The beak of design
Originally designed in the late 1950s by Shinroku Tsuji of Shinroku-gama, a Kyo-yaki (Kyoto-style) pottery company, the peculiarly shaped earthenware Pelican Teapot started off as a curiosity to tea drinkers in Japan. Yet, despite breaking conventions in traditional teapot design, it gradually garnered itself a following and is still popular today.
Made for bancha (coarse-leaf green tea), its extra-wide perforated strainer prevents clogging, while the deep bill-like spout that gives it its Pelican name creates a clean dribble-free pour.
Third-generation makers Mika and Hirotomo Kyotani have now given the unusual teapot a contemporary update — fresh sky-blue and creamy glazes in place of earthy tones; large, Western-style back handles; and an accompanying collection of matching tableware, including a milk jug, cups with handles and a tall pitcher. Every piece is completely handmade — even the strainer perforations are hand-processed — to the same high standards of the original Pelican Teapot.
Mika, Tsuji’s granddaughter, laments the decline of ritual drink making, replaced by tea bags, instant powders and a glut of ready-made beverages in plastic bottles. She and her husband designed the new collection not just for green-tea drinkers, but to fit a modern lifestyle, with the hope it may inspire younger generations to take time out and enjoy the process of making a brew, whether it’s bancha, black tea or coffee.
This series is still in production, so keep an eye on the company website for release dates and prices.
pelicankyoto.jp (Japanese and English)
When Yoh Miyachi of Anova Design Inc. and Ryosuke Tanaka of furniture studio Kokkok joined forces to conceive Ao., a range of striking aizome indigo-dyed solid wood furniture and tableware, sustainability was at the forefront of their minds.
Minimalist in design, the Ao. collection is made from leftover timber and offcuts from furniture factories, or from felled trees of private property, which otherwise would be shredded into wood chips or discarded. The hinoki (cypress) bench-like tables are two-legged and clean-lined, while coordinating chairs are more complex, featuring contrasting hand-finished curves. They’re crafted by Tokyo artisans, and their rich but translucent hues of indigo purposely accentuate the natural patterning of wood grain, something that becomes the main feature of Ao.’s simplest forms, its cherry-wood plates and cedar serving board.
Custom-made to prevent waste of materials, it takes around two months to receive an order, and they don’t come cheap — from ¥16,500 for a serving board to ¥220,000 for a table, depending on custom preferences. But given the material sourcing process, handmade artisanship and natural indigo staining, buyers are ensured they’ll receive unique works. For the plates, which Ao. advises will vary in size, shape and hue, the makers even send preview photographs before confirming an order.
To see examples upclose, visit the Ao. popup event at Te to Ka Kanda Gallery (tetoka.jp) in Tokyo from May 26 to 31.
ao-design.tokyo (Japanese and English)
Blue has sometimes been classified as an appetite-suppressing color, but Haruna Soumei of Soumei Shikki-ten is set on proving that wrong. Her Kyutarou Blue series for the lacquerware company’s Echizen Sikki Qtaro online store essentially envelopes an entire range of wooden tableware in vibrant blues, inspired by the traditional Japanese color hana-asagi. Hana-asagi is itself interesting, with “asagi” meaning “Japanese leek” and referring to the turquoise tinge of leek leaves and the prefix of “hana” (“flower”) added for a darker hue resembling that of dayflowers, which, incidentally, are also edible.
The items are simple in design — rounded cups, circular plates, oval lunch boxes, square place mats and coasters — but it’s the blue coloring, completely covering some items and used as bold trimming in others, that make them stand out. Although urethane for durability and food-safety reasons, the coloring is applied by lacquerware artisans, using the same traditional techniques for everyday tableware for a semi-transparent finish designed to bring out the natural wood-grain patterns.
When the first Kyutarou Blue Standard series was launched on the crowdfunding site Makuake last spring, it reached its funding target in only three days, proving popular enough for Echizen Sikki Qtaro to release a complementing Kyutarou Blue Sou “refreshing” series in cerulean. Prices range from ¥1,430 for a blue-rimmed coaster to ¥5,500 for a blue-lidded lunch box, with dining sets available at ¥16,929.
shikki-qtarou.com (Japanese only)