The intricate method of Edo kiriko glass carving is a prime example of this, and the craftspeople still practising this 200-year-old skill are proud to continue such a rich and valued custom. Yet they are still modern makers and careful about restricting their work by describing it as strictly traditional.
“Tradition really is a big word, laden with lots of different meanings,” explains third generation Edo kiriko artisan Yoshiro Kobayashi.
It’s not something that is forced on anybody nor is it something that people carry on their backs, [but] something which I believe is born out of daily human activity and created organically from the repetition of that custom... something that connects everything.
Precise repetition is crucial to the art of Edo kiriko and years of practise and training are essential for any aspiring craftsperson. Kobayashi, like many of his peers, began his education at the tender age of 13 when he joined his father in his workshop.
“[Back then] you would shadow the senior artisans and learn from observing... you’d be up for 10 hours a day practising,” he says. “It really was gruelling work.”
He worked hard at developing his skills and admits he didn’t really feel like a true professional until he was recognised by his peers with a special award at the age of 33.
It’s a demanding apprenticeship by any measure, but the years of training are essential as this form of glasswork, which originated in the Tokyo area at the end of the Edo period, is extremely meticulous and requires a degree of perfectionism that echoes the detail-oriented nature of Japanese culture.
“The Japanese pay attention to small intricacies,” says Kobayashi. “They really do care about the details... it is almost subconscious. Something that becomes a way of life without you realising it.”
For Kobayashi, the complexity of his work is crucial to ensuring a high quality finished product, as well as being central to the deep sense of fulfilment and pleasure that he derives from his craft.
“I’m certain this philosophy especially impacts an artisan’s work,” he says. “The tiniest intricacy takes on great importance. This is why they take great care whenever making anything. It’s about the personal satisfaction that the artisan derives from his work.”
Although he is passionate about the craft of Edo kiriko and has derived enormous pleasure over the years, Kobayashi did not pressure his son to follow in his footsteps but rather encouraged him to explore alternative career options.
However the call of family history and tradition proved too strong, and his son Yohei has joined him in the family business, bringing a contemporary eye to the pieces but also continuing to produce work that has been appreciated and perfected by previous generations.
“Being able to do something you enjoy and make a living from it is wonderful,” Kobayashi says. “I feel glad that I chose this work.”
Generations of craft
Edo Kiriko glassmakers made the exquisite panel inside the Lexus LS, which greets passengers with an ambience that’s at once respectfully gentle, and breathtakingly impressive.more
One of these people is Dutch composer and technologist Paul Oomen, who says that sound has always been his “way to imagine”.
“[As a child] I would be humming melodies that came up spontaneously, and that would evoke a world of sounds in my imagination beyond the melodies themselves,” he explains.
These early childhood explorations into what he could hear were the promising beginning of a lifelong passion, and Oomen has devoted his career to exploring the intricately layered relationship that exists between humans and the sound world they encounter.
“I am listening to what happens in between sounds and the space, and in between sounds and my body,”
Oomen, who lives and works in Budapest where he founded the Spatial Sound Institute in 2015, originally focused on creating sound designs composing music for theatre and opera. But in 2007 he shifted his attention to the exploration of space, sound and perception with his company 4DSOUND, where he worked with his team to create more than 70 close to a hundred spatial sound projects to date, and developed a strong interest in enhancing the experience of listening.
“The more we refine our listening experience, the more we listen spatially,” he explains. “A high-quality experience of listening means a sound system that draws no attention to itself, but draws the attention to the environment, hearing sounds as a part of and moving in the environment. The sound system is only one element, the design of the space, its interior treatment, the social aspects and – not in the least – the sound content are all elements that need to match to transform the experience as a whole.”
For Oomen, this experience relies as much on the active participation of the listener as it does on the quality of the equipment.
“Our attention spans have become so short that it takes a big effort for many people to even find the space of mind to focus on something that actually requires ‘listening’,” he says. “If we want to have more refined and experientially engaging listening experiences, we should begin with omitting the noise from our environments, otherwise we simply won’t hear anything.”
Although he is still passionate about music, which he has been composing since his youth, and he is surrounded by many layers of multi-dimensional sound every day in his work and his private life, Oomen admits his favourite thing to listen to is peace and quiet.
“In my daily life, the thing I long to hear mostly is silence,” he admits. “Silence is relative of course, so instead of silence I should probably say: less noise and more space, so my senses can open up and breathe, and I start hearing more.”
THE SOUND OF SUCCESS:
A superior auditory experience can be game changing. From the location of the speakers to the quality of the sound, all aspects of the listening solutions in Lexus cars have been carefully designed to ensure a more refined and engaging sound experience every single time.more
This delicate and labour intensive form of decorative woodcraft, which has been practised for more than 400 years and is also known as Japanese marquetry, involves the arrangement of wood pieces of different colours and textures into complex mosaic patterns with pinpoint accuracy.
