Thursday, February 14, 2013

WAZA 2013 in Tobu department store in Tokyo


A craft exhibition in a department store is always a good opportunity to view and touch and - yes - smell many crafts of Japan gathered on a single location. You will want to bring your money with you for sure. This 2013 edition of WAZA starts on Feb 14th and ends on the 19th at Tobu department store in Ikebukuro. It is spread over the 1F, 8F for the main space and some annexes on 2F and 6F.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Aizu cloth in the pockets




So what happened to the small samples of that wonderful Aizu cotton cloth mentioned on a post here almost a year ago? I am glad you asked because until a week ago, the answer was: nothing.

Nice to have but what for is the peril of craftware. Too thick for a pocket handkerchief, still a valuable item to carry here despite pandemic availability of disposable pocket tissues, the samples were gathering a little dust but worse, rapidly falling down into the black pit of amnesia.



Things have changed. Since yesterday, some have moved out of view but into tangible roles. That black long Winter coat designed in France, manufactured in some cheaper East european country featuring the inner pockets low grade lining that quickly develop those nasty holes where the keys and bits of biscuits are gobbled down in inaccessible depths along the lower border of the coat, those so painful details only known by the wearer are now secretly replaced by the sturdy and beautiful pieces of Aizu cotton.

The idea came to mind in a flash and the coat swiftly brought to that garment repair shop not far from home, a shop that seems to be open everyday of the year, so busy they are, as I was told by the perfect suit wearer and owner, as they cater to the top class department stores and boutiques of Tokyo where clients want a little more or less length here and there to the new purchase. It means an unending stream of work, and although you can't see anything on the 1F reception counter, many crafty hands somewhere upstairs are working days - and probably night - to transform the unfit into perfectly fit garments.



I was welcome with warmth and some smile when I propped up the samples and they did call someone from that mysterious upstair, a young man and specialist of cloth surgery who after observing the pockets structure casually said that this could be done easily, but with a little hefty price. But what is the fuss of money when replacing the itching bored pockets with sturdy and secretly beautiful Cinderella  pockets that would call the love back to that 4 years old coat to be now thriving for another 8 years if not more?

There are many stories, and not only in Japan, of poor looking garments hiding wonders of craftsmanship and beauty in the innards. So does this banal outside, top kogei inside coat - with a one yellow flying color. Only the wearer in comfy Winter shielding knows.



When repair rather than throwing away is a rampant business in Japan - noticed that shoe repair chain shops all over the place lately? - I have no doubt that the last factories producing the beautiful Aizu cotton have taken notice and will promote their wares to match contemporary Japan, although I doubt it. Replacing the dull inner lining with Aizu cotton, maybe turning a Summer suit coat into a colder season item, and so many ideas like this should turn the gloomy future of Aizu cotton into a brighter one.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Beyond Kokeshi dolls


Passing along Ginza, I was lucky enough to be stopped by the sight of intriguing wooden dolls adorning the window of Gallery Kikuta at Ginza 6-5-12. Artist Yoji Watanabe was inside for what happened to be day before the last of the small exhibition of his works. Mr. Watanabe is native and a resident of Miyagi prefecture whose name is still ringing with Fukushima and the 3.11 disaster but we talked craft.


He invited me to take in hands one of his creation and I was pleasantly surprised by the sturdy weight adding to the visual presence of dolls that are a jump beyond Kokeshi tradition although tradition is still the root of it.



The doll's core of keyaki wood is turned out on the lathe with body parts added. Fine details are painted or, for the black parts of the clothes, obtained by tiny dots of burning iron to generate an overall rich and dramatic effect. These oozes with a strong spirit of presence and are a welcome extension to the current merchandising of traditional Kokeshi dolls. The red is extraordinary reminiscent of Venise and Italy at large, but this is a personal view. Some wealthy well clad three gentlemen the kind you see spending indolent well paid well fed days at big companies boardrooms were pondering aloud on the "quintessence of Japanese spirits" and the necessary "they don't do things like that anymore" stance, but they left without buying any.



