This November we were lucky enough to be invited to an all too brief workshop tour of Japan. Beginning in Asahikawa on the northern island of Hokkaido we travelled via a brief stop in Tokyo to Kagoshima Prefecture on the southern tip of Kyūshū, and on to Amami Ōshima, a subtropical Pacific island close to Okinawa. Whilst in Hokkaido we had the chance to visit and watch at work the makers of some of our most beautifully crafted wooden products, whilst in Kagoshima and Amami following a presentation about our work here in the UK, we had the opportunity to visit a range of craftspeople whose work we hadn’t encountered before. It's been an incredible voyage of discovery, providing an insight into the outstanding and inventive techniques employed throughout Japan in woodwork, glasswork, ceramics, and silk. We’ll be posting more individually in the coming weeks, explaining a little about the working processes and techniques we encountered, and sharing films of the remarkable craftsmanship at work.
Hand weaving a silk and abacá (a type of banana) mix cloth at Nakae Silk Works, Kagoshima City, Kyūshū.
Self-made tools used to make truly remarkable pottery in the workshop of Shigemasa Kamibeppu, Ibusuki city, Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyūshū.
The hands of Yukihito Kanai of Kanai Mudding Works, Amami Oshima. Stained from working with natural indigo and blackening mud.
Unique coloured glass blowing at the Satsuma Kiriko factory, Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyūshū.
Takahiro Nishi of Nishi Sculpture Works carving cedar in his workshop at Kawanabe town, Kogoshima Prefecture, Kyūshū.
Phenomenally and beautifully complex silk weaving at Yumeorinosato Silk Works, Amami.
Tsuugi Minami tying abacá fibre in preparation for weaving at Minami Silk Works in Amami.
Seto Susumu marking the grain and cutting facets in to one of his bowls in his workshop in the hills just outside Asahikawa, Hokkaido.
A fine selection of planes and marking tools at the Ibazen furniture making workshop near Asahikawa.
Iba Takahito at work on a stool seat by the oblique light of a single lamp to better reveal the form.
Lengths of kalopanax seasoning outside Takahashi Kougei's workshop in the cold Asahikawa air - awaiting transformation in to Kami cups or glasses.
Wood shavings by a lathe in the Takahashi Kougei workshop. These are used to fuel the special wood burner in the centre of the space, helping to keep the workers warm through the cold Hokkaido winters - when temperatures can get as low as -41ªC.
Hidetoshi Takahashi of Takahashi Kougei holding a Cara cup he has just shaped on a lathe.
Hiroyuki Inoue of Kobo Akarino-Tane working at the lathe using his specially developed technique for creating a thin wooden night-light cover.
Ryoichi Tsuboyama talked us through the construction of traditional sugi (Japanese cedar) ‘itatsuke’ - the Amami style of fishing canoe, which today are mainly used for racing. He also told us he was now having to move as the harbour where his boat yard sits is being filled and re-developed. The last of his kind, he fears his skills will be lost forever.