Omotenashi Selection 2020: Artisanal items with Japanese flair

By Mio Yamada
The Japan Times
September 02, 2020

Germ-free: Every item in the Koukin Fuji collection is glazed with a Japanese-patented antimicrobial coating. |

Last month, the first session of the sixth annual Omotenashi Selection awarded 68 products, from foods to interior goods, in recognition of their good design and potential to promote Japanese culture overseas. It’s the initiative’s biggest project yet, and acknowledged the importance of continuing to promote soft power during the coronavirus-related economic downturn.

Though the Omotenashi Selection, a collaborative effort of more than 20 privately owned companies, is primarily aimed at vendors looking for Japan-made items, it’s an interesting resource for anyone wanting to see how innovations, and product and packaging design, may aid Japanese industry and crafts. Of the 17 Gold Award winners, three homeware items caught the eye of On: Design.

Wood you like a coffee?: Ohkochi Furniture Studio’s Noko dripper is made from Japan-sourced wood and crafted using traditional Kiso lacquerware methods.

Peak coffee dripper

The Noko coffee dripper’s curved wooden trapezoid stand, cup and ring base are strikingly stylish — but it’s the showcase of traditional Japanese woodworking skills that makes it extra special.

Layers of lustrous Japanese lacquer protect the interior of the dripper cup: Hikimono wood-turning is used to carve the cup’s ring base from a single block of birch, and the smooth arcs of its plywood stand are molded into shape using hikimage bentwood techniques, both of which can only be done by hand. Inspired by a bucolic mountain lifestyle and crafted by Ohkochi Furniture Studio in Nagano Prefecture, the Noko is made from Japan-sourced wood and crafted using traditional Kiso lacquerware methods.

Priced at ¥19,250, it may be a niche product for the discerning coffee enthusiast, but it’s 100 percent Japanese.

Germ-free: Every item in the Koukin Fuji collection is glazed with a Japanese-patented antimicrobial coating. |

Shimmering Mount Fuji

In a more overt tribute to Japan, the Koukin Fuji collection of metalware items takes the ever-popular iconic Mount Fuji motif and reworks it into numerous designs that are as functional as they are decorative.

Each interpretation of the volcano is different. Some are figurative, such as the set of slim bookmarks that feature tiny Mount Fujis with serpentine hiking trails. Others are more conceptual, like the circular kenzan (flower arrangement pinholder) that simply peaks in the center to support longer flower stems. There are Fuji silhouette cutouts in burnished chopstick rests, while a white bar of soap becomes the melting snowcap for a Fuji-shaped soap dish. The items, ranging from ¥462 for a paper clip to ¥13,200 for the kenzan, also include a shoehorn, toothbrush holder, kanzashi hair sticks, cutlery rests, conical salt and pepper shakers, a bottle opener and drink stirrers.

It’s not just the visual design scope of the Koukin Fuji collection that drew the attention of Omotenashi Selection. A collaborative effort between the metal-plating company Sanko Seisaku and Iwakura Welding Industry, every item is glazed with a Japanese-patented antimicrobial coating, making them antibacterial and easy to clean.

Touching is believing: Each piece in Bunzan’s Ceramic Mimic Fabric pottery collection looks like it’s been made with cloth. |

That’s a wrap

Although Bunzan is an Arita-ware specialist, its winning lineup of Ceramic Mimic Fabric tableware and vases eschew the traditionally colorful and ornate porcelain styles for which Arita, in Saga Prefecture, is known. Instead, it offers contemporary monotone pieces that, at first glance, look like they are made of cloth.

Bunzan champions the unique characteristics of tebineri (hand-formed pottery). Its Ceramic Mimic Fabric patterning technique, originally developed during the late Showa Era (1926-89), involves wrapping each work with a swath of linen and gently hand-pressing it into the clay to create an impression. It sounds like a simple process, but Bunzan’s execution of this on particularly thin porcelain produces a subtle diaphanous effect, and the textural details of the warp, weft and folds of the fabric bring a homespun warmth to the series’ overall minimalist aesthetic.

Ceramic Mimic Fabric tableware is priced from ¥3,300 for a small glass or plate to ¥16,500 for a gold-rimmed sake set; the vases, which include more decorative pique weave and lace versions, start at ¥2,860.

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