Beyond Jiro of "Jiro Dreams of Sushi": Japanese Craftsmanship at its finest; furniture edition.

April 12th, 2014, 8pm

My heart is still fluttering. Goose bumps have yet to cease. I am flying high, so high, off the scent of wood. All kinds of wood. I can vividly hear the sanding, the hum of the chain saw. I want to bottle the saw dust and carry the wood chips in my pockets. I don’t want these sensations to end. This is Japanese craftsmanship at its finest.

One of the very first furniture shops I found Googling ‘walnut iron table’ (in Japanese), was a shop in Osaka. The photo in Google images was nice so I clicked onto their website and holy disaster. Is this Geo Cities…? I am now unsure of the furniture quality, their website is really that unfortunate. And even worse, a majority of the photos are kind of, well, crappy (aside from the one I found of course). Osaka, is a good 250 miles away from Tokyo. It is a six hour drive, an over night bus ride, two hours on the bullet train or a one hour flight. It would be nuts to travel that far to determine if the website isn’t doing the shop justice and furniture is worth purchasing. So I keep Googling. This is Tokyo. There has to be a store in my proximity that sells furniture like that shop in Osaka.

After a month or so of Internet research and weeks of visiting local shops, I was getting bored with high-end furniture shopping in Tokyo — the stores are cookie cutter. Imported Italian this. Limited edition Scandinavian that. Danish-Japanese one of a kind collaboration blah. Vintage French blah-di-blah-blah-blah. (Why are French words unnecessarily…long?) Labels are nice and all, but none of the pieces spoke to me. I found myself defaulting to the store-slash-factory in Osaka, with the shitty website, even shittier photos that for some strange reason I couldn’t forget. I no longer want to live in a near empty apartment. I need furniture. The probability I will be disappointed by the Osaka furniture shop with the shit website is high, but after seeing mediocre furniture in Tokyo for weeks on end, I take the leap of faith and head to Osaka.

Armed with months of research, I arrive to this shop with a clear, focused vision of what I want. I left the shop with tens of possibilities dancing in my head. I no longer know what I want after the shop’s owner whisked me into the journey of custom ordering furniture from his shop. From him.

I walk in and immediately have goose bumps. There’s so much wood everywhere. And the scent. Oh god I’m so glad I came. The entire staff greets me, immediately makes me feel welcome. One of them calls for the owner who invites me up into the part office, part show-room loft area. He offers me a seat at one of his exquisite dining tables, I sit on one of the many custom made chairs. A staff member brings me coffee as he sits across from me and asks for my vision; a sketch pad and pencil in hand. While we are talking, he is sketching. ”I want my table to be walnut.” I say. My voice is several notches below normal volume, almost seeking his approval. There are so many different kinds of wood displayed in his shop, I am no longer confident walnut is the best choice, or worse, what if walnut is… amateur hour?

His eyes light up and repeats ”Walnut?” I respond ”Yes, walnut.” and my confidence is restored by his reaction. I think he approves of my taste. He shows me pieces that are ready to purchase and I ask if it’s okay to mix and match. ”I envision a walnut tabletop like this” I show him a photo ”with legs like that” and show him another photo. ”But most importantly, I want the finish of the table to be rough, almost like it was just chopped off from the tree.”

I hit a trigger button.

He jumps out of his chair apologizing we have to get up, and excitedly shows me pieces on pieces of furniture in various stages of production. He says the first step is choosing the piece of wood and finish. ”The finish?” I asked, which opened the flood gates of learning about the varied degrees of surface roughness and sanding techniques. ”But wait,” he says, ”there are some more things you need to think about before the sanding.” and shows me different grooves of wood ”there are pieces like this with cracks and dips, knots and rings… or would you prefer no cracks at all?” He points out the different ways he cuts the wood, asks if I want more curves or straighter edges. He then shows me the surface edges and how it can be sawed and sanded this way and that. His enthusiasm is contagious; why can’t I have them all? Before today, I had no idea a simple piece of wood furniture could be this complicated.

He takes me to the back room and presents a piece of walnut straight from a walnut tree. Its state is still raw and unfinished — that’s the photo on top — but this man, the owner, no, magician, carries the wood with the help of one of his apprentices to the middle of the workshop. Mounts it on iron legs so I can visualize what this piece would look like as a table. ”Sold. I want that piece… Wait, are there too many cracks? Maybe I want a thicker piece. Hold on, I don’t know what I want anymore…”

He laughs, tells me not to worry, and reassures me there is plenty of time, ”let’s just firm up the image of the table” he says and we go into the legs. He re-confirms I want iron legs, ”Yes, yes. Iron indeed.”, I affirm, to which he immediately follows-up with: how thick do you want the legs? What about the shape? Do you want the iron on the edges or closer towards the middle of the table? Would you like them angled? How high do you want the table? We are still zig-zagging through his shop, as he proudly presents one after another after another of his completed works. He pulls out catalogs and magazines and photo albums showcasing his past custom pieces. He tells me to focus only on the legs but I can’t help taking it all in, his furniture is breathtaking: every, single piece is an impeccable masterpiece. Who is this man?

There are no words to do this shop and especially the owner justice. I wish I could load every step of what I just experienced into a cartridge, and inject it into people’s minds straight Matrix style. Everything about purchasing furniture from this shop inspires every fiber of my being.

I am going to stop now as this was just my first trip. I have several trips remaining and the least I can do for this shop and owner is continue sharing my furniture journey with whoever is listening. I went there thinking I will only purchase a table. I left, with images of every piece of furniture I need to furnish my apartment made from this shop. The Magician’s pieces are investments and priced as so but I don’t mind, I am planning to stay here for a while. I can’t remember the last time I was this committed to an apartment… and city. NYC included. As much as I love Manhattan, spent close to a decade there, I now see I had one foot in, one foot out, a suitcase always on stand-by. My life has been disposable for so long, it feels good to want to be grounded. I am now a grown-up.

I finally found home.

*Seems like they updated their site from Geo Cities to… a blog. Looks way better than before, but still, unfortunate. At least for Western standards.

Shop Information
Square Co. Ltd.

Open: 10am~sunset
Closed: Thursdays (etc.)


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Mona Nomura

Hi is my personal and creative outlet. Happy to be here.

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