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Power of Traditional Craft Adds Subtle Accent to Modern Ginza Space

Atsuko Tanaka

Ginza Six Editors Vol.13 (Lifestyle)

As a new white cube on Chuo-dori came into my sight, the whole picture gave off a faint glow, appearing as if it had long been part of the Ginza landscape. This traditional landmark has been renewed and continues to contribute faithfully to Ginza’s atmosphere of refinement. But until I took this assignment, I hadn’t yet been to GINZA SIX. As a Tokyo native, I’ve witnessed the transformation of Ginza since I was very small. And I’ve always loved its suppleness, versatility, and flexibility: how it continues to be itself while undergoing transformation. I admit to being somewhat intimidated by the fanfare when GINZA SIX first opened, as if the high-flying early 90s had come again. I decided I’d go explore when things had settled down a bit. Some time has passed now, which I regret—because GINZA SIX is so committed to the arts and traditional crafts. However belated it may be, it’s actually exciting to take a look around. I’ve wanted in particular to visit Gyokusendo on the fourth floor, a seller of hand-hammered Tsuiki copperware with a 200-year history based in Niigata Prefecture’s Tsubame City.

The interior of the store gives me a sense for a next stage of traditional crafts. The ceiling, walls, floors, and tables are all covered with copper panels hand-hammered by professional craftspeople. The space is lit in the warm yellowish-pink light of a sunrise, with everything illuminating each other. It inspires a quiet glee. The kettles, pans, and pots on the shelves all feature simple designs born of practiced execution.

I imagine there’s no better space for this lineup, which has captured the hearts of people of many ages in Japan and around the world, since the contemporary appeal of traditional crafts is most clearly expressed in a sensitively rendered environment. A tailwind has driven craft objects vigorously forward of late, but this store gives me a sense of the rootedness of traditional crafts, which are never wholly consumed by temporary fads.

The kettles are made by hammering a single sheet of copper, including the spout. They’re representative of Gyokusendo’s highly refined technique. The samples on display here show you the entire process.

Assistant store manager Yasuyo Maehara and staff member Yamato Tanaka tell me they were both awakened to Japan’s traditional crafts after spending time overseas. A rising tide is also lifting those who promote these crafts. Gyokusendo’s store logo is an enlarged, hammered copperware pattern in the style of a family crest.

On the same floor, I visited neighboring D-BROS, which features products produced by DRAFT, the graphic design group. The challenge of the GINZA SIX store is combining design with traditional crafts. With joints and couplings exposed in the traditional style, the interior closely resembles the post-and-beam style of wooden buildings.

Traditional craft doesn’t coddle design. Nor does design destroy the essence of traditional craft. Rather, traditional crafts and traditional culture are embodied by the power of exceptional graphic design. In the branding process, says DRAFT president Satoru Miyata, they spent a great deal of time on research and preparations. Taking an approach similar to that of a craftsperson will no doubt yield a highly fresh take on traditional crafts that features both a light and authoritative touch.

These plastic flower vases are a popular and long-running D-BROS product. The slender vases, which puff out and stand up when water is poured into them, include motifs from kiriko cut-glass and Edo komon cloth.

An eye-catching-graphic approach was also taken for the large book of family crests, which was produced over the course of two years ahead of the GINZA SIX opening.

“Family crests are the starting point of graphic design in Japan,” company publicist Eriko Fujitani informs me. “We selected 350 crests we thought were interesting from among the 20,000 in existence and compiled them into a book printed on Echizen washi with traditional Japanese binding.” The family crests are all interesting. The combination of the two designs shown on two facing pages was superb. They are “Korin Komori,” I’m told—a bat with its wings spread—and “Sue Gotoku,” with opposing claws. You can certainly see the resemblance. The crest designs are also used on folding fans, wrapping cloths, and handkerchiefs. The designs that emerge from a study of the past truly sparkle.