Mr. Watanabe has never exposed outside Japan and can be contacted through the gallery.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Curry plate craft


Discourse around Japanese food, outside Japan, has been these recent years so much designed by marketing for marketing purpose that outsiders stick to an image where raw fish, tempura and noodles rule. Even after many trips here, they have never eaten a dish of Japanese curry and suspect you get things wrong when waxing on that most Japanese dish. My take as an insider is that Japanese curry is not only Japanese, it is the top soul food dish and takes precedence even over Ramen noodles. They seldom have noodles at school lunch where schools provide lunch - in many cases, children bring a bento box from home. But they have and love curry, that perfect belly filler. The taste and later on longing for curry as that dish anchored into schooldays is melded into the fabric early on.

A visit at a local supermarket - where you don't go but where I have brought visitors who love it - is a sure way to know what belly matters daily. And Japanese curry in that sense is big.


A typical dedicated curry plate displays an oblong shape for nice separation of white rice on one side and gravy on the other, but the gravy may be served - at restaurant at least - in a separate metallic dish. This said, and depending on the liquid factor of the gravy, much about any plate is fit to receive standard curry so there is no unique take at shape and substance.

Curry has been inspiring many crafts artists it seems, not only for plates but also for spoons. Earthy, unperfected wooden plates and spoons are charming although dubious in their long term usage. Some like the plates oblong, but others have it perfectly rounded. The variations in shapes and motifs suggest that there is no rule, and in effect no real formalised approaches. Rather than the shape or material is the way the artist embodies the soul that is in "soul food" of curry, how the object, plate or spoon, echoes the soulfulness act of eating rice curry and relink with younger times roots.

Gallery Oxymoron in Kamakura will carry a curry dish exhibition from November 1 to 11. A perfect reason to walk around that charming city. Avoiding week ends will prove a wise move.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Food and Craft


Probably a differentiating feature of Japanese cooking is that it meets crafts, from simple meal served in basic wares, even in plastic reproductions of wooden wares, to the exquisite mise en scène of high end relishes.

On the picture is a starter at upscale Toufuya Ukai restaurant in Tokyo located on the foot of the now older Tokyo Tower that looks all of sudden beautiful compared with the newer Sky Tree.

This is food as theater as it is an allegory of a small village on a mountain in Autumn. The background is a reed woven object of craft, a larger version of which is still used in some places and homes as a receptacle for dust when cleaning around.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tokyo Kimono Week 2012 in Nihonbashi


There will be plenty of opportunities to perform kimono watching between October 9th and 23rd in Nihonbashi. The overall event information is currently ignored on the promoter web site English page, but just walking around will raise your odds to bump into beautifully clad ladies. Note that one sure to be crowded highlight granted the weather allows will be a kimono parade on top of the Nihonbashi, that is Japan bridge considered as the very heart of Tokyo. Despite ugly urban autobahns running over your head (there is one plan for the future to put all this ugliness deep into the ground) you will enjoy the show on that unexpected catwalk for a short 20 minutes (car rules here) on Sunday 21st.

Nihonbashi clashes for highlight with Ginza but is no match to that most famous district a 20 mn walk away. To put things squarely, Nihonbashi is a week days district. There is a pleasing deeply urban feel to walk around during business hours and early evening while the shops are still open. It turns partially into a ghost town later, and standard week end at Nihonbashi are thinly populated and usually best avoid, except maybe on Sunday October 21st.

Fan energy consumption away


Now the hot days of Summer are hopefully behind (still 30ºC yesterday in Tokyo due to typhoon sailing away), I just bumped into this campaign poster inviting citizens to fan away heat the traditional way and save on energy consumption. Early figures indirectly suggest that paper fans were a hot sale with a minus 11% electricity usage compared with last Summer, and without smart meters at that. Long live paper fans.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Inside the Kimono



Sometimes I apply extra slow walking, which is well done alone. It allows for minute observation, train back the eye not to zap but explore. Ginza is a terrific territory to do this. There are hundreds of art galleries, hundreds of boutiques, hundreds of reasons to stop and watch intently.


