NEWS

New and old stories about Japanese Crafts. 

The Art of the In-Between

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New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) has a stunning exhibition of famed fashion designer Rei Kawakubo’s work. Of course, she is synonymous with Commes des Garcons, and The Met has put together a really intriguing exhibition that looks at opposites in her work. It blurs the lines of what we think opposite means and looks at what’s in between. It is the essence of what she has done since founding Commes de Garcons in 1969 -- embracing two Japanese principles:  mu (emptiness) and its relation to ma (space). The concept of opposites blurring invokes the space in between.

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As always,we were really impressed by Kawakubo’s body of work as well as the great manner in which the exhibit was curated and designed. We’ve been to other shows in the Costume Institute at The Met that were stunning, but they were typically staged in dramatic setting with more direct lighting, to great effect. But Kawakubo’s work was portrayed entirely different. The staging was white with a matrix of overhead lighting from the ceiling and no spot-lighting on the displays. It emphasized the bold shapes of Kawakubo’s work, reflecting the colors and theme of the exhibit as well as her design ethos..

There are several concepts of “in-betweenness” portrayed in the exhibition and we could go into great detail about each, but I think the visuals tell the story.

An Afternoon with an Up and Coming Artisan in Nara’s Autumn Countryside

Ikura san creates very large pieces as well.

Ikura san creates very large pieces as well.

On our recent trip to Japan, we spent an amazing week in Kyoto and Nara, traversing the streets and alleys of the two famous old capital cities so rich with tradition and culture. We visited ancient shrines and temples, ate incredible food and enjoyed a few of the local beverages that go so well with them.

While there, we also spent time visiting a few of our artist friends, including Kotaro Ikura who comes from a family tradition of creating beautiful ceramics. Ikura-san’s father is a famous ceramic artist, and he could have followed that path, but he has chosen to go in a new direction, following his creative instincts, and we love what he is doing. We visited his new studio in the hills outside of Nara at their vibrant peak of autumn’s colors so revered in Japan.

His new studio is an old sake distillery full of original character and new touches Ikura-san has brought to the rustic space, which he has converted into a working space, showroom and living quarters for his family. It was quietly breathtaking inside and out. As he showed us around, Ikura-san pointed out the black coloring on the tan walls, which is caused by inhabitants of the previous owners -- the spores of the Koji cultures, vital to the making of sake. The past still lives and watches while the present continues and grows.

We will be showcasing Ikura-san’s translucent works in the months to come, but we wanted to lift the curtain a bit to give a sneak peak, and yes, maybe a tease, at what’s to come.

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A cup with Ikura's signature style translucent stripes

A cup with Ikura's signature style translucent stripes

Large bowl with beautiful light blue glaze

Large bowl with beautiful light blue glaze

Very cool traditional house!

Very cool traditional house!

Ikura san's studio space used to be Sake brewery, so its Sake culture keeps changing the wall texture. 

Ikura san's studio space used to be Sake brewery, so its Sake culture keeps changing the wall texture. 

We love... "japanese packaging" part 1

We adore Japanese packages. We'd like to share Part one of our packaging study.

Plum tea package by Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten. Their business dates back to 1716, supplying special Goyohin to Tokugawa government. 中川政七商店

Plum tea package by Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten. Their business dates back to 1716, supplying special Goyohin to Tokugawa government. 中川政七商店

Individual Plum wine carton comes with a pretty sleeve. "Ume-iro Shizuku" from Kozaki Shuzo Nabedana, in Narita, also has 320 years of history. 鍋店

Individual Plum wine carton comes with a pretty sleeve. "Ume-iro Shizuku" from Kozaki Shuzo Nabedana, in Narita, also has 320 years of history. 鍋店

Gorgeous emboss work on outer pack for Incense ...by Shoyeido Incense Co, Kyoto. 松栄堂

Gorgeous emboss work on outer pack for Incense ...by Shoyeido Incense Co, Kyoto. 松栄堂

Individual mini Yokan in 3 flavor packs are in a cute little fabric bag! ...by one of the most well known Wagashi store, Toraya. とらや

Individual mini Yokan in 3 flavor packs are in a cute little fabric bag! ...by one of the most well known Wagashi store, Toraya. とらや

Setsubun. Let's throw beans!

