The East Japan Railway Company’s redevelopment of its properties into commercial and community spaces has always supported Japanese design, whether it’s been through the inclusion of select boutiques within minimalls or the impressive 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan street of craft stores and studios.
Its latest project, Hibiya Okuroji, which opened last month, is no exception. The long arcade of eateries and stores beneath the red-brick arches of a viaduct spanning Tokyo’s Yurakucho and Shimbashi stations includes Niigata 100, a store filled with household items and foods all produced in Niigata Prefecture.
This is the first Niigata 100 store outside of its own prefecture, and it’s part of the Niigata Industrial Creation Organization’s Hyakunen-Monogatari initiative, which has been supporting research and development of locally made products since 2003. Despite the Tokyo store’s compact floorspace, it promotes a comprehensive range of regional crafts, from individual artisan woodwork and ceramics to factory-manufactured metalware and glassware.
The result is contemporary design innovations as well as unusual applications of traditional craft techniques. This year, the initiative’s theme is “The Tools are Suitable for ‘Ourselves From Here On.’” Here are a few “On: Design” favorites from the project.
The eight-piece Grooming Kit (¥52,800) comprises every tool a dandy could possibly need — eyebrow scissors, ear pick, toothpick, tweezers, nail file, hand mirror, nail nippers and nasal hair scissors. Produced by Maruto Hasegawa Kosakujo, a metalworking factory that has specialized in pliers, clippers and other small tools for almost 100 years, each item has a little added design flair, courtesy of Hisakazu Suzuki of Spazio Works. Some tools are kept extra light with handles inspired by the wings of birds and insects; others sport soft, rounded edges for comfort; and the glassless mirror is a section of immaculately polished metal.
Wooden kumiko lattice work, traditionally used for shōji (paper sliding doors), ranma (transoms) and windows, is so distinctive that new applications of the technique usually focus on drawing attention to its ornate tessellated patterns. There are hundreds of classic motifs, all constructed using meticulously cut slats of wood, seamlessly slotted together without the use of nails or glue.
The Wa-Zen series of serving trays is simple but effective. Conceived by Yosuke Ominato of the interior paper and woodwork company Ominato Bunkichi Shoten, each kumiko tray is raised on four legs, allowing light to pass through and highlight the intricate latticework. Three patterns are available — a hexagonal Asanoha (hemp leaf, ¥49,500), Gomagara (sesame, ¥49,500) rhombuses and a straight slatted one (¥45,100). To make the trays more durable for dining, they are also coated in a water-resistant finish that doesn’t interfere with the natural texture or color of the cedar wood.
Just getting warmed up
The metal-pressing factory Sakai Industry’s range of products may not be extensive, but it does showcase the versatility of its craft. Its Yukihoju (¥48,400), designed by Masakazu Sakai, is a striking contemporary interpretation of the classic tabletop sake warmer set. A slim tubular chirori pitcher slots inside a water-bath vessel, which sits atop a cup-like tea light holder for heating. The pitcher and vessel are shot-blasted by hand to a matte finish, while the candle holder doubles as a lid for the set when not in use.
Also from Sakai Industry, keep an eye out at Niigata 100 for the yet-to-be-released Mirror Planter. This futuristic tabletop planter frames small plants with a sheet of gleaming stainless steel, angled to reflect foliage as if it’s an island floating on a tiny tilted pool.
Let there be light
Also slated for November release from Niigata 100 is the Tanzaku magewappa bentwood lamp series, designed by Kazuhisa Kimura of Storio in collaboration with Tomohiko Kamitani, an agriculture professor emeritus of Niigata University. That may sound like an odd collaboration, but the Tanzaku series doesn’t just promote traditional bentwood craft techniques, it also aims to help revitalize Niigata’s forestry industry by using surplus local beech wood.
The series will have three table lamps, each bent from a rectangular band: a twisted strip that offers wide lighting coverage suitable for reading; a U-shape version for more focused light; and a compact arched strip that emits a gentle glow. All are rechargeable, use LED bulbs and have touch switches hidden within the layers of beech veneer.