Thanks to that slow motion, I was lucky enough to talk with Tomoko Yamamoto who works at the kimono shop Masuiwaya on the famous back street Namiki-dori in the Ginza district. There are other kimono gorgeous shops around but what caught my eyes were those unusual playful kimono fabrics on display. I learned that these were reproduction of the Taisho era (1912-1926) motifs. But the most interesting part of the story is those are inner layers of clothes you won't fathom about from the outside. The kimono is still worn mostly for formal occasions and formal means no playfulness.

Ms. Yamamoto invited me inside the shop and we talked a little bit more. I wrote somewhere else how the 3.11 disaster has had among many impacts a strong back to the basics, made in Japan and dreams of lost traditions here, that is what you would call elsewhere a rash of nationalism, although here, it is essentially devoid of slogan and feather ruffles among average people. Only some politicians blow on such burning wood for strategic purpose.

The following is simply gut feeling so you don't have to take it at face value and I am not even sure myself it is grounded into any reality. Anyway, here it goes. In the shop, a young gentleman clad in a black male kimono totally snobbed me busy as he was with other things. For sure, the odds that I be a customer was nil so why spend time is money time on someone just curious about those odds bolts of fabrics. The problem, or let's call these "coincidences" is that feeling that many younger Japanese involved into tradition and/or the marketing of Made in Japan totally geared for the domestic market are totally uninterested by your interest. Older people would have at least delivered the politeness required in such circumstances that call for the display of appropriate manners that come down to chitchatting with the visitor, even if it is clear enough this would not transform into a sale. I am just putting a note here on that odd feeling I have had recently when interacting with various businesses where "local" is a keyword. Hopefully, I will be proved wrong.

But back to those superb inner layers. The problem with most fabrics of tradition here - if you leave aside the cotton rectangular multipurpose cloth called tenugui - is that the usage of these are limited to kimono and other traditional, now very seldom seen pieces of clothes. A real kimono is certainly not something you will bring back home, unless to keep it in a drawer with a one in 10 years opportunity to try and done it your own.

But the fabric itself, usually silk, has no other usages than kimono. It is too bad in a sense. As decorative fabrics go, these inner playful layers deserve to be displayed, maybe framed to adorn some larger than usual rooms, or could it be simply handkerchief anyone?

Anyway, you want to know that Tokyo Masuiwaya is located at Ginza 6-7-18 and it is definitely worth a visit for your eyes pleasure. If you meet with Ms. Yamamoto, tell her hello from me.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Kokeshi Pop


The end of it, or the beginning? We bumped into this at Yurakucho loft, a new merchant space choke full with zakka 雑貨, that is various things to buy where novelty rules as well as amnesia. You've got to like it. I didn't. Would not buy a single one, including the various merchandising stuffs, introduction books on traditional artists wrapped up in "those good ol' days" yellowish paper style. Business model wise, this is the future.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Culture Gap


When leaving the train from the end of the JR Ikebukuro station bound northward, you would quickly access inside the Tokyo Metropolitan commercial building and walk down a little bit maze like to what used to be the national promotional center of traditional crafts in Tokyo. I took the same path yesterday thinking about something else, and suddenly had the strange feeling that proved indeed correct, that first, the downstairs path had been simplified, and second, that the bright lighting was strange and new. It took a long 2 seconds seen from the main entrance at street level to confirm that here was indeed the past location of the crafts center now lost in Aoyama. A new Gap outlet just opened in Ueno.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Walking in Tokyo

For an alternative take on Tokyo and Japan discovery, tourism and the sense of place, I invite you to visit and turn into readers of my other blog Walkin' in Tokyo.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mingei at Takashimaya until September 10



Mingei, Bernard Leach et Charlotte Perriand, from today until September 10. Takashimaya in Nihonbashi is full of livable beauty and designed materials. Who could ask for more? This will move to Yokohama, Osaka and Kyoto Takashiyama department stores.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Machikoba


Sometimes in 2011, after the 3.11, I wrote about Machikoba as an extension of Kogei. It is not anytime soon I believe that Kogei and Machikoba will end up in Le Petit Robert French language top reference dictionary, although Bento is now naturalized French.

