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Maruwaka Hirotoshi: Seeking a Future for Green Tea and Japanese Culture

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Maruwaka Hirotoshi: Seeking a Future for Green Tea and Japanese Culture
A flower-embossed, skull-shaped candy jar. (Courtesy of Maruwakaya)
Japanese traditional crafts have long been objects of fascination and inspiration. Ranging from kimono made of beautiful glossy silk to ceramics, from lacquered bowls to tatami mats, from shoji paper screens to other household fixtures, these arts have been handed down across generations throughout Japan. Now, motivated by increased flows of tourism to Japan, as well as the impending Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, increasing efforts are underway to express Japan in new forms through a fusion of the handwork of traditional artisans with modern designs.
Maruwaka Hirotoshi is a trailblazer in this regard, having established these trends in his role as a producer of Japanese handcrafts. In this capacity, he has traveled to centers of arts and crafts all over Japan, where he works with craftspersons to create many different items.
Examples include a candy jar in the shape of a human skull, which Maruwaka undertook in association with Kamide Keigo, the sixth-generation head of Kamide Choemon-gama, makers of fine Kutaniyaki ceramics; ceramic vessels made through a collaboration between Kamide and world-renowned designer Jaime Hayon; round bento boxes, known as mage-wappa, made of thin wood and sold by Puma; and iPhone covers derived from inden, traditional Japanese handbags, made of buckskin with lacquer patterns applied. All of these have a stark, stripped-down sensibility, even more so than the Japan-inspired designs that one sees so frequently of late.
Maruwaka Hirotoshi: Seeking a Future for Green Tea and Japanese Culture
Mage-wappa round wooden bento boxes from Puma. (Courtesy of Maruwakaya)
Maruwaka Hirotoshi: Seeking a Future for Green Tea and Japanese Culture
Inden embossed leather iPhone covers. (Courtesy of Maruwakaya)
Despite having acquired a reputation as a restorer of Japanese culture after more than a decade of these efforts, however, Maruwaka has concerns about the current boom in traditional Japanese crafts.
“It’s true that there are more products available now expressing the virtues of Japanese handcrafts,” says Maruwaka. “It seems to me, though, that many of these are just so much miscellaneous sundries. They may look Japanese enough to appeal to the foreign tourist market, but they’re hardly the real thing. As people become less discerning, and superior craftsmanship continues to go without the credit it deserves, the economic situations in the localities where these crafts originate gets more and more dire, as does the aging of the creators.”
Maruwaka Hirotoshi: Seeking a Future for Green Tea and Japanese Culture

Until his twenties, Maruwaka himself was like most other typical Japanese youth, in that he had practically no engagement with traditional Japanese crafts. His personal turning point came when he was 23 and pursuing a career as a street artist while supporting himself at a top foreign casual clothing brand. On a business trip to Ishikawa Prefecture, he was struck by the sight of a seventeenth-century ceramic platter of old Kutani manufacture which was on display at the Kutaniyaki Art Museum. “Here was something amazing, here in Japan, something far surpassing my ability of expression,” says Maruwaka. “We could be, should be, holding our own in the wider world with this.”
Maruwaka Hirotoshi: Seeking a Future for Green Tea and Japanese Culture
Collaborative efforts between Kamide Choemon Kutaniyaki Ceramics and designer Jaime Hayon. (Courtesy of Maruwakaya)
Maruwaka had no “in” with traditional Japanese crafts, however. On the strength of his enthusiasm alone, he personally made his way to the Kutaniyaki makers, as well as the makers of Odate mage-wappa round bento boxes in Akita Prefecture and the lacquerers of Echizen-nuri in Fukui Prefecture. With characteristic sensitivity wherever he went, he proposed projects to make new kinds of products. As he worked steadily to forge bonds of trust, he also established his credentials a little at a time, such as by unveiling the inden iPhone covers and the Kamide Choemon-Jaime Hayon ceramic vessels at DesignTide Tokyo, a leading design presentation event, to great acclaim.
Following his determination to compete in the wider world, in 2014 Maruwaka opened Nakaniwa, a gallery and store, in the Saint Germain quarter of Paris. He selected products for the store based on his own judgment, including kitchen knives made by Kama-asa—a cooking utensils shop in Kappabashi that is a common stop for top European chefs when they visit Tokyo—and Aritayaki Bunsho-gama porcelainware.
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