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Wood and Good Life: Daily Utensil Designs by Kirimoto Workshop

On September 25, at Wajima city in Noto peninsula, central Japan, my classmates and I met craftsmen and designers who have a strong faith in the spiritual empowerment from daily utensils.  During our visit, Mrs. Junko Kirimoto gave us an introduction about the philosophy, process, and products of her workshop.  Kirimoto Workshop (Kirimoto Mokko-Jo: 桐本木工所) shows an impressive effort to persuade people that daily utensils enhance your ordinary life, through unique combinations of traditional urushi () lacquering techniques and contemporary designs.  

                       Modern people tend to regard urushi-wares only as a luxury for special occasions, so Kirimoto workshop is pioneering experiments and creation of its daily utility.  Kirimoto workshop believes that craftsmen should explore both traditional production and also new usages.  In Mrs. Junko Kirimoto’s words, traditional things hold a good culture but cannot used for everyday life any longer, whereas new things make your life comfortable and convenient.  So, Kirimoro Workshop began to apply traditional woodwork and urushi techniques for modern, ordinary goods.  Their challenges provoked a taboo but important question to the traditional Wajima craftsmen: do we really have to keep our rice bowls only for rice, miso-soup bowls only for miso-soup?  Why don’t we put cut fruits, ice creams, ice cubes in them? 

                       The new products by Kirimoto workshop include plates that cannot be scratched by metal folks or spoons to fit on modern-twisted Japanese kitchen tables with western dishes.  They coated Japanese cedar (asunaro: 翌檜 ) wooden lunch box with transparent glass paints to reinforce its strength and keep sanitary for daily use.  In order to let customers imagine that wood-ware and urushi-ware can be used daily, rather than for traditional Buddhist altar fittings, they began to advertize with photographs of their products containing daily dishes, such as a breakfast photo-shoot of a spoon with blueberry jam and a plate with a toast. 

                       Even if you buy lunch at convenience store, it will give you a new, positive energy if you replace the food from the plastics to the urushi-ware, she says.  She told us a happy story of one of her customers: an old lady had been suffering from a mental disease in eating habits, but as soon as she began to use Kirimoto urushi-wares, she came to enjoy meals and that improved her health conditions.  Mrs. Junko Kirimoto said in the end that it is still difficult to spread their ideas that good utensils such as wood-wares and urushi-wares can enrich your lives which worth paying more money than you do for plastics.  Even so, she cannot give up her workshop because she knows their work can make a positive difference on everybody’s everyday life.

(S.T.) 

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