Kogei we know is crafts. Machikoba 町工場 is town small factory shops, and refers to the superlative craftsmanship and creativity of many Japanese SMEs to churn out pieces and precision manufactured end products that cover the whole gamut of tradition to hight tech. Your smartphone hyper smooth glass panel may be one of these, just as is a traditional iron kettle. It stems from the same culture that look for perfection in the details

Machikoba has long been a topic for internal self-patting on the national ingenuity of "we Japanese". This is all well and justified, but the discourse around Machikoba has indeed been kept so far in Japanese language, for the consumption of Japanese people. It will have to change some day.

Machikoba and the spirit of it have been back with a vengeance in the bookshop racks following the 3.11 mega mishap where violin playing robots showed the utter uselessness of cool in case of real serious needs. Politicians and the top brass at the helm are the mega culprit of the mega flop. But Machikoba spirit is still all around, ready to be waxed for internal nationalistic purpose when gloom, that of self-respect and the economy, has set in.

I offer to develop Machikoba tours in and around Tokyo, as well as nationwide for business touring purpose. If you are interested, get in touch.

Genuine


A genuine Panama hat with a genuine Kyoto paper fan. Fans are for Summer and totally appropriate for personal wind generation, even clad in business attire. It took too long this year to purchase on as the melting heat has been going now for a while. Based on previous Summer experiences, this one won't last much longer than this Summer of 2012, and it is good that way. Fans of this type are craft tools to be used, not to adorn a glassed case. Paper will get bruised and wear off, but when the end comes, so Summer will come to an end.

We had a hint for a convenient specialized fan shop in Ningyocho in Tokyo, one other beloved real downtown district. Ningyocho is full of genuineness, despite the odd McDonalds. It has roots in history that still show. You want to visit Ningyocho on business days rather than the week end, for the pleasure to feel the beat of a downtown piece of Tokyo that, and I can't stop feeling that way, resembles to some extent .... Paris. Don't ask me why. Despite all the things Japanese that Ningyocho offers, there is an uncanny feeling that it could happen elsewhere. In Summer, walk with a fan.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Putting Kogei ware into use (1)



The 3.11 drama of last year did shake more than a few projects. One I still consider key to enjoying Japanese kogei is a portable set of essential ware to eat when travelling, especially when the perspective to have three meals at restaurants for a series of days starts to drag you down. Granted you are not in the middle of the sea, chances are there is more than fish to buy at food stores and enjoy a quickly fixed simple meal in the hotel room. Doing even part of the meal yourself rather than buying ready made sandwiches and entrées at the delicatessen enhances the joy of travel. And doing this with a set of tools brought from home adds spice to the enjoyment.

This said, what to do with the ware you bought on purpose for those travelling time, knowing that those times are rare and short. The answer is obvious. Dont let these kept idle in the box. Put them into use in the kitchen until your next trip. One forgotten such piece of kogei now fully working is this small and practical spoon we use to measure liquids for salads. It is from Shimane with a transparent lacker showing the pretty hues of the wood. It's a beauty, even more when put into use.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Takumi no Waza Fair in Mitsukoshi



Mitsukoshi department store in Nihonbashi will show yet another edition of Takumi no Waza, a public fair with booths from 77 craftwork makers from the whole Japan. The illustration above is set on purpose. I could not locate a 2012 version so I am using the 2011 header. They are actually using the same deign, the continuity of which has certainly more to do with the state of the economy than a strategy for visual branding. 