Setsubun New York style in Motion Plate by  Kihachi Studio

Setsubun New York style in Motion Plate by Kihachi Studio

Today (Feb. 3) is setsubun in Japan. It symbolizes the day prior to the traditional start of the the lunar new year. Think of it like a New Year’s eve — before risshun, the beginning of spring from the old lunar calendar. It’s a time when the fresh new year is welcomed in and ceremonies are performed to chase away evil from the previous year and keep it away from the new one. A special setsubun ritual to cleanse evil spirits away is called mame-maki, which can be translated into bean scattering or throwing. Typically, soybeans are used.

Families use a handful or cup of roasted soybeans and either toss them about the house or sometimes at a family member dressed as a demon — shouting "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!", which means roughly, out with the evil and in with good fortune. They also open the windows and throw the beans outside. Another part of this tradition is to eat the same number of beans as your age to bring you good fortune in the coming year. Sometimes, an extra bean is added to increase this good fortune.

We wish you the best and most-rewarding year ahead...!

Cloud and Moon

Warabi Mochi from Ungetsu. Cool paper package.

Warabi Mochi from Ungetsu. Cool paper package.

We are now in Tokyo! … meeting with great artists and seeing amazing designs everywhere.

After one of the meetings — at the studio of a bamboo artisan from Kyoto — we walked by a beautiful little store in Minami Aoyama, called Ungetsu. This is a satellite store of a Kaiseki restaurant in Kyoto, and it means Cloud and Moon. It’s named after a piece of Zen poetry describing a late evening conversation about mountains, clouds, the ocean, and the moon between close friends.

In keeping with it’s poetic name, the store is designed in Kyoto style, and the women working there are all dressed in pretty kimonos. We tried Komatsu Kombu (salted sea weed, which was not so salty and was full of umami!), some Plum Paste (also super yummy... and great with bowl of rice!) along with a cup of green tea. We also purchased some sweet cakes and Warabi Mochi too. We can’t seem to get enough Japanese sweets!

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Stay tuned for more about our time in Tokyo meeting with new and exciting artisans — and finding little treasures around every corner.

Ishikawa Artists Shine in NYC This Month

New York City played host to several artists from Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan in September. We were in Ishikawa last year visiting Kanazawa and Yamanaka, and have met many great new artists there. We are encouraged and excited to see their work being recognized broadly.

It started with with Toshiharu Hisatsune, an artist displaying Kaga Yuzen, a style of textile craftsmanship unique to the Ishikawa region. He exhibited his Kimono and Noren (a room divider made of fabric) in Brooklyn, and he demonstrated for the audience how he dyes fabric. He told us some interesting stories about the history of Yuzen and about traditional wedding rituals in the Ishikawa area.

Then, we met Satomi Den, who is a glass artist working in Kanazawa. Satomi-san has been working on a unique method of glass-making, which was inspired by her previous study of metal work. Satomi-san had her latest show at the tatami room at Globus Washitsu. It was great to meet her and discuss her work. It was quite interesting as her work is influenced by European lace design, but its beauty still shined through in a Japanese setting.

Finally, we saw an exhibition and lecture by Toshio Ohi, who comes from a long line of great craftsmen. His father is a renowned 10th generation master Ohi Chozaemon, and Toshio-san has been developing his own style in the genre. He is a true jet-setter, coming to NYC twice this month in between busy days as an artist, lecturer, jury, tea master, and teacher in Japan. His energetic and magnetic lecture was rich with knowledge in Japanese history, culture, and traditional tea ceremony background. We really enjoyed his thoughts and global perspective.

Meanwhile, we have been talking to a lacquerware artisan from Ishikawa, who has a fascinating philosophy, which is reflected in his life and work. He inspires us everytime we communicate. We are looking forward to showing his work in the future.

We sense Ishikawa’s geographical and political position in history has a strong effect in their psyche. As Ohi-san said, these encounters with people is a treasure in life. It is a pleasure getting to know these Ishikawa artisans. They keep inspiring us greatly.

Kaga yuzen wedding noren by Toshiharu Hisatsune

Kaga yuzen wedding noren by Toshiharu Hisatsune

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Glass work by Satomi Den

Glass work by Satomi Den

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Toshio Ohi talks at exhibition opening

Toshio Ohi talks at exhibition opening

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Hiyaoroshi - Another Autumn Treasure

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It still feels like summer out, but those days will soon be fleeting as fall makes it’s arrival. While we love and will miss summer, autumn has many charms that we embrace. The leaves change colors as nature weaves it beautiful magic, late season fruits and vegetables are in markets and stores — and being the sake lovers we are, it also makes us excited for the arrival of the Fall sakes, including one of our favorite kinds, Hiyaoroshi.

