Japan: Land of… Kitchen Supplies

One of our designers recently visited his ancestral land of Japan, and was impressed anew with the aesthetics of the place. The Japanese have an almost innate value for design, and many of their sensibilities derive from the luminous landscape around them. Art, architecture, and everyday objects reflect serene, open spaces, and the perfection of Nature’s asymmetry. Yet there is also the jumble and chaos of the city, with its crashing colors and sounds.

Hopefully, as time allows, we’ll share observations on Japan as it relates to design. We thought we’d begin with something far from what landscape designers tend to look at.

Our first stop is the Kappabashi district of Tokyo. It’s several blocks of nothing but restaurant supply stores. From kitchen tools to signage to toothpick holders, it’s all here.

1 – Cookie cutters, apparently in the forms of Western and Eastern zodiac signs.
2 – The gleaming steel of hand-crafted kitchen knives… these ones are moderately priced in the $300 range.
3 – Specialized knives include these heavy, rectangular noodle-cutting cleavers.
4 – Folded and hammered carbon steel produces wood-grain like patterns. The knives are forged with pretty much the same method as samurai swords.
5 – We saw not just one, but multiple stores devoted just to whetstones.
6 – In-table stove burners.
7 – Industrial stove burners
8 – Restaurant-grade, naturally produced charcoals
9 – While the exact origins of the district’s name are debatable, a kappa is a mythical frog-man creature, and has thus been adopted as mascot for the area.
10 – The design of traditional-style lantern signage has remained very similar for centuries.
11 – Sadly, some cheap electric signage has not changed much since the 60s, either.
12 – The simple and bold lettering on traditional flag signage usually proclaims the restaurant’s specialty.
13 – Restaurant fabric stores provide modern updates on traditional patterns, for everything from curtains to wall coverings to napkins.
14 – Tiny handmade brands are used for browning images or words onto pastries.
15 – Closet rods? No, noodle rollers! Note the variety of woods and finishes.
16 – Sampuru, from the English “sample,” are plastic models of food which many restaurants place in their window to entice customers and aid tourists.
17 – Sake Kai Tanuki statues often greet customers at bars and restaurants. The badger-like animal is holding a sake bottle, promissory note, and wears a big straw hat. There is much complex symbolism that mostly relates to wealth and prosperity for the establishment. More information here: www.onmarkproductions.com/html/tanuki.shtml

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