This being said, a Takumi no Waza fair is a perfect opportunity in town to see, touch and be tempted by a huge variety of gears, wears and accessories belonging to tradition and made out of natural materials. 

My politics nowadays when roaming the alleys of such venues is to buy nothing unless I perfectly know which practical usage it will have at home in daily life, and usually in the kitchen. There is no room nor money left for artifacts to end in a drawer. The pleasure of crafts is in the usage so I invite you to think practical tool and select on purpose. 

The fair starts on June 26 and ends on July 3rd and covers space on the 7th floor. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kazuhiro Takase exhibit in Jimbocho


Small earthy objects are exhibited for a very short time, until June 2nd, at the pocket gallery Fukka in Jimbocho (Kanda-Jimbocho 1-11-2F).

Fukka is located at the left hand side of Saboru coffee shop, that one coffee shop that looks like a pirates den you want to visit at least once in your life. The closest subway exit is A7. Turn back immediately in the small alley along Saboru 2, and the original Saboru that features a totem at the entrance. The coffee shop is as cramped as the gallery. The beautiful and at times mysterious objects are by Kazuhiro Takase, born in Shizuoka in 1979, taught in Okinawa and living now in Aichi prefecture

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Things to see in Tokyo this month


The more you dig into Tokyo offering of exhibitions and shops related with traditional or modern craft, the more you find.


This morning I dropped by the Takumi shop in Ginza with the purpose to acquire yet another cooking apron made by Kibebata. These are so comfortable I would have bought all the colors available besides the black one we have already at home. The celeb UK chef Jamie Oliver recommends to use extra large plates when serving food as hardware opulence wets the appetite. The same applies to pots and crockeries used for mixing ingredients. A huge bowl to toss and mix a salad of lesser proportion is a practical joy to use. Same goes with aprons. The dirty fingers can be quickly washed under the faucet, but if time is limited, you don't want to grab each time the dish towel but fix the issue by wipping hands on the apron without thinking twice. That's why a comfortable and simple apron is a welcome addition to daily cooking as it identifies you as the cook and functions as a practical uniform. If you cook daily, you want more than one piece.

After having visited last time the new location of the glitzy but no longer impressive traditional craft center in Aoyama, Takumi more than ever stands apart by displaying craft objects that are less shiny, less colorful, in subdued tone fit for a time when dim light was a matter of fact and not the result of having to save energy. Takumi is a somber place, and lovable that way. Bright spot lights do not fit with traditional clothes there are aplenty there and deserve much more than a passing glance. Takumi regularly holds pocket size thematic exhibitions on the second floor where even more cloth items are displayed. I suggest you spend enough time there. Besides, the staff is very warm, welcoming and unpretentious. Query the blog for Takumi and find out details on the shop location.


Two places to visit related with kogei in Tokyo is of course the Mingeikan not that far from Shibuya that currently runs an exhibition on Tohoku artifacts until June 10th. 

Another enticing proposal is travel west to the ICU Hachiro Yuasa Memorial Museum located south of Musashi-sakai station on the Chuo line train, then 15 minutes by bus. This one exhibition is running until July 13th and puts on display boxes of various kinds and purpose under the theme "Packables and Portables". 

The ICU, International Christian University, is a superb campus tucked in a forest like environment I am nostalgic about, having spent a few days some years ago there for professional purpose. The surroundings are that Tokyo set in the countryside. I would recommend you to schedule at least a half day to also visit further in the south the National Astronomical Observatory featuring previous century building and observatory domes of eerie feeling. It may be a good idea to have lunch at the ICU before.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The sushi chef fishing rod


