[Interview Highlights] Taro Kihara, Shop Manager at Kihara, Tokyo, Japan

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Last month, I met Taro Kihara, who is Kihara space manager in Shibuya neighborhood in Tokyo. The brand specializes in producing porcelain from Arita, where the team works closely with a network of fifty factories “big or small” – whether it be for making a cup or a vase, the right conversation partner can always be found. Kihara combines in-house design works and international collaborations – each remaining true to their culture. I first got to know the brand in January 2019 at Maison & Objets fair in Paris. Concerning The Dorayaki Project, I chose to broaden the scope of my research and include a brand that uses a unique craftspeople-and-machine combination, as well as a wider-spread network of suppliers and business partners. I wanted to find out what it means to produce faster, in bigger quantity than a solely-owned craftsmanship company and to sell on an international scale. This is all about perspective!

 

Origins of Arita porcelain

“Four hundred years ago, Korean people came to Arita and found the material in Arita. So Arita is started a porcelain factory”. Traditional know-how is rooted in Arita, as the Koreans, who learnt from Chinese people, taught Japanese people how to make porcelain. In addition to “quality”, Arita’s porcelain has a “specific white blue, blue and not perfect white but a little bit blue white” color. Got it? It seems simple, but it is all about shades. One should train their eyes to spot a genuine Arita porcelain.

 

Getting inspired at the museum

When he can make some time in his busy schedule, Taro-san likes to go to museums and see “old-style Japanese crafts in Japan for exhibition”. Taro-san believes that old-style Japanese porcelain are timeless: they are “always good”. Young people do not fancy this kind of precious, hand-painted, refined artworks. Even though he is young, Taro-san if fond of products which would seem old-fashioned to many. “I understand porcelain history and techniques. I have this knowledge, so I can appreciate old-style porcelain”, Taro-san explains.

 

Innovation: clients ask for more contemporary lifestyle brands

Arita’s economy is relying on porcelain: “most people are working in a porcelain factory or store”, Taro-san confirms. Therefore, when economic uncertainty occurs, the consequences can be tragic. When “Japanese economy [was] down”, it was time to stop and think. In addition, in a globalized world, competition with China can be particularly dreadful. As a result, “people didn’t buy old style [expensive] porcelain, because very cheap porcelain was made available by China”. In this context, Arita turned a threat into an opportunity by choosing the way of innovation. The brand used to offer “old-style”, refined and therefore more costly porcelain. The offer was adapted in order to fit with a more contemporary and relevant style. “So we are just thinking to change the concept…”, to integrate “lifestyle” as “European style, American style”. It is a real shift: Arita team members were ready to “change thinking” and therefore change the brand spirit.

 

Cultural design

I mentioned earlier that an in-house designer was responsible for providing designs, moods and patterns for the Japanese market. Taro-san found out that “only Japanese people understand [Japanese] designs”. What is a typical Japanese design? It should represent the characteristics of the place. Taro-san gives us an example: “Have you heard of Naoshima, in Shikoku prefecture? This island has a lot of museums, and a lot of cats as well”, so Kihara is making magnets that represents cats and museums in a very figurative way. More broadly, “what is Japanese culture about, what can be identified as Japanese immediately?”, I ask. It is mainly about “anime, Tokyo Tower, kabuki and maid cafés”, as far as Taro-san is concerned. “This is Japanese culture”, he states. Moreover, Taro-san emphasize the importance of the four seasons: “we just feel the design or pattern means spring, summer, autumn or winter”. He acknowledges that foreign people might not notice this way of expression. Therefore, Kihara developed a local approach for products which are to be sold overseas. This expressed in collaborations with foreign designers in Paris or Singapore. “For example, we want to express French style, but Japanese don’t understand French culture and History, but we can mix it with Japanese style, so that it makes it easier for Japanese people to understand French culture”. That is how one can take the leap from a national perspective to a comprehensive multicultural approach.

 

Many thanks, Taro-san!

 

KIHARA TOKYO
1-14-11 2F, Tomigaya, Shibuya-ku,
Tokyo 151-0063 JAPAN
T : +81 3-6407-1571 | F : +81 3-6407-1572

The original location in Saga prefecture
KIHARA INC.
Akasaka, Arita-cho, Nishimatsuura-gun,
Saga-pref, 844-0024 JAPAN

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[Interview Highlights] Erika Mori, shop manager at aeru meguro, Tokyo, Japan

My meeting with aeru shop manager was special. First, because it was to set the tone of my time in Tokyo, being the first interview I carried out in the capital city after a three-month stay in remote Ogatsu, Miyagi-ken. Second, because it opened the research to “retailers” stakeholders, who have strong relationships with artisans – both commercially and as a corporate culture –  and also can provide a marketing and customer-oriented point of view. This was a very refreshing talk, and like every time, thanks to the talents sharing bits and pieces of their personal stories – very moving, too.

 

About aeru meguro

The store itself contains an iconic item from Japanese culture: the Kaidan-Dansu. It is used to exhibit the products and it also enables modular spaces in the room, when events or workshops are held. “It’s a traditional thing in Japan, because in Japan there is not so much space, we have to use the space inside of the stairs, too”, Erika says. Smart, efficient and aesthetic use of the space: this is design! “The adult can go under the stairs too! It is so high”, Erika adds. So, the promise is about fun for everyone, children and parents, too. Actually, aeru meguro has won a silver prize for its space design in Design For Asia Award.

 

Loyalty to craftsmanship

aeru carefully selects artisans in order to initiate and maintain partnerships in the long run. Moreover, aeru team members are truly passionate about the objects crafted by the artisans. They understand the value of craftwork and make it their mission to communicate about it to “everyone”. “[Craft works] would enrich my life! So, that’s why I was in love with these traditional things.” And the love story also makes room for… History. “I loved History, and, when I understand about these things, I connected with the past and.. I had more fun!”. Connecting past, present and future for all generations can be fun! It is also the key to support artisans: “if we can buy these objects, the artisans can make a living thanks to their talent”.

 

The journalism spirit

“During my private time, I go to lots of places to meet artisans”. After these visits, Erika Mori always feels the need to let the world know about the beautiful things she has seen and talented people she has met: “Oh, I want to tell these things to the people”. At aeru, every team member does their job as if they were journalists. “Our knowledge is increasing… and then, we can, well, understand a lot, very deep, so that’s how we can be a journalist!”

 

Contemporary traditions

This sounds like an oxymoron, but aeru made it come true. One example of that is how aeru team members can teach children about Japanese manners during workshops for instance. “Everyone will tell you that you say “Itadakimasu” to thank the rice and vegetables, as well as the people who made it… and we [at aeru] thought that we didn’t say thank you to the artisans and also to the tableware, so we wanted to add that when saying “Itadakimasu” !”

 

Many thanks, Erika Mori!

 

aeru meguro
3 Chome-10-50 Kamiosaki, Shinagawa, Tokyo
+81 (0)3-6721-9624

https://a-eru.co.jp/en

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