katagami  katagami

Top: a visit and demonstration of katagami by the Ise-Katagami artisan Isao Uchida

 

Like I mentioned in my previous entry, my knowledge on traditional Japanese textiles techniques was quite minimal before the workshop. I have done some shibori techniques like itajime and pole wrapping, but I have never done any stitch shibori nor Katagami and Katazome before, and so when I received a stencil cutter and some stencil paper from Bryan in the ‘homework’ box before the workshop, I had to google frantically to get some ideas on how to create three unqiue patterns.

So, what is Katagami? It is an ancient Japanese paper stenciling craft that dates back to the 6th century. The specific paper required is made up of several sheets of washi (Japanese mulbery paper) pasted together with kakishibu (a tannin-rich persimmon juice), resulting in a strong and flexible, brown-coloured paper. Patterns can then be cut out with a razor-like cutter or punched out with various tools. It is also possible to overlap multiple stencils to create intricate and beautiful patterns.

 

katagami

katazome  indigo fujino

katagami

 Botom: a vintage katagami stencil from Bryan’s collection

 

We had the prilvilege to meet the Ise-Katagami artisan Isao Uchida who demonstrated a skill that he has practiced for several decades. He had just been named as the ‘Living National Treasure (Ningen Kokuhō)’ by the Japanese Government, and he came to pay Bryan a visit before attending the ceremony with the Prime Minster that eveing.

The craft of katagami is often accompanied by katazome – a traditional craft of stencil resist-dyeing using a paste made from rice husks, lime and water. Using the katagami paper stencils, the rice paste is brushed onto the cloth and when dried, it is immersed in the dye, like indigo. In the old days, katazome was used primarily on kimono fabrics, but now it has become a dying art form as the demand for kimonos have decreased significantly in modern Japan.

During the workshop, we spent a full day working at the katazome paste maker and dyer’s home/workshop, Hiroshi Noguchi, in Hachioji. Mr Noguchi is the a sixth-generation paste maker and dyer who specialises in indigo katazome. He works with his son, and his young grandson (the eighth generation), who showed immense interest and enthusiasm with the family bsuiness.

 

Hiroshi Noguchi  paste maker

indigo vat

paste maker  indigo dyeing

Hiroshi Noguchi

katazome paste maker

paste maker

paste maker  Hiroshi Noguchi

paste maker

  

At Mr Noguchi‘s workshop, we watched him making the rice paste from scratch, and his son preparing the paste for us to use. When the paste was ready, we applied it onto the cotton cloths laid out on long boards through the stencils we had each designed. Since it was a very hot day, the paste dried fairly quickly in the sun. These long cloths were then hung horizontally outside and we all had a go at applying a special grey dye onto them.

Aside from the long strips of cloths, we also cut up some shorter ones and dipped them in the indigo vats. Since the paper stencils are very strong, we could easily wash them and reuse them over and over again.

 

paste maker

Hiroshi Noguchi

katazome paste maker

katazome

katazome paste maker  katazome

 

The experience of working at Mr Noguchi‘s workshop was novel and humbling. It was encouraging to see that this craft has been passed on for so many generations, and that he was generous enough to let us use his workshop. I highly respect Bryan for trying to protect these traditional Japanese arts and crafts from disappearing by bringing his students here in order to support these artisans. With so many anicent arts and crafts vanishing globally due to our ‘fast culture’, it is time to review our lifestyle and support artisans who have spent their entire lives dedicating to one specfic craft or art form.

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s masterpiece: The Enoura Observatory in Odawara

Japanese rail

Japanese rail

Japanese rail

The cute Nebukawa Station first opened in 1922 but was swept away (along with a train full of passengers) by a landslide a year later. Hundred of people were killed during this disaster, and there is a memorial at the station that commemorates this tragic incident

 

After I left Atami, I took the train to the nearby Nebukawa Station as I had booked a tour to visit The Enoura Observatory, created by contemporary artist and the founder of Odawara Art Foundation, Hiroshi Sugimoto (who was also responsible for the renovations of the MOA in Atami). All visitors have to book the tour online, which includes a free return mini bus rides between the observatory and the train station.

Since it opened in the autumn of 2017, the observatory has been receiving international coverage and praises for its merge of nature, art, history and architecture, and it was highly recommended to me by a Japanese friend.

 

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

 

Like both places I visited earlier in the day, this site occupies a hilltop position that overlooks the Sagami bay. The site comprises a reception area, a gallery space, two outdoor stages, a revived Tensho-an tea ceremony room, a restored Muromachi Period (c. 1338-1573) Meigetsu Gate, and rock gardens featuring various rocks and stones collected from all over Japan by Sugimoto .

At the long gallery space, visitors can view Sugimoto’s photography work titled seascape. The artist has had a long fascination with the sea, and he explained: “my earliest childhood memory is of the sea seen from the window of the Shonan train, running on the old Tokaido line from Atami to Odawara.” And this memory was the inspiration behind the project.

