Luxury fashion stores line the street from Tokyo’s Omotesando Station to the Nezu Museum. Walking from the station, you’ll pass the wavy glass walls of Comme des Garcons, Prada’s flagship store designed by Herzog de Meuron and many beautiful Issey Miyake shops. But you will also pass a more humble Tokyo treasure: the Hakusan Shop, located in the basement of the From 1st building (which is also the home of the Figaro Cafe, where a good impression of a Tarte Tatin may be had if required).
The shop is beautiful, as you would expect of a company that has devoted more than 60 years to designing elegant modern tableware. Ceramics are displayed on a low-level wooden shelf that runs around three sides of the room and also on three shallower shelves above. More pieces are displayed in the center of the space on waist-high white cubes. And the shop counter is made from one giant plank of wood, which would not look out of place in a fancy sushi bar.
Hakusan Porcelain Co. began in 1779 in Hasami, Nagasaki Prefecture, and counts eight generations of family ownership since then. In 1956, a young designer joined the company and, two years later, designed one of the most iconic Japanese products of all time: the G-type soy sauce dispenser. That designer was Masahiro Mori, just as famous these days for the beautiful tableware he designed for Muji, which has been in production for several years now.
Mori has a special ability when it comes to ceramics: an instinct for what feels right in the hand and what will allow an object to perform its duty with a minimum of fuss.
“When you have no pattern, the form becomes crucial,” he writes about his approach to creating the G-type. “I didn’t want any noise in the design. Size, stability, ease of use, ease of washing and cost — all these basic considerations shaped the design.”
He certainly succeeded in all these respects. The tapered body makes it more difficult to knock over, the flared collar allows a sturdier grip and easier handling, and the inverted spout prevents drops of soy sauce from running down the body but — as he modestly fails to mention — the shape is so elegant and so expressive of its purpose that once seen it is never forgotten.
Design museums around the world have added the G-type to their permanent collections and, to date, Hakusan Porcelain have sold 3,750,000 of the dispensers — a public endorsement very few designers receive!
Hakusan Shop is located at 5-3-10 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo; open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily; 03-5774-8850. For more information, visit www.hakusan-shop.com.