Sake brewing traditionally finishes in spring of each year, and a six month aging process helps smooth out the flavors, which is why the new batches of sake are usually released in the fall. Typically sake is pasteurized twice to ward off any unwanted enzymes that can spoil the taste. Remember, sake brewing goes back many centuries before the advent of refrigeration, so the extra measures to protect it were vital to a great brew. However, once it began to get cooler in the season, brewers would release a version that is only pasteurized once — this is known as Hiyaoroshi. Sake lovers eagerly awaited its arrival every fall. So do we!

In Japan, some prefectures like Nagano and Saga have set September 9 as their official day for releasing each year’s Hiyaoroshi.

Hiyaoroshi has a lively, clean flavor to it — very vibrant with wonderful aroma and a nice, smooth finish. We can’t wait to try some of this year’s versions and will be heading to one of our favorite sake stores in New York City — Sakaya in East Village — to enjoy some when they arrive in the U.S. next month. We're excited to find out what this year's winners will be.

We encourage and invite you to try this seasonal delight. But don’t wait too long. Hiyaoroshi is typically released in small batches, so the supply can go quickly. Kanpai!


Seasonal recommendation from Sakaya

Wakatake Onikoroshi Akino Ki-ippon Tokubetsu Junmai Namazume 
若竹 秋の生一本 ひやおろし 特別純米生詰め

Uraksasumi Tokubetsu Junmai Namazume 
浦霞 特別純米 ひやおろし 生詰め

Sake – Part one. Summer Sake

We’ve been enjoying our summer and many of the traditions that make summer so special – grilling, growing, late night walks, fresh food – and of course indulging in some of our favorite cold beverages. One of our top choices for a refreshing summer drink is sake. Okay, it’s one of our favorite drinks all year, but on a warm summer evening, a glass (or two…) of chilled summer sake is a wondrous thing to savor and enjoy. Sake has a depth of flavors and types probably unlike any other beverage. So, we wanted to spend some time talking about sake. After all, it is a craft made by artisans and one we appreciate wholeheartedly.

Consider this an homage to sake delivered in a few parts and, most importantly, we’d love to hear your thoughts on sake, so we encourage everybody to tell us what you think and join in the discussion.

There is a wide range of sake varieties and brands, each with it’s own characteristics depending on type of rice, where that rice was grown, the water, etc...These result in each batch having it’s own personality, flavor and aromas. It shares many similarities with both wine and craft beer.

Westerners often think of sake as rice wine, but that is not really accurate and also unfair to this unique beverage. In fact, sake is brewed from grain – yes, just like beer is, and there are certainly similarities to the process that takes place using fermentation to convert grains into an enjoyable alcoholic beverage. As a home brewer (of beer), I recognize and appreciate this. But I won’t go into science here other than to say yeast eats sugar, extracted from the grains, and the meeting of the two produces alcohol in various strengths and, more importantly, a multitude of tastes in various ranges and bouquets emerge. Okay, science lesson over. Sake is sake. It is not a wine or a beer.

Sake is typically classified in four types depending on the process of their creation. We will talk more about that in another post.

Sake is unlike most other alcoholic beverages in that it is served in a wide range of temperatures – from 40F to 140F (5-60C). Personally, we enjoy it chilled more than heated, but it depends on individual preferences. Most brands are pasteurized, which results in a clearer beverage. Unpasteurized sake is called namazake, and it must be stored chilled. It has a very fresh taste and is one of our favorite sakes, especially on a warm summer evening.

Interested? We will write more in our next post, but until then, let’s get the discussion going. We want to hear from you. We encourage you to tell us your feelings and ideas about sake. We look very forward to hearing from you and talking about this wondrous elixir – sake

Choko, or Guinomi for sake is generally designed very small. This makes friends drinking Sake together refill each other's glass more often as a "good friend" ritual.

Choko, or Guinomi for sake is generally designed very small. This makes friends drinking Sake together refill each other's glass more often as a "good friend" ritual.