 

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

 

Drawing ideas from ancient cultures and their relationships with nature, the 100-metre gallery is also a viewing platform where sun ray would reach the gallery space on the morning of the summer solstice.

On the morning of the winter solstice, the optical glass stage would glow as it catches the light on its cut edges. Its auditorium is a full-size recreation of a ruined Roman amphitheater in Ferento in the Lazio region of Italy, with the glass stage designed to look like it is floating on the surface of the sea.

 

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

 

The winter solstice also sends light through the 70-metre light-worship metal tunnel to illuminate a large stone at the other end. An aperture has been built into the tunnel to admit light, with a well beneath it. The chisel marks on it suggest that it dates from medieval times. The bottom of the well is covered with pieces of optical glass, where the individual raindrops can be seen as they fall into the well when it rains.

 

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

 

As you walk around the maze-like site, it is hard not be to awe of what you see or encounter. It gives you a sense of anticipation and appreciation for nature and beauty. Every element here is precisely positioned to lead you somewhere and to make you look. In a way, it is like being ‘manipulated’ to see the nature around you through architecture and landscape design, which is quite ambitious and bold.

 

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

 

After spending some time here, it felt quite peaceful and contemplative. I think the project has succeeded in merging nature, architecture and design together harmoniously. It would be wonderful to revisit the site on the days of summer/winter solstice for a more enchanting experience.

 

The architecture of Kanazawa

kanazawa station Tsuzumimon   kanazawa station Tsuzumimon

Tsuzumimon at Kanazawa station

 

As soon as you arrive at Kanazawa train station, the “Motenashi Dome” (Welcome Dome) made up of 3,019 glass panels is likely to catch your eye. This train station is thought to be one of the most beautiful train stations in the world, and it is designed by Ryuzo Shiroe. And when you walk out of the conservatory-like space through the eastern part of the station, you would encounter the stunning and gigantic wooden structure called Tsuzumimon (drum gate). This 13.7 meter-high gate is supported by two twisted pillars, and the design resembles the tsuzumi, the drums featured in Noh theatre and Kaga Hosho (the style of Noh traditionally performed in Ishikawa prefecture) performances.

Walking around Kanazawa, it is hard not to notice the mix of old and new architecture, and since it was spared from the air raids during the war, I think the architecture here is more varied and interesting than many other cities in Japan.

 

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

Kanazawa

Traditional houses

 

Although I did not have time to visit many sights, I did enjoy wandering around the city while stumbling upon some interesting buildings. There is a conspicuous Western style red brick building at the bottom of the castle that really intrigued me, and it is The Shiinoki Cultural Complex, a government building built in 1924. While the front of the building has kept its original facade, the back of the building has a modern glassed facade. There are two amazing-looking 300 year old Chinquapin trees standing symmetrically in front of the main entrance and they are designated as Japan’s National Natural Monuments.

 

kanazawa The Shiinoki Cultural Complex

Kanazawa The Shiinoki Cultural Complex

kanazawa The Shiinoki Cultural Complex

kanazawa

kanazawa The Shiinoki Cultural Complex

kanazawa

The Shiinoki Cultural Complex

 

The Owari-cho area not far from the Omi-cho Market used to be a bustling merchant district during the Edo period, and so you can find many fascinating Edo period architecture here.

One of them is Gallery Mita, an art gallery housed in a Western-style building constructed in 1930, which has been designated as a Registered Tangible Cultural Property because of its rarity. The gallery sells mainly ceramics dishes, and it has a cafe next door. I especially love the stained glass designs here.

 

kanazawa

Kanazawa

kanazawa  kanazawa

kanazawa  Kanazawa

kanazawa

 

When I took a route away from the main street, I came across a derelict building/house in an alley that has many art deco elements and seems to be from that period. Even though the house has fallen into disrepair, you can still see the architectural details and appreciate the fine design elements like the railings and tiles. It is a shame to see that it has been abandoned.

 

kanazawa   kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

 

As for contemporary architecture, The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and D. T. Suzuki Museum (see my other posts) are good examples, but there is also the Kanazawa Umimirai Library designed by Kazumi Kudo and Hiroshi Horiba in 2011, which I didn’t get to visit.

If you want to learn more about the architecture of Kanazawa, there are some suggested walking/cycling routes that encourage visitors to explore the city’s diverse architecture:

https://www.kanazawa-kankoukyoukai.or.jp/course/architect/web/en/

 

kanazawa   kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

 

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The art of shibori at Bunzaburo in Kyoto

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Katayama Bunzaburo Shoten’s flagship store in Kyoto

 

When I was going through my pile of leaflets/ business cards that I picked up from my previous trips to Kyoto, one particular leaflet caught my attention. It was from Bunzaburo, a tie-dyed/ shibori (the term means “to squeeze or wring”)  company in Kyoto. Oddly enough, I couldn’t recollect much from my previous visit, so I decided to pay another visit to its shop while I was in Kyoto.

