Online streaming services have plenty to offer design fans staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, including Netflix’s Emmy-nominated “Abstract: The Art of Design” series and a host of interior design reality shows. For free videos, filmmaker Gary Hustwit of “Objectified,” “Helvetica” and “Rams” fame has been streaming his documentaries on a weekly basis since March 14, while Interior Design Magazine has launched “DesignTV by Sandow” on Facebook, which features content from Interior Design and Luxe Interiors + Design, Metropolis and Galerie. Online magazine Dezeen also kicked off a Virtual Design Festival of exhibitions, interviews and performances, which runs until June 20.
Free overseas films on modern and contemporary Japanese design include KCET’s “Masters of Design: The Art of the Japanese,” which charts the influence of postwar Japanese design in the United States, Louisiana Channel’s interview with Kenya Hara and British GQ’s short of Oki Sato of Nendo and his playful designs.
For traditional Japanese crafts and their contemporary iterations, On: Design is taking a look at four Japanese channels that introduce some of the nation’s artisans through visually stunning shorts.
As a project by the Tokyo Metropolitan Small and Medium Enterprise Support Center, Tokyo Teshigoto has been focusing on rejuvenating interest in artisanal crafts by promoting contemporary lifestyle products. Its multilingual website (in Japanese, English and Chinese) offers information and photos of 57 artisans and their work, in the fields of textile printing and dyeing, rattan weaving, lacquerware, glassware and metalware, while a dedicated movie page features individual clips about each craftsperson. Often whimsically named, the shorts include personal comments from the artisans (subtitled in English), closeups of their designs and footage of their crafting processes.
In “Story 15: I cannot carve further than this” (featured above), Masaaki Yamada of Yamada Glassworks showcases his Mizutama-mangekyo — colorful kiriko-cut glass tumblers cut with oval motifs, a design that is notoriously difficult to carve with such precision. Why do it? “Why not,” Yamada says, “It’s cool.”
Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Square
The Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Square, another government affiliation, promotes the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s officially designated Japanese traditional craft goods, of which there are currently over 230. To be designated, items have to be regional, of everyday use, handmade and using techniques and materials with a history of at least 100 years. Its website is encyclopedic, searchable by area and industry, and available in seven languages, including English, Chinese and Korean, but it’s the YouTube channel that offers a goldmine of visual treats. With 70 videos (most around five-minutes long and subtitled in English), it introduces a slew of artisans, such as kishu-shikki lacquerware craftsman Toshifumi Tanioka (featured above), and explains their techniques with engaging atelier closeup shots.
In Tanioka’s clip, he reveals that it takes years for the wooden bases he uses to dry out fully before he even begins a six-month process of lacquering and polishing that viewers get to see.
When the COVID-19 crisis is over, check out the Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama store in Tokyo, too, which showcases a wide selection of the artisans’ goods, both traditional and contemporary in design.
Tokyo Kokeshi / Kuninobu Okura
Japan Made’s videos are short and sweet. Artistically shot at craftspeople’s studios, each is roughly a minute long and wordless, but they give enough detailed footage of artisanal skills to pique a viewer’s interest. They’re also a great account to follow on Instagram (@japan__made). As a Japanese and English web magazine, Japan Made aims to raise awareness of crafts from all over Japan. You’ll find articles on pottery, metalware, lacquerware and more, both in traditional and contemporary forms.
The YouTube channel is a much larger library of videos — 180 — spanning more crafts, including leatherworking, brush making and silk textiles, as well as other industries such as food and manufacturing. Among the traditional offerings is a clip of kokeshi doll maker Kuninobu Okura (featured above), who is seen carving a doll with a ring around its neck from a single block of wood.
Creator’s Channel Seto
Though Creator’s Channel Seto has the smallest number of videos at 14, it’s impressive as a side project that was launched just last October by Tsuyoshi Takemoto of Trick for Treat, a wooden furniture studio in Seto, Aichi Prefecture. All the featured artisans create contemporary products, from the minimalist pottery of Daisuke Anayama to the cute blown-glass pieces by Yoko Kitta. Seto is renowned as a pottery town, but Creator’s Channel Seto also aims to showcase other artists in the area with five- to seven-minute-long videos that follow their process from start to finish, at times even giving a little insight into the creators’ personal lifestyles.
Featured above is the intricate work of Noriyuki Yamada, a woodworker who demonstrates his interpretation of kumiko latticework, a complicated process that involves no glue to hold it together.