The lunch boxes made with spinning lathes, a Niigata Prefecture industry, were also created specifically for GINZA SIX. A knob that opens and closes air vents improves the integrity of the air seal. The hydrangea and chestnut patterns are charming. With traditional craft initiatives, it takes time to come to a shared understanding with the craftspeople. It also takes time to penetrate the awareness of potential customers. All of it requires persistence. With its unconventional design, I believe this store will shine a light on a new side of traditional crafts.

Incidentally, I encountered some interesting art in the elevator hall. From a distance, it appears to be a pop assemblage of flowers. With a closer look, I notice the Edo komon motifs. The fusion of tradition and contemporary art is one of the highlights of GINZA SIX. Artist Shinji Ohmaki expands and combines Edo komon motifs, and then fills the resultant space with repeating komon patterns. We find same (shark), gyogi (courtesy) and matsuba (pine needle) patterns here, and works of varying expression are displayed in the South Elevator halls on the second, third, fourth, and fifth floors. The title is “Echoes Infinity Immortal Flowers.” Undying flowers are auspicious flowers also linked to boundless prosperity.

Moving to the sixth floor, a floor developed by Tsutaya bookstore with a focus on art, I come across intriguing books everywhere relating to the area of my profession. But today I’m headed to inspect swords. Yes, amazingly enough, this bookstore carries actual swords. Says concierge Satoshi Matsumoto, “When planning this floor, we debated what we thought was the ultimate Japanese craft, and picked swords.” This floor has a concierge assigned for each product category. It’s exciting to pick out books while consulting with these specialists.

You can find the aikuchi sword designed by Marc Newson, world-renowned industrial designer, which gained acclaim when GINZA SIX first opened, as well as contemporary swords from master swordsmith Kunihira Kawachi and his family workshop, plus a wide range of books from old and rare ones to manga, sword maintenance products, and carefully detailed sword-themed stationery. The space isn’t partitioned off and proudly displays a mix of products, which perhaps explains the steady stream of people who casually stop to look at the swords—something refreshing to see. The emergence of younger female sword fans and the popularity of the browser-based game Touken Ranbu are generating excitement. This is also something that draws many foreign aficionados. From my perspective as a specialist in crafts, I’m aware that Japanese swords have played a key role in advancing the country’s traditional crafts. Swordsmithing techniques made blades with good, sharp edges widely available, in turn enabling the creation of Ise paper patterns for Edo komon motifs. The highly intricate engraving techniques used with swords came to be applied to wood, bamboo, and other metal works, as well as ivory. While swords were prohibited in 1879, they were honored as if sacred treasures. Their beauty as art objects lived on. Craftspeople with highly advanced smithing and ornamentation skills gained with swords contributed significantly to the virtuosic achievements of the Meiji period, so seeing them featured here is a great joy.

It’s long been said that traditional crafts must draw on the power of design to survive. This is no easy task. At GINZA SIX, however, I saw a number of examples of this being achieved in a very powerful way. To say I’m happy to be proven wrong may be a bit plainspoken, but I certainly plan to continue coming back for some time.

Text: Atsuko Tanaka, Photos: Chihaya Kaminokawa, Edit: Yuka Okada

editors_tanaka

Atsuko Tanaka

Worked for a publishing company before setting forth on a freelance career. Researches, writes, and edits, primarily on crafts, kimonos, and Japanese culture. Helped edit the first issue of the magazine Waraku (published by Shogakukan) and served as supervising editor for the magazine nanaoh (published by President). Author of “Edo Handcrafts: Respectable People, Respectable Things” (Bunka Publishing Bureau); “When Kimono Flowers Bloom” (published by Shufunotomo); “Kimono in My Style: Introductory Guide to Real Clothes” (published by Shogakukan); “The Wonders of Crafts: Reliable Handiwork and Famous Design of Artisan Inheritors of Edo Style” (published by Kodansha); “Indian Calico Notebook: Beautiful Textile Design Loved the World Over” (published by Seibundo Shinkosha); “Calico: Beautiful Textile Design and Dyeing Technique” (published by Seibundo Shinkosha); and others. Also involved in the production of dyed and woven textiles and craftwork exhibitions.
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2017.11.27 improves