It’s an extraordinarily complicated process requiring a high degree of skill and experience, which means the popularity of this unique art form has waned somewhat over the past century.
I want to continue and protect the tradition. To do so, I have to change and stay innovative. It is not a matter of ‘to copy or not to be copied’, but to pursue my own originality.
Yet one man is determined to not just continue to practise the ancient art of Yosegi but to give it a contemporary flair and promote its beauty to the world. Ken Ota is widely recognised to be a modern master of Yosegi woodmaking and he is a passionate ambassador of his craft, as committed to respecting the traditional techniques perfected over the centuries as he is eager to embrace innovation in the form.
“I want to continue and protect the tradition,” explains Ota, who works in an atelier in Hakone, Japan, the birthplace of Yosegi. “To do so, I have to change and stay innovative. It is not a matter of ‘to copy or not to be copied’, but to pursue my own originality.”
Yosegi pieces are so unique and complex that they cannot be mass produced, and the wood chosen for each handmade item intimately reflects the style and taste of the craftsperson, almost like a ‘signature’.
Ota, who trained for many years to perfect his craft first at a polytechnic school in Saitama then at the renowned Atelier Kiro in Odawara, creates his pieces from a selection of 25 different kinds of wood, ranging from Hokkaido to Okinawa, which he personally sources from across Japan.
For him, the wood he uses to make his highly sought after pieces (including boxes, trays and coasters) is more than just a base material and he makes a point of appreciating and valuing each and every piece.
“I want to respect the life taken from the trees cut in the wood,” he says. “It goes the same to other subjects, but I want to stay grateful of what I take. Each wood has its own unique shape and blend, giving the freedom and possibility of expressions, which ultimately leads to its attractiveness.”
One of the most distinctive features of Yosegi is that it is extremely time consuming and requires extraordinary patience on the part of the craftsman, which is at odds with the fast paced digital world in which we live. Yet Ota is comfortable with the slow pace that his work requires and embraces it as an opportunity to explore the depths of his work as an artist.
“Time does not matter,” he says. “I can only express through what I have inside of me.”
CARVING A NEW ART FORM FROM AN ANCIENT TRADITION:
Lexus is passionate about innovation and high quality craftsmanship. By celebrating this extraordinary technique of transforming natural wood into elaborate new patterns, Lexus is reinforcing its ongoing commitment to the delicate fusion of tradition and technology.more
Such was the approach of industrial designer and tech innovator Laurence Kemball-Cook, who was determined to find a totally new creative solution to the growing global issue of climate change.
Eager to find a complementary alternative to wind and solar energy, he struck upon a novel approach during his daily commute to Loughborough University, where he was completing an Industrial Design and Technology degree.
“I would pass through Victoria Station, which processes 75 million people a year, and began to think seriously about the potential to harvest some of the kinetic energy of people walking,” he says.
Inspired by my own research into renewables and city infrastructure, I had the inspiration to harness energy from city inhabitants, via their footsteps.
Kemball-Cook launched his company Pavegen in 2009, and began to develop a clever new paving system. It uses the weight of pedestrian footfall to compress a series of electro-magnetic generators, creating a rotary motion that produces small amounts of energy that can be collected and stored in batteries or deployed locally to power applications such as lighting, sensors and data transmission.
He immediately began looking for opportunities to promote his smart flooring solution, and initially had to resort to some unorthodox methods to attract new clients.
“To get our first sale, we installed a Pavegen tile on a building site without permission and then used social media to successfully persuade the developer to acquire a Pavegen system,” he admits. “Since then we have attracted an international client base, a network of international partners and a senior team.”
It didn’t take long for news to spread about the Pavegen system, and to date Kemball-Cook’s team have installed over 200 permanent and experiential projects in 30 countries around the world, including Dupont Circle in Washington DC and various locations at the centre of the city of London.
“Right from the very first prototypes, our tech has generated great interest, from businesses wanting to work with us to a diverse group of investors and, of course, the people using Pavegen,” he says.
With a range of cities and major corporations, such as Google and Nike, lining up to work with Pavegen, the future of kinetic sustainable energy certainly looks bright.
Kemball-Cook believes the system has great potential to integrate with other energy sources, and to be used across a range of applications, from transport hubs to schools and retail centres, to create smarter, more efficient cities that actively engage with the issue of climate change.
“By solving the energy crisis, we will take away a key challenge for communities, allowing more creativity and energy to be deployed on fixing some of our other problems such as food insecurity and the rapid loss of biodiversity,” he says.
“We only have the one planet so it’s vital we protect the natural resources that we all depend on.”
Stepping into the future
Innovation and originality are at the core of the Lexus approach. Always working at the cutting edge of new technology, and collaborating with the very best scientists and technicians in their fields, it is a true passion for finding ground-breaking solutions that sets Lexus above and beyond the competition.more