By Georgia Merritt | June 4th 2024

#factory #history

For the past year Chowa has been developing a very special project. A culmination of thought, research and heart: Terasu marks a shift in Chowa’s practice, and kiri-bako craftsmanship.

“From 300 years of handcrafting sustainable boxes to making a lamp, Terasu is an innovative milestone for both Chowa and the kiri-bako artisans in Japan that illuminates a harmony between eras, ideas and cultures.” - Ray Suzuki

An ode to Japanese classical materials and crafts, Terasu was created with preservation in mind. It implements the sustainable practices of Fukuyama into a design-object: using Paulownia and Washi paper sourced locally to the workshop in the Bingo region. Through our own practice of kiri-bako, we had researched and discovered the countless reasons why Paulownia is one of the most viable, earth-healing timber options today: it felt meaningful for us to bring this ecologically-sound material, as well as the craft into the realm of contemporary design.

Terasu was initially designed as a contemporary re-interpretation of the craft processes of kiri-bako, with a modernist touch: with the lamp’s frame featuring a stepped-edge. Coincidentally, its form ended up resembling the traditional lighting motif, andon (行灯 - paper-enclosed lantern): these lamps are constructed of wood and washi paper, tracing back four centuries to the Edo period. Andon lamps were typically used outdoors by shop merchants to identify their store-fronts, as well as indoors domestically. 

The lamp’s design was transformed, through process-driven collaboration. During Terasu’s first prototyping, one of the craftsmen at the workshop 森近 純 (Kiyoshi Morichika), amended the design through his own making of it: configuring a new architecture using his instincts developed over his extraordinary knowledge of the craft. 森近 has over 40 years of experience in making Ningyo-bako, which are boxes for Kyushu Dolls, considered to be one of the most complex and precise structural practices there are which use Kiri timber. He has been at Akebono Kougei for seven years. 

The coming together of tradition and contemporary thought in Terasu's making has been a meaningful experience for Chowa, and the artisans of Akebono Kougei. Morichika was excited to use his specialized skills, previously solely to craft boxes, and this time to create something completely new.

This process of experimentation amounted to a very different internal structure of the lamp than what we initially had designed, with nuanced differences in function. We admired Morichika’s skill and intuition so much that we decided we would amend the final design to his own construction: this was how the final version of Terasu was created. This method of working in tandem with the artisans has been very significant to them, and to Chowa: broadening our horizons of what we could make together exponentially. 

After returning from Fukuyama, the team reflected on Terasu’s inception during the making of Terasu the publication: working in collaboration with graphic designer Oliver Mettle. We felt we had to create a book for each owner of Terasu, to transmit its story and feeling in a hardback during the unboxing: expressing each element: from the lamp's origin, to its workshop, and materials. 

At the heart of the Terasu project is a desire to preserve inherited traditions and the centuries-old practice kiribako. As time progresses many historic practices are at risk of being lost… For instance, at the dawn of the Meiji era, Japan's industrial production began, meaning that western objects and styles replaced ones of the Edo period’s past. Feudal daimyō lords were unable to be patrons of the arts in ways they once had, and with the railroad’s development, local communities depended less on craftspeople and resources local to them, so the amount of new workshops and artisans lessened as time went on.

Preserving historic craft and skills begins with the passion of dedicated individuals and communities, from the action itself, to tools and materials, and the spirit involved. In the instance of Terasu, kiribako furthers itself through open-mindedness: creating new avenues of its practice which re-animate the remarkable wisdom it already possesses. 

Not only does Terasu aim to preserve their practices, their practices also preserve Terasu: with which it couldn’t be made without. 

Over time Terasu will be produced in a variety of finishes that highlight other areas of Japanese craft. For the initial release, there will be a limited run of Kakishibu Terasu dyed by Akebono Kougei, Indigo Terasu dyed by Kaihara, with Terasu Urushi in current development.

Founded in 1893 by Sukejiro Kaihara, Kaihara is located in Fukuyama, Hiroshima: a stone’s throw from Akebono Kougei. Kaihara uses the same dyeing techniques it has cultivated since its very beginning, and are world-renowned for indigo production of the highest quality. 

Kaihara produces denim from spinning cotton, to sewing actual garments: but it is the dyeing process that is known as “the essence of Kaihara”. Usually Kaihara yarns are dyed with indigo using a rope dyeing machine, developed in house: it was the first of its kind in Japan.

In the case of Terasu, a new method was developed: Kaihara’s regular dye does not take to kiri timber. Through experimentation they discovered a previously unusable indigo was the perfect solution, their most pigmented dye, which they could now re-use: remarkably echoing the same Japanese sustainability of the Terasu project. The dye is then carefully applied in layers: raw timber cannot be dipped in dye like a garment could be. It is an honor for Chowa to collaborate with such an esteemed, historic workshop.

The project centers previously nameless, faceless, artisans and their crafts: who we believe are the true protagonists.