Food & Drink | OBJECT-ORIENTED

The in and outs of a woven table

by Jasper Morrison

In a quiet corner of Tokyo’s bustling Ginza district is a shop devoted to Japanese crafts that has been in business since 1933. Among the founding members of Takumi are no lesser personages than Soetsu Yanagi, Kanjiro Kawai and Shoji Hamada — the trio also responsible for founding Tokyo’s Mingeikan (The Japan Folk Crafts Museum) in the ’30s. With Takumi, their ambition was to establish a shop in the city to promote and sell Japanese rural crafts to sophisticated Tokyoites in order to make people aware of the quality and beauty of such goods.

On a recent visit to the shop, among the many items of ceramic tableware, woven mats, woodblock prints and textiles, I came across a bamboo wickerwork table of astonishing lightness and rarity that was produced by a craftsman in Iwate Prefecture. The table was originally commissioned by Takumi for an annual exhibition of new crafts at the Mingeikan in 2011, in itself an indicator of the robust health of Japanese crafts.

I spoke with Susumu Segawa and Yasuo Takanashi, both of whom have worked in the shop since 1968 and remember meetings with Hamada at an “ex-farmhouse” in Mashiko that had been re-purposed as a ceramic workshop. Segawa recalled one particular winter meeting in an old farmhouse when Hamada never stopped talking while his guests sat shivering with cold, too respectful to complain. Supposedly, female visitors to Hamada’s workshop would often come away with a vessel, but there were no such gifts for the men.

It’s not clear, but seems likely that the wickerwork table’s design is based on a the kind of traditional mutsumi-ami (wickerwork) that would likely have been offered by the many aramano-uri (traveling salesmen) who, during the Meiji Era (1868-1912), pulled carts of zakka (everyday goods) around neighborhoods to sell to local residents.

The table consists of two circular rings of laminated bamboo strips held apart by fine woven basketry, the dished top is held by the tension of the wall of the conical base that flairs out to join the edges of the top before they join the upper ring. In terms of structural achievement it is as sophisticated as any piece of modern furniture design — it’s both elegant and exceptionally economical in its use of materials. The skills required to make such an object are considerable and rarely employed in this direction these days.

The table would typically be used indoors on a tatami floor or outdoors on the wooden engawa balcony that extends out toward the garden of older Japanese houses. A table such as this would likely have been used to serve otsumami (snacks) — perhaps edamame beans in their pods — on warm summer nights.

Takumi is located at 8-4-2 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo; 03-3571-2017. For more information, visit www.ginza-takumi.co.jp.