Shouemon Kotabe was born in the Ibaragi Prefecture in 1971.
Mr. Kotabe is the 37th successor to his family’s foundry business which has been handed down for over 800 years.
Since his childhood, Mr. Kotabe helped his father make temple bells. After graduating with a Metal Engineering degree from National Takaoka College (now Toyama University), he went into training at an iron kettle studio in Morioka. He then, returned to the Kotabe Foundry run by his father and took charge of it at the age of 25.
At the foundry, on the foot of Tsukuba Mountain, Mr. Kotabe makes temple bells, fire bells and rainwater bowls. Orders come from all over Japan as well as from other countries.
After consulting about letters and patterns, he creates a mold with local sand and clay and then pours copper and tin heated to 1200 ºC into the mold. Because he doesn’t color the bells, he takes considerable time to create an elaborate mold. It takes four to six months and occasionally as long as one year to make one temple bell. A bell newly taken out from a mold is orange-brown in color. Its tone gradually changes to red, then purple and finally to blue-green. As time passes, the local air makes the bell change its color.
Wanting the sound of his bells to resonate in people’s hearts, Mr. Kotabe continues his quest for the perfect bell-tone.
Toto-Awase is a memory game in which the players have to match two cards to create a complete fish illustration and the kanji character that represents the name of the fish. Each card also has a brief description of the fish depicted. These fish are all familiar species in Japan and their illustrations have been beautifully done with colorful paper patterns. The game was created by Toto Koubou in Tango Uocchikan Aquarium, located in Miyazu City, Kyoto.
Since its début on the market in the Spring of 2003, Toto-Awase, with its beautiful illustrations, has gained popularity. The game has the added benefit for children of teaching them the various fish species and their respective kanji characters. The total sale of Toto-Awase games has now exceeded 100,000. The game received a Good Design Award in 2005 and a Good Toy Award in 2006. Currently there are eleven different sets of the memory game according to different regions. The illustrations are elaborate collages with colorful papers of traditional patterns and the box containing the cards is decorated in vermillion and ultramarine - the quintessential colors of Japan. An English version is also made under the name “Card Game Sushi Bar” and it is popular as a souvenir for people to bring abroad.
If you have a taste for the buckwheat noodle “soba” from Japan and you like it so much that you find dining on it at a restaurant occasionally does not satisfy you, then it could be time for you to start making your own soba at home. The alluring smell of freshly made soba, its texture and taste are true bliss and it can be experienced whenever you desire by making your own soba. Essential to the preparation of soba, you will need to use a professional broad knife especially made for cutting soba by a master craftsman. The soba knife with Kuroda-shiage (black finish) is made by sharpening only the blade leaving the upper part with its original black color. It uses Yasuki Hagane White Steel, premium silver high carbon steel, which is suitable for cutting noodles into thin slices. It weighs 650g so pressing down on the dough to cut it into noodles is easy. The price is not too high but they are professional quality. It is always a good item to have in your kitchen.
Japanese cuisine is highly regarded worldwide for its beauty. This is often attributed not only to the food itself but also to the selection of serving dishes. When served on an elegant plate, home cooking looks even more appetizing. Handmade dishes in which each piece is subtly different in color and shape further heighten the dining experience. In an aesthetic unique to Japan people regularly assimilate nature into their everyday lives; the opposite of beauty being neat and orderly. This Wara White Lotus Serving Plate is handmade and each piece has subtle differences of color and shape. The plate with an inscribed lotus leaf pattern is otherwise plain and enhances the presentation of any dish. It is 20.5cm in diameter and perfect for any occasion. Acquiring a unique handmade plate produced by a small studio is reminiscent of an old Japanese saying, “treasure every meeting, for it will never recur”. Embracing beauty like this will further enrich your life.
Kuji Amber is amber produced in Kuji City, Iwate Prefecture.
Amber is a fossilized resin that takes million of years to form. The region of Kuji is notable for its production volume and high quality. Historically it is known to be the only amber production location in Japan.
The oldest amber in the world is around 300 million years old. Amber produced in Kuji region is about 85 million years old, which dates from the end of the Cretaceous Period. However, Kuji amber is the oldest amber in the world that is used for jewelry production.
Kuji amber has been produced since ancient times and amber found in the ruins of ancient tombs from the Tumulus period in various regions are considered to be from Kuji region. It is known that studios manufacturing amber already existed by the Heian period.
In recent years, a number of amber pieces which contain academically valued rare insects have been found. Amber is also loved as a natural jewelry that brings profundity and warmness.
A precious object carrying a message from ancient times presents itself to us with a moment from infinity that the earth has been witnessing.
With its picturesque quality and its scientific technique, Yuzen dyeing is an art form unique to Japan.
Takahashitoku, an elite dyeing studio in Kyoto, has for 100 years produced Yuzen dyes for the prominent manufacturer, Chiso.
The Takahashitoku studio is trying to preserve and make relevant this traditional art form for modern uses. They dye dresses and jeans for Yoji Yomamoto, one of world’s top contemporary designers. They also collaborated with a celebrated young artist and created scrolls and screens of his compute graphics paintings. For public, they hold classes for to experience hand painted Yuzen for fun.
“Tradition and techniques need to be accepted by people in order to survive’, says Kinya Takahashi, director of the studio. “But then what makes them acceptable? This question is always on my mind.”
Katsuhiko Akimoto is a master lacquerer in Tsugaru Lacquer Ware. A traditional craftsman certificated by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. He has also been awarded a lot of major prizes in Japan’s Traditional Craft Competition held every year. At the present, he serves as a director of the Tsugaru Lacquer Ware Association. Born in Hirosaki City, Aomori Pref. in 1942, Katsuhiko Akimoto was apprenticed to Kunitaro Watanabe at the age of 15, and 6 years later in 1963 he set up his own workshop. In 1976, he took up a position as the factory director of Imaizumi Lacquer Craft located in Tsugaru Lacquer Ware Coop and engaged himself in training young craftsmen. In 1982 he withdrew from the company and started making his own products at home. His main products are the speckled trays in kara-nuri technique, as well as other products in nanako-nuri, monsha-nuri, and nishiki-nuri. It takes several months to finish one product through a process of lacquering and burnishing repeated dozens of times. This craft is so time-consuming that it is given an alias name of “Baka-nuri,” which means only a foolish fellow can do it so carefully. The making of this ware dates back to 1677, when a lacquerer, Genbei Ikeda, started making a lacquer ware under the fosterage of the Tsugaru clan. Since then the craft has been handed down for over 300 years.
Born 1959 in Yamagata City, Yamagata Pref., Japan. Mr Okuyama worked for auto manufacturers in various strategic roles including as chief designers for GM (USA) and Porsche (Germany), then as creative director at Pininfarina S.p.A.(Italia), later he became independent. He is well known worldwide as a designer for Maserati Quatrroporte, Enzo Ferrari and Ferrari Scaglietti. He also worked on industrial design projects in a wide range of fields including public transportation with trains and planes, furniture, product design, interior design, spatial design and urban planning. He created and marketed the “KEN OKUYAMA” brand for eyewear. In 2006, he established the “Yamagata Koubou” furniture brand. He is currently an honorary professor for the Industrial Design program at the Art Center College of Design (USA) and at the Kanazawa College of Art (Japan). He is also vice chair of the jury for the Good Design Award and runs the Yamagata Carrozzeria Project. He lives in Italy.