Sunday, January 26, 2014

Magewappa: Revival of a lost craft

Akita prefecture is located in the northwest region of the mainland of Japan along the Japan Sea, which blows cold wet wind and brings snow and sleet.  Magewappa making in Akita started about 400 years ago, to supplement the income of lower-class samurai though it is said that Magewappa existed as long as 1500 years ago.  During long snowy winters when not many crops were cultivated, people made handmade crafts as a living, a skill passed on from generation to generation.  Magewappa is made from natural Akita cedar which is around 200 years old (!), the wood has endured in Akita's cold tough winters and hot humid summers.

With the modernazation of Japan in the 20th century, the technique of Magewappa making had been lost until Yoshinobu Shibata revived it and evolved the techniques up to now.  One day, he saw an old Magewappa and was impressed with its workmanship and beauty.  He decided to revive this lost technique, and since then has rediscovered Magewappa making on his own.  He researched the technique and improved his skill by taking apart old Magewappas and learning from different bentwood objects.

Photo 1: Yoshinobu's collection of bentwood objects that he has collected from all over the world.  This is his hobby.

He is in his mid 70's now and still goes to demonstrate and sell Magewappa at department stores and exhibitions all over Japan.  Now the day-to-day business is taken over by his third son, Yoshimasa Shibata, and Yoshimasa has contributed to the spread of Magewappa.  Because of his effort, Shibata Yoshinobu Shouten has become a very well known company in the last 5-10 years and Magewappa is now very popular item among Japanese.  He has had exhibition in Paris in the last 2 years and explore new way of Magewappa products beyond borders.  It seems that Yoshinobu and Yoshimasa have respect for each other, both try to evolve the potential of Magewappa, loving what they do.

There are so much to tell about them, so I will write about the making process in a follow-up post.

Photo 2: Yoshimasa next to the old board of their first factory.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Magewappa by Shibata Yoshinobu Shouten in Akita

  Shibata Yoshinobu Shouten is a family-owned company in Akita prefecture, which makes Magewappa, the bent wood bento box.  When I decided to start Sumika Crafts, Mr. Shibata was one of the first people I reached out to for products to include in my selection.  
  I used to take my lunch to work in my plastic box.  One day I used a Magewappa instead of the plastic box for my normal bento.  I was so surprised at the difference - the rice tasted so much better!  Since then I have never returned to using plastic.  This experience was priceless and I was convinced that it is worth paying for the beautiful cedar box, as it brought me such a rich experience whenever I used it. 
   The secret is in the plain cedar wood used to make the box.  It adjusts the moisture inside the food, for example, it absorbs unnecessary moisture in rice, and this keeps the rice fresh.  This is because Shibata Yoshinobu Shouten leaves the surface of the wood plain, rather than coating it.  Plain wood keeps its hygroscopicity, its bactericidal effect, aromaticity and, above all, its beauty.  You will love the aroma of natural cedar and the taste of your food.  
Sometimes I feel that Japanese products are too beautiful to use.  But once I used the Magewappa, I realized that this is a tool to enrich people's lives.  It is made for people to use and enjoy not just for display.  Magewappa makes any food inside it look beautiful even if they are just simple rice and vegetables. 
  Maintenance is quite easy.  No detergent is needed.  Soak it in hot water and the dirt floats off it after a while.  Scrub the wood with a brush of natural material.  Rinse it and leave to dry naturally.  Also, Magewappa is fairly durable.  Below is the bento box of Mr. Shibata's  wife used for more than 10 years.  The colour became slightly dark and the surface is not flat anymore as it was used and scrubbed everyday.  You can see that the straight grain of cedar stands out.  But still this box works perfectly and it has become one's personal box that has been nurtured over time. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My encounter with a teapot, designed by Studio GALA

This is my personal story.

I first encountered the design of Studio GALA at a shop in Tokyo when I was still living in Kyoto.  At that time I was staying in Tokyo for just one month to search myself, not knowing what I would do in the future.  I saw a small Japanese red teapot made from Tokoname clay.  I fell in love with its appearance; simple, modern, dignified but modest.

The shop was one hour away from where I stayed, but I went back it to see the pot again and again.  I had no job and I had used almost all my savings during the stay in Tokyo, so it was not something that I could buy on a whim.  One month later, after so many changes happened to my life, I found myself having started working in Tokyo.  The job was somehow much closer to what I originally wished to do - to work closely to people's home life -, although it came to me by chance.  I felt that my life was now back on track.

Moving to Tokyo was fairly big adventure for me, more so than to move to Paris.  It was just after I finished the 5-month trainee period that I visited the shop again to see if the pot was still there.  I found it and this time I could finally buy it and take it to my small flat with me.  Since then, I use it to have a cup of tea for myself, or with loved one on a quiet Sunday morning.  I use it as my Japanese tea ceremony pot when I have a small tea ceremony with friends.

I like the pot all the time, and I like to have it in my life.  It reminds me of a sour and bitter time when I started my new stage of life, but more so, it brings me back to peaceful state of myself.  When I saw the pot for the first time, I never imagined that I would create this website to introduce this pot worldwide.  But now I feel that this is what I have been looking for and I am very happy with this.