I mentioned in a very early post of this blog how bamboo fishing rods are part of Tokyo traditional craft. Not only are these beautiful piece of popular art that would adorn a room stacked on a wall, but they also are clever tools of technology. Like Russian wood dolls that stack unto each other, many bamboo fishing rods are made out of perfectly matched and lacquered succession of rod pieces that hide inside one another. At a favorite sushi restaurant in Kichijoji, Mikoshi is name, I had a serious look at the beautiful rods hanging upon special holders on the wall above the bar. The sushi chef who is a proud voluntary fireman is also a proud fisherman as many trophies and pictures all over the place can tell. Seeing my interest and questioning, he reached for something behind a wall, something that at first sight looked somewhat like thick chopsticks, and no longer than standard chopsticks at that. He started to prop out of these one after another gradually thinner beautiful rod pieces that would perfectly insert in the next bigger one, to end up into a pretty long fishing rod perfect for tackling small fishes. He mentioned that this was a affordable exemple at close to US$1500 (!), with no limit for the high end rods. Fishing is still important in Tokyo located by the sea, and there is a brisk market for mostly male wanting to spend a few hours balanced on a fishing boat in te Tokyo bay, Chiba or the Kanagawa sea sides to escaped from daily life with a silent dialog with fish. In the mix of restaurant chains and cosy miniature restaurants where interior design is more important than what comes on the plates, sushi Mikoshi is one example getting rarer of a quiet place that has been there for a long while. It is located at Honcho 1-13-9 and a real bargain for lunch with real home made cooking, and sushi.

First glimpse at Aizu cotton cloth


I missed an opportunity to go north and visit the only two left factories producing the 400 years old Aizu momen, or Aizu thick cotton cloth. But my friend F. was kind enough to bring me back colorful samples of this famous production now limited to small artifacts for tourists. Only, Aizuwakamatsu where the factories are located is in the infamous Fukushima prefecture. The future of an old cloth with beautiful patterns but receding far away in the distance of daily practical life is uncertain. More on Aizu momen will come.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A better wood spoon



There is a three to six month time to delivery for a single spoon or fork by Iwate prefecture based artisan Masahiro Hiraoka. Wood cutleries, small plates and chopsticks are his specialities. It takes a powerful flight of imagination to interpret the humble spoon - and fork - without ending up with that blandness so typical of a natural food restaurant in the middle of the urban jungle: wood tables, woody design, bland food and bland staff. Mr. Hiraoka's wares stand apart. For the baby cutlery set, it still takes less time to delivery than the time required to make a baby.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tsubame copperware


Niigata prefecture displays a rich metal craftsmanship, with Tsubame city hand-beaten copper wares seemingly among the most famous. A good introduction on these can be found here. I immediately fell in love with this short piece of craft whose standard usage in the newly open traditional craft center in Aoyama was not informed. Whatever, a strategy I apply and suggest you consider when choosing small wares is to quickly figure out how you could use it right away back home. For me, the usage came at first sight too as I had been looking for a smallish container to mix up quick cold or warm sauces for salads, Japanese or Western styled. This one comes handy and enhance the pleasure of home cooking.


The hammer imprints are beautiful and reminiscent of the many other countries where hammered metal wares are a tradition.

Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Square review


There is no tergiversating unless for lip service. A government eager to save cash is receding from traditional art promotion while claiming to do so. This is what you have to conclude when visiting the brand new Japan Traditional Craft Aoyama Square that opened just yesterday, replacing the vastly larger and multifarious Japan Traditional Craft Center in Ikebukuro. History will not remember that I was the first to tread in when the doors opened at 3 pm sharp. The new venue is a mix of jewelry shop, luxury hotel frontdesk and high end culture center for wealthy madames showing off yet another new Hermes carré.

What is yet another step toward more gentrification of traditional craftsmanship is also a call for action: if you have a keen interest in Japanese crafts, and you only stay in Tokyo, visiting the new location is still a must. But whereas the previous Ikebukuro center was rich enough in content to fulfill crafts crave for a day, the new place is at best a little poor starter despite the glitz. Incidentally, if there is one remarkable feature in this new space, it is the lightening that puts exhibited objects in a better, warmer and sensuous light.

