Japanese designers serve up unusual tableware

May 3, 2022

Japanese designers serve up unusual tableware

As the world spends more time dining at home amid the pandemic, the demand for attractive tableware is creating new design opportunities for Japanese porcelain.

 

From cars to dishes

The Kiwakoto collection of tableware has an unusual background. Produced by A-Story Inc., a group company of the luxury car dealer Matsushima Holdings Co. Ltd., Kiwakoto began in 2018 as a brand of bespoke Kyoto-made artisanal car interiors.

 

Kyo-sashimono Kyoto wood joinery, Nishijin textiles, yūzen dyed leather and Kyo-ware Kiyomizu ceramics were among a lineup of traditional crafts used to beautify vehicles, from their upholstery to contemporary interior accessories. In May 2021, Kiwakoto even refurbished a Suzuki Jimny mini SUV into a mobile Japanese teahouse, complete with tatami mats and shoji screens.

The tableware collection launched a month later with a lineup of eight hand-crafted Kiyomizu porcelain dishes inspired by the silhouettes of iconic Japanese flowers — asagao (morning glory), botan (peony), hasu (lotus), keshi (poppy), kiku (chrysanthemum), tsubaki (camellia), ume (plum) and yuri (lily). Refined to distinctive minimalist shapes, the blossom motifs were fired unglazed (a technique called yakishime), and left pure white to highlight material, texture and delicate petal edges.

 

Kiwakoto Lifestyle’s new lineup of colors for its originally unglazed white flower-inspired dishes (right) are all nature inspired: Sora (sky blue), Tsuchi (earthy brown) and Hikari (shimmering silver). | © KIWAKOTO PRODUCED BY A-STORY INC.
Kiwakoto Lifestyle’s new lineup of colors for its originally unglazed white flower-inspired dishes (right) are all nature inspired: Sora (sky blue), Tsuchi (earthy brown) and Hikari (shimmering silver). | © KIWAKOTO PRODUCED BY A-STORY INC.

Now, titanium crystal glazes and silver powder have been added to the collection for three new colors in the Asagao, Botan, Tsubaki and Yuri series. Tsuchi (earth) is a warm billowing brown, Sora (sky), a speckled powder blue and Hikari (light) shimmers with swirls of silver. Individually glazed or hand-brushed with silver powder, serendipity makes each dish unique.

Kiwakoto strikes a fine balance between not only artisanal crafts and everyday functionality, but also traditional Japanese concepts and contemporary design. Other pieces in the tableware collection include matching water-repellent washi paper table mats and coasters made in Kurotani, a Kiku mold-blown glass with undulating edges, and Kyo-meichiku (Kyoto bamboo) chopsticks titled “Umi” (“Sea”). Its online store — also striking in design — reveals there are two more upcoming series worth keeping an eye out for: Tsuki (moon) and Yama (mountain).

 

Zen To curry dishes designed by (clockwise from top left) Takuhiro Shinomoto, Hisakazu Shimizu, Ryohei Yoshiyuki and Hiroki Yoshitomi. | ZEN TO
Zen To curry dishes designed by (clockwise from top left) Takuhiro Shinomoto, Hisakazu Shimizu, Ryohei Yoshiyuki and Hiroki Yoshitomi. | ZEN TO

Spicing up the curry bowl

porcelain manufacturer Nakazen’s first in-house brand — has a very specific culinary inspiration. Every bowl and plate in the collection has been designed with just one dish in mind: Japanese curry.

Curry wasn’t introduced to Japan until the late 19th century, but its appropriation into a mild, roux-like dish turned it into what is now one of the most popular meals in Japan. Usually served with a simple mound of white rice and eaten with a spoon, it’s not something that most would think needs a unique bowl or plate.

Nakazen Representative Director Yoshiyuki Nao and Zen To Brand Director Kuntaro Abe, however, beg to differ. Last summer, they invited eight Japanese designers to reimagine the humble curry bowl. The playful idea brought about thoughtful designs, each reflecting its creator’s personality, while highlighting the diverse production techniques of kilns within Hizen, the old province area known as the birthplace of Japanese porcelain.

 

Four of Nakazen’s eight design-led Zen To curry dishes conceived by (clockwise from top left) Kuntaro Abe, Yota Kakuda, Norihiko Terayama and Tatsuno Shizuka. | ZEN TO
Four of Nakazen’s eight design-led Zen To curry dishes conceived by (clockwise from top left) Kuntaro Abe, Yota Kakuda, Norihiko Terayama and Tatsuno Shizuka. | ZEN TO

The designers ranged from the up-and-coming — such as Shizuka Tatsuno, whose minimalist Co Mu bowl is purposely small so that it can be held in one hand and features an extra base rim to prevent fingers touching the hot ceramic — to high-profile names such as Hisakazu Shimizu of S&O Design, whose lidded In-flight Meal Plate is whimsically inspired by the foil boxes used to serve meals on international flights.

Product designer Norihiko Terayama remembers that some diners prefer to keep their curry away from the rice. His circular sloped Kohan plate allows roux to pool into a lake below a mountain of rice for an artistic food landscape. Yota Kakuda’s geometric Curry Circle also gives options to separate garnishes with three extra compartments in an unusual dish influenced by food truck trays.

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