[Interview Highlights] Arthur Brunel, empowering students in Tokyo

Today’s article is special. You will notice that the interviewee is not a craftsman, but a teacher. Why is that? What do they have in common? The answer is: both of Arthur and the craftspeople base their practice on know-how (*).
First, my brain goes fast and searches for examples and counterexamples. I try to think of what cannot be learnt, what human beings are born with. Breathing is natural, innate – at least, that is what I believe instinctively. But Arthur has a different point of view. “It is very difficult to define the notion of know-how, however, I can give you a few examples. It is anything that can be acquired. Breathing is a know-how, because you can learn how to hold your respiration for a long time. Your heart beating is a know-how, because you can control the rhythm of your heart beats – with a training – and slower it so much that you get close to clinical death.”

Knowledge or know-how ?

Using History as a discipline, Arthur explains: « A historian who studies events across times and puts them in perspective and draws conclusions out of it – this is a know-how. Someone who can read documents – that’s a know-how. But remembering that Napoleon was crowned as Emperor in this or that year – that’s knowledge”.

(At least) two ingredients go along with « know-how », as Arthur mentions. “Know-how cannot be acquired without experience – that is just impossible!”. Plus, at Comme Les Français, making mistakes is truly considered part of the learning process.

In the educator’s shoes  

« When I start a class, I have no expectations. I offer activities for the students and these activities are designed so that they can trigger a realization in their mind.”

Moreover, celebrating each student’s uniqueness is of paramount importance. “I remain aware that in my class, there might be five people and they make up five different entities and there is no point trying to harmonize their levels”. Plus, these students change over time “It is important to regard students as different from last week”.

Competition is not on the agenda here. Arthur and the other educators pay the highest respect to each student’s learning pace. « In a football game, for instance, competition arises because there is only one trophy ». What is realistic and acceptable, as far as Arthur is concerned, is when students « compete with themselves ».

« Handing knowledge over is useless. We value know-how building. As educators, our role is to create a situation in which students will get the opportunity of creating know-how. Generating a new know-how can be done, not through explanation, but through experience.” That is why experience is of paramount importance.  At Comme Les Français, the educator’s role can be summed up as follow: « we are facilitators of learning. We catalyse student’s realisations. That’s our goal”.

Empowering students is at the heart of educational ethics. Responsibility is a notion that Arthur calls upon to several times during our conversation.

Towards autonomy

Students are being given feedbacks – not answers!  – and « they are free to take them into account or not. It’s their responsibility”.

Overall, students gain the opportunity of « changing their time into experience”, as well as developing know-hows and sensitivity that goes way beyond merely learning a foreign language. I had the feeling students were given tools for self-development and daily life. “Our work is to develop some attributes, such as wisdom, sense of truth, harmony, etc. – in the classroom.

Empowerment is the key because “what does it mean to speak a language? It means taking the world over, because one can speak with more and more people”. It feels like Comme Les Français helps students conquering the world – if the latter want to!

Isn’t it magic ?

Did I mention the name of the method that inspired Comme Les Français’ team ? It is called The Silent Way… Do you realize what it implies?  « I don’t talk during the classes! It means an Arab student, a Chinese student and a Japanese student can gather and have a class together. I don’t talk, I don’t explain – what I do is enable students’ realization”.

(*) Comme Les Français’s spirit is inspired by an Egyptian philosopher called Caleb Gattegno, who developed a method based on know-how to teach various subjects such as French or mathematics.

 

Many thanks, Arthur! 

Comme Les Français
コム・レ・フランセ 東京銀座フランス語会話学校 教室
TEL : 03-6264-0050
info@comme-les-francais.com
https://comme-les-francais.com/

[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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[Interview Highlights] Astrid Hauton, designer, Paris, France

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The reason why I wanted to meet Astrid is because she values international collaborations in her design practice. So far, she collaborated with Vietnamese and Japanese craftspeople – which makes her experience highly relevant to The Dorayaki Project! Astrid shared about innovation, social and creative responsibilities of a designer. 

 

As a designer…

In addition to being an independent designer, Astrid is also a workshop facilitator. She helps people handling tools and making their project come true: “my mission combines two sides that are of paramount importance to me: an emphasis on interpersonal relationships as well as an exploration of processes”. Astrid solidly believes in this human factor and values meeting new people. “Many of the projects I have done are collaborations and often they take place with people who are not designers themselves”. She therefore celebrates interdisciplinary projects. “As a designer, I cannot be a loner and I need people to achieve my projects. I really get my inspiration from people”. Astrid also tries to design smartly while conserving resources, using what is available in a given environment – she calls it “economy of means”.

Creating impact is also important for Astrid. However, society may not be acknowledging the importance of creative jobs: “when you go for a creative career, you do create high added value but you are not paid enough for that in return”.

 

What is your definition of craftsmanship?

It is about people, culture and know-how. Most importantly, they can make a living out of it. “It is about being a professional, about creating an expertise based on making something”.

 

On interdisciplinary collaborations

There are so many benefits of getting involved in interdisciplinary projects. “It is about creating the space for people to develop new skills, to experiment different ways of seeing, of testing, of working together”. It is about empowering people.

Collaborations have their challenges, too! “You need to look for someone who is ready to… collaborate – willing to test new things, being open-minded, etc”. Because craftsmanship is about mastering a know-how and specific gestures, it is sometimes hard for craftspeople to change their habits and picture a way of doing things differently.