Ah! But the place! Moving from dirty, rough and popular Ikebukuro, that Square is making a statement, that craftsmanship  belongs to the pretentiousness of plushy residential districts. There are, in this category, way much better places than Aoyama. Only, the choice of this very place is a failure, most probably due to the financial pinch that has resulted in reducing the exhibition space by more than half, and the awkward selection of Aoyama, right along the Aoyama dori avenue, which is nothing but an inner city 6 ways autobahn devoid of any pleasure for the poor souls who must walk along it. You don't want to walk along Aoyama dori avenue where you, as a stroller, immediately don't feel welcome walking. This is your typical walled avenue making you stooped and feeling disoriented and suddenly feverish despite the simple topography.

The opposite side of the avenue stretches the blind high green wall of the imperial Akasaka Goyochi, a forbidden chunk of land, a green forestry paradise in the middle of Tokyo, but closed to laypeople like the rest of us. For those who know the district, the immediate backstreets are your standard sleepy backstreets devoid of character, besides some villas that spells walled sealed upper end comfort with the usual dubious taste, of the owner, the architect or both.

Yet, if real estates were plentiful, it is in those backstreets that the new institution would have better fit, for the visitor, usually coming on foot by subway, or from Roppongi, would have had to walk with a growing sensation of well being as one escapes away from the noisy avenue into the mostly still backstreets of residential Tokyo. This transition from noise and the domain of cars to the lenient, gentle even if boring neighborhood would have been perfect to plunge into craft. Because visually, sensually speaking, traditional crafts belong to the mostly silent environment with a little birds chirping. Any Tokyo backstreet far enough from any too big avenue has it.

Much had been spent through some communication and design agency for the mise en scene of a place announced with a flashy brochure featuring a madame eating too much cakes daily at teatime, a descendant of some ikebana school family, together with an interview of next door's resident in chief, the Canadian ambassador in his embassy bunker like building as if protecting it from a future tsunami.

The automatic piano featured in the middle of the new center, that was briefly and painfully playing a lame version of Birdland, perfectly fits that mood of - yes, I already mentioned this - culture center for madames eating too much cakes at teatime between bouts of pilates and the ever failed diet program du jour. You can bet that in one year time or less, the piano will disappear.



In fact, the new crafts promotion center is to some extend a reduced version of any department store crafts floor, like in Mitsukoshi or Takashimaya. Then why would you go in gloomy dehumanized Aoyama dori avenue just for that? One reason as it was the case previously in Ikebukuro is simply for the bargain. This being a public promotional venue selling everything, prices have always been more interesting compared with any department store as the state is certainly not supposed to take any sensible margin. Actually, what was available as of yesterday in Aoyama was overall rather cheap, with some rare exception. But for those who knew the Ikebukuro defunct original, something was missing, and new addition telling a story. For instance, a new small but well located corner is featuring makeup tools that do not much look like craftsmanship artifacts, but that will certainly appeal to the "visiteuses", as one official's word I caught by chance was saying. Close by the brushes, the kokeshi dolls display was a dwarfed version of what it used to be, dwarfed but more pricey, with bright and lookalike dolls that are a sharp contrast with the variety of tones and expressions of what a kokeshi doll can be.

I was not impressed at all by many pieces of selected china and earthenwares, many at stunningly low price but poor appeal. More intriguing for some pieces staked beyond eye level was the lack of information, something you would never see in the past. Yes, there still are lovely pieces you suddenly choke with the envy to grab and take home, but what a disaster compared with what the Ikebukuro promotional center used to be.

Yet, there is room to improve, starting with getting rid with the center piano and I am curious to see how the coming revolving thematic exhibitions will fare in the so smaller space.

Gentrification of craftsmanship first means that the very people who crafts the gears are almost nowhere to be seen. The communication agency that designed the opening announcement brochure was bright enough to avoid interviewing or highlighting any real craftsman. What a shame it is. Above the cash counter that definitely looks like a hotel checkin counter, three LCD screens display incredibly crisps video shooting of craftsmen, and women, in some far, far away from Aoyama regions, doing their jobs. They are remoter than ever.

