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Designing for Modern Kogei: ‘Cement Produce Design’s’ Tsutomu Kanaya

Kanaya showed us the kogei products he uses in his daily life, explaining that “I believe that more people could newly enter this business.”

Serena Landers

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(Fourth in a series)

The city of Kanazawa, capital of Ishikawa Prefecture, hosted the International Hokuriku Kogei Summit on August 14, focused on presenting the living tradition of kogei from Japan to the world. The summit highlighted the uniqueness of Ishikawa’s kogei heritage and featured leaders in the regional movement to strengthen this traditional culture while sharing it with others both in Japan and abroad. 

Creative Director Tsutomu Kanaya was one of the participating regional leaders. He leads “Cement Produce Design,” helps companies in Japan that work with kogei (Japanese crafts) adapt themselves to the current world. The company has dealt with an array of products, from helping with the creation of stationery items to designing booths for companies’ presentations. 

In an interview with JAPAN Forward, Kanaya addressed the unique insights he has gained from working with small companies about how attitudes towards kogei crafts are changing. Excerpts follow.

Tsutomu Kanaya

Interest in Kogei

Kanaya related, “When I talk with university students during lessons about kogei, I hear very often that there isn’t anything that they want.” 

“These students are still buying things somewhere,” he added, “but among the items that they want to purchase, how many of them are kogei products? It’s practically none.” 

Kanaya emphasized that “There still isn’t that much production of items that can be used in people’s daily lives.” One specific issue has been that there aren’t many kogei products that can be used outside the home. 

“Our lifestyles are changing,” he said. “Instead of inviting people to our homes, we are meeting them outside.”

Kanaya, with a kogei craftsman
KUYURI, an example of intricately carved and designed kogei, courtesy of Cement Produce Design.

How to Enliven Kogei

To demonstrate that kogei can indeed be used outside the home, Kanaya pointed to the things that he uses in his daily life: a business card case constructed from 270-year-old wood cut from the pillars of Kinkakuji temple when it was renovated, a bracelet woven from thinly sliced pieces of bamboo, and a traditional drawstring bag made from inden (lacquered deerskin). 

There are many foreign brands that have made their way into Japan, more than kogei businesses, he says. Furthermore, within Japanese luxury brands, there are few that specialize in kogei. In response to this, Kanaya said, “I believe that more people could newly enter this business.” 

From his international work, he also has a perspective of how Japanese kogei can be better accepted internationally. 

“We should highlight the intricate techniques that are used to create kogei products,” he said.

VYAC laquer business card holder, an example of everyday kogei products, courtesy of Cement Produce Design.

Stay with us as JAPAN Forward continues delving deeper into the ideas of each panelist on the future of kogei, and the ways in which Ishikawa is showcasing Japanese culture in articles already published and yet to follow. RELATED: 

Author: Serena Landers

Serena Landers is a young reporter for JAPAN Forward in Tokyo and a student at Wesleyan University in the United States.