Astrid tells the story of a collaboration project she carried out in Vietnam. When meeting with a bird cage maker, she offered to change the shape of the bird cage and turn it into a lampshade. The craftsperson felt skeptical and told her “do you understand that if you open this shape, the bird will fly away?”. As a designer, the challenge is to make clear that you want to change not only the shape but also the function of a given object. From a human and professional standpoint, the idea is to find a way of working together, starting from each person’s specific set of skills – in that case, the ability for the craftsperson to produce various shapes from bamboo.

How can you make sure that a craftsperson will be ready for change? “When showing them sketches on the first meeting, I could just feel whether they would be open to new possibilities or not”.

What Astrid brings to these collaborations, both as designer and as a foreigner, is a different view on the world and different skills: “I am different, that should be an asset!”

 

On Japan

Astrid took part in Kyoto Contemporary program with Les Ateliers de Paris. This program plans collaboration between designers from Paris and craftspeople from Kyoto. That is how Astrid spent three weeks in Japan. When I asked her about what she recalls from Japan, she says “peacefulness, zen and excellence of know-how”

 

Vision of excellence

« Excellence… It means, paying a lot of attention to details, but it is also… quality, always looking for a high-quality result, process or interpersonal relationship with people I collaborate with”.

 

On the importance of testing and prototyping

When starting to work on a new project, Astrid does not know what the final result will look like – and that is exactly what feels exciting to her. It is really important to go through a series of trials and errors to keep the project alive and nurtured with inspirations. “If am I am given a blank page, I am not sure if I am so interested into drawing random shapes from scratch”. Many solutions can be found when prototyping at an early stage.

 

On Kyoto Contemporary

When collaborating with a Japanese craftsman, Astrid stayed true to herself and went beyond the boundaries of her design practice, especially with innovation in the process or in the shaping. In the future, she wants to “find new opportunities” in which she can “use [her] design approach with other kinds of know-how, other companies, other craftspeople communities”- the cool thing about innovating in the process being that it opens a way broader set of possibilities. Astrid was proud to share her feedback about this collaboration experience during a conference held at Maison & Objets fair in January 2018 in Paris. This opportunity is consistent with her will to share her experience with others and tell the stories behind the objects she makes.

 

Many thanks Astrid ! 

Check out Astrid’s work at http://astridhauton.com/

[Interview Highlights] Hirooki Ōtomo, writing brushes maker, Sendai, Japan

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The unique art of making Ofude

Ōtomo-san is making high-end brushes for calligraphy specialists. When you buy one of the brushes he makes, you can be sure you are going for the best quality as he puts all his heart and skills into making each one. Plus, you can use it for thirty years. Thirty years! These brushes used to be made of Japanese animals – mostly horses. Nowadays, Ōtomo-san is using white goats from China. Only never-ever-shaved goats can offer the required hairs for making brushes. The subtle art of making Sendai Ofude lies into the care one must put when making the brush. It is about carefully selecting animal hairs when composing the “head” of the brush. Indeed, there are different qualities according to which part of the animal hairs come from.
In one month, he can only make twenty of these high-end brushes.

 

The only one left

Ōtomo-san takes care of the production from beginning to end – alone. Meaning, no apprentice helps him. He is the only craftsman for this kind of brushes in Sendai – and in all of Tohoku area. He only makes the best quality, at a cost. In Hiroshima though, cheaper brushes are available, mostly used by students or primary school pupils.
Why does Ōtomo-san focus on making only the best quality products?


Aiming for excellence for every Ofude customer

Ōtomo-san is of prestigious descent. “My ancestors were Samurai. At first, Samurai were in charge of making brushes”. He respects the Samurai’s mindset: “rigorous, disciplined, doing things as they should be done…”. “That is what made brushes from Sendai so famous and beautiful.” So, he is not trying to make things easier. “The result would be the same if I would mix the hairs only twice, however it should be done three times, so I am doing accordingly”. “The important thing is to respect tradition”. It seems like the journey is as important as the destination.
Moreover, Ōtomo-san would notice if things would not be perfect – and he will not compromise on that. “Average people wouldn’t notice, but I would”. “Botching the job is definitely not an option”
So, is it about offering excellence to everyone? It seems like it!


Duty & devotion

« When my father died, here were like twenty employees at the shop at that time”. The family was in debt, so Ōtomo-san had no choice but to take the business over and train hard to become a talented brush maker. He inherited the know-how from the best employee of the shop – who himself leant from Ōtomo-san’s father. When I ask whether this very employee opened his own business afterwards, Ōtomo-san replies: “he stayed with me until the end”. That teaches a lot about passion and dedication, doesn’t it?


On the future of Sendai Ofude making

Times are changing. Ōtomo-san’s children work in various different fields and no one has taken over the family business. Moreover, since the disaster in March 2011, orders dramatically collapsed. However, Ōtomo-san sounds quite optimistic: “Oh, it is fine, people in Hiroshima will keep on making brushes…”.


On the art of writing

Back in the days, everyone would need a brush to write. Nowadays, it seems like computers have overcame. The irony being, “computers enable you to write with a brush effect”. What about the art of writing letters? Usually people use their computers to write nengajo (New Year’s greeting cards). Ōtomo-san uses his own brushes for writing them. Two hundred of them each year!


Japanese tradition

In Japan, sometimes people would make a brush out of their baby’s hair – that have never been cut before. “It is not a really good brushes though – better keep it as a cherished reminder of the child!”

 

Many thanks, Ōtomo-san! 

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