Opened in Kyoto in 1915 by Bunzaburo Katayama, Katayama Bunzaburo Shoten specialised in the manufacturing of high-end kimono silk fabric with shibori tie-dye decorations, especially Kyo Kanoko Shibori (tiny dotted pattern that resembles a young deer’s back). Although Shibori is often associated with Arimatsu in Nagoya (which I will write about in the forthcoming entry), the Kyo Kanoko Shibori technique was created in Kyoto and has been handed down without cessation for over 1,000 years by a number of craftsmen.

 

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Unfortunately, like many of the traditional arts and crafts in Japan, the kimono industry is under threat in this and age, and many producers have to either adapt or face closure. At Bunzaburo, “Tradition exists in innovations” is the motto of their third generation president, Kazuo Katayama. For over 100 years, they have continued to innovate and merge traditional techniques with new designs; one of their design concept is “Wearable Art” – using bold designs to create a fusion of fashion and art. And in 1991, they won the Best Design Award in the Made in Kyoto Award (appointed by Kyoto Prefecture) for their creation, Aimu – a glass plate which allows a thin piece of Japanese indigo-dyed hemp fabric to be sandwiched in the middle.

When you step into their shop housed inside a traditional Japanese house through the shibori noren, you would be surrounded by beautiful and elegant shibori lighting and accessories. I literally felt a sense of exhilaration as soon I walked in.

 

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Having previously learnt some basic shibori techniques, I understand how time-consuming it is to create these work, though this may not be the case for the shop’s visitors. Hence, in order for customers to understand the processes, they have an area displaying and explaining various shibori techniques, which I think is fantastic.

When the friendly shop assistant came over for a chat, she was extremely thrilled when I told her that I will be doing a workshop on indigo dyeing and shibori. She started explaining their products to me, including a new range of leather handbags and shoes that feature shibori patterns (and she kindly modeled the shoes for me). I could sense the pride she felt for her company’s products, and she was more than happy to give me their brochures to take home.

The shop offers a wide range of fashion items and accessories including wearable bracelets and rings, which are affordable and great as gifts. If you are interested in shibori, then this shop is a ‘must’ stop in Kyoto.

 

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KATAYAMA BUNZABURO SHOTEN

221 Hashibenkeicho Takoyakusidori Karasuma Nishiiru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto

 

Kaikado tea caddies shop & cafe in Kyoto

Since I only had four days in kyoto (including a day out at Miho museum with my friend), I didn’t manage to fit much shopping in. Hence I targeted a few shops either close to where I was staying or near a sight I wanted to visit. One of the shops that was high on my agenda was a small tea caddy shop near my lodging in the Kawarmachi district.

Kaikado is a traditional tea caddies maker established in 1875, which makes them the oldest handmade tin tea caddies maker in the world. And it all started from the tin plates imported from Cornwall of all places!

 

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Using imported tin from England, the company’s founder, Kiyosuke kaikado, designed the first generation of tin tea caddy. His aim was to provide a well-designed, functional tea caddy capable of storing the type of tea leaves commonly sold by tea dealers and merchants. His successors later added copper and brass to their collection, developed a two-tiered design, whilst still maintaining the traditional techniques and basic shapes. Their iconic Chazutsu (the standard Kaikado Tea Canister) involves a 130-step fabrication process, and are still being produced and used across Japan including the Japanese Imperial household.

 

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Their small shop near the canal is easy to miss, and I had to walk back and forth a few times to check the number. Also, I wasn’t sure if it was opened either, and I hesitated a while before entering inside. Once inside, I felt as if I had walked into a craftsman’s workshop and mini museum… there are tools on display and lots of beautiful tea caddies everywhere, including labels that indicate how long it takes for the colours of the metals to change. It is the changes of metal colours that make these caddies so unique. Since the philosophy of wabi sabi is deeply ingrained in the Japanese culture and aesthetics, it enables them to appreciate the beauty of rustic objects, imperfection, and embrace the state of impermanence. Hence, these tea caddies are not just about good design and craftsmanship, they also embody the essence of the wabi sabi philosophy and aesthetics.

 

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Located not far from the shop is their spacious cafe housed inside a restored 90-year-old listed building that used to be a garage and administration office. Opened in 2016, the cafe was designed by Thomas Lykke from Danish design and architecture studio, OeO. The tea caddies are displayed on shelves and behind the glass cabinet, and they blend extremely well with the Nordic/Japanese style decor.

The simple menu offers snacks, cakes, as well as coffee from Japanese roaster Nakagawa Wani Coffee, black teas from Postcard tea London, and green tea from Rishouen tea Uji. I had their Ice matcha latte and it was very good. Prices here are not cheap, but I liked the relaxing ambience and decor, and best of all, it wasn’t packed with tourists even during the peak tourist season. Believe me, tranquility is worth the extra two hundred yen!

 

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Kakaido shop: 84-1 Umeminatocho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto

Kakaido cafe: 352 Sumiyoshi-cho, Shimogyoku, Kyoto