Hidden away in an unlikely courtyard in Tokyo's Yotsuya neighborhood is what may well be the world's first design shop stocked only with products by a single product designer. The Yanagi shop was opened in 1972 by Sori Yanagi, the son of Mingeikan (The Japan Folk Crafts Museum) founder Soetsu Yanagi, who is often mentioned in this column.
Sori was raised on a visual diet of Japan's leading ceramicists and craftsmen and attended his father's lectures on the importance of handcrafted wares. Soetsu led a reactionary war against manufacturing during the early 20th century, at a time when mass production was about to convert Japan into an industrial giant. Sori, influenced by french furniture designer Charlotte Perriand while she was visiting Japan, had to reconcile his ambition to become a designer with his father's strong opposition to all things manufactured.
He did so by handcrafting the models that would later be formed into useful household articles. In 2001 I had the good fortune to visit Sori at the Yotsuya studio where he had been working for 40 years. His old U.S. Army jeep, which he used for a similar amount of time, was parked outside the studio. Inside the compact space were two tables, one for meetings and design work; the other for creating models.