At the beginning of this definitely long article, I mentioned that this new situation is calling for action if you only stay in Tokyo and are enamored with Japanese traditional crafts. The center is open daily except on Sundays from 11 am to 7 pm. On your crafts crave tour, start with it, then beat it away, to Ginza for instance and a refreshing visit at the tiny but so comfortable Takumi shop. Next visit the department stores crafts floors, but also look for the many special exhibits, including the department stores regional fairs that are fantastic, popular, crowded, often mixing lots of food with some crafts. In Ikebukuro, on the opposite side of where the center was located, that is the less enchanting East district, the Sunshine City Tower - definitely not a pretty sight - is a worn out shopping center and also a lesser known trade show venue. It sometimes features regional fairs that are noisy marketplaces and a lot of joy.

And if circumstances allow, of course, consider living Tokyo for the provinces where there is not a single day, a single place without some crafts exhibition, fair or whatever, in locations closer to the mood where crafts is made, and being used.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bamboo strainers are must have in the kitchen


Friends visiting Japan are invariably buying knives, but a humbler and cheaper, yet essential ustensile you want to have when you cook, Japanese or not, is a round bamboo strainer. At least two, a large - and if you kitchen sink configuration allows, a really comfortable large one - and a smaller one will be prove wonderful, especially for the quick cooking of greens and leafy vegetables. Tongs are a great way to briskly move cooked greens to the strainer put on top of the standard metal Western strainer. Bamboo strainers are one of the obvious kitchen tools that needs no modification and no upgrade. It is easily available nationwide.

On the home bamboo strainer, just cooked string beans from Okinawa.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Faceless dolls of Takayama

The doll festival, Hinamatsuri, is late in and around Takayama city in Gifu prefecture. We were shown local sets made out of silk with faceless characters. These are extremely beautiful, both in shapes and vivid colors. A souvenir of Takayama is the standard Sarubobo, another example of faceless doll, this one made by poor people for the little girls.



I could not get into buying one, first because of the mass produced items crowding the tourists shops, and also because of a short explanation we got from a grandmother at one of the two tourists markets. It was nothing but the same above definition of what a Sarubobo is, but delivered in heart breaking fashion. I didn't notice any handmade original doll. Both dolls are to please the little girls and protect them from bad spirits. In that sense, a veil of concern is lingering behind the beauty of these faceless unsettling creatures.

Here is an example of a Sarubobo doll.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Asahikawa designers craft in Matsuya Ginza

You have to run to see this one exhibition on the 8F of the Matsuya department store in Ginza. Final day is tomorrow March 19th. Many pieces are of superior beauty and originality, not the Swedish type of modern wood wares of so many modern Japanese craftwork these days. All the pieces are from creators and corporations located in Asahikawa city in the northern island of Hokkaido. The details of these are to be found here.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Getting ready to cook


You would be right to ask the question. What is this? A cotton cook tablier. I am getting ready to start cooking lessons at home sometimes in Spring. It will be a Japanese affair but not the food. I was idly thinking the other day that it would be nice to have some kind of restaurant like tablier, but the idea sort of disappeared back in the mind. Serendipity called when visit again Takumi shop in Ginza. Takumi is a lovely, homey shop. You don't feel crushed under too much beauty as is the case with some crafts plushy outlet. The tablier's brand is Kibebata. It is 100% cotton, made in Japan, apparently in Shizuoka. Besides a vague blog, I could not find a maker web site. It perfectly fits the requirements. It asks to be used for real.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Kojima Coat


There is something mysterious about the Kojima coat we found yesterday at the thrift market. Is it real? Is it fake? The workmanship is superb. The fabric is uniquely comfortable. A close up shows delightful mix or gray, black and blue. The label inside read Kojima Tokyo, and the phone number is an old one, at the time when Tokyo phone number didn't start yet with 03. It feels it has mostly not been worn.



We paid 500 yens for it.