Wednesday, February 29, 2012

02:29:12 [71/365] - art in shades of grey

It has been a really interesting roller coaster experience to bring an idea to actual products in a place/culture that is outside of our comfort zone. We got our first prototype made by Komura-san, a very talented wood artisan nearby our house... Yesterday we picked it up and it came out absolutely gorgeous and we got super excited to see something that was just an "idea"... made right in front of us.

Then we got stuck. Komura-san told us that he would be too busy with his everyday project so he couldn't really take our special order... so we talked to several wood shops on the island who have slightly different expertise from each other. The hardest part for me... has been to re-educate myself about the relationship building process that is truly unique to a Japanese culture. There are so many shades of gray when people communicate... It's complicated, intricate and interactive. There is many awkward silence then going back and fourth changing words slightly to make sure that we are understanding what has been said, and finally a very undefined decision making process. Sometimes it feels like I am untangling a secret code and I have to know "the art" to be a part of it.

To be honest, I have spent my entire adulthood in Los Angeles... and have been trained to be individual, vocal and straight forward to survive in the U.S. design / business world. So I have very little practice (and sometimes knowledge) in what is proper versus what is too invasive... Maybe it is little different in a place like Tokyo where everyone is hassling but here on the island... everything moves at a very different pace - and that's the beauty of being here. 

At the end, I know I have to stay true to myself and speak with dignity and sincerity... and hope for the best.

As far as the baum-kuchen special toy..., we DID get through to one of the craftsman who came with great recommendations after visiting more than handful wood shop. (yey us:) I am crossing all fingers (an toes) that the conversation will move forward.

photos of Sutra written on pebbles taken at Hitomekuri, a restaurant in Miyano-ura. They so reminded me of the project I worked on... when I was still in school.

Monday, February 27, 2012

02:27:12 [70/365] - deep in the forest...

I think FB and I both agreed that this was the best hike we have ever done in our lives.

This afternoon we made a quick decision to visit the very famous forest that inspired Prince Mononoke landscape in Hayao Miyazaki's movie.  Because it was a rather spontaneous outing, we didn't realize how "serious" the hike was going to be... but after 15 minutes in, we knew that this would be a beautiful but quite strenuous trek especially with our little roo on my back... and sun quickly going down.

The trail was 300 years old... and we were walking through a forest rather than a trail. In some areas, it felt like there was no trail... just a little pink strip of tapes to indicate that we were still following the path. Since it was close to end of the day, the trail was quiet and filled with the low afternoon light. Everytime I looked up, the view took my breath away. It was that beautiful.

As we climbed steep steps made of rocks and tree roots and crossed small creeks that were pouring through a hollow channel of petrified trees underneath our feet, the word "満ちる" came to my mind. It might loosely translate as "fulfill" in English... like something that continues to fulfill life to the fullest.

It felt that this place was the origin of life.

Coming soon to the shop! {heirloom for the future... from FLOWERS}

I am really thrilled to share another update for the baum-kuchen shop from Yakushima island! This time... I am introducing the very first product for the baum-kuchen's small customers.



Woodwork studio FLOWERS was introduced to me by Mikako-san from Issou Coffee. The owner Togawa-san and Midori-san have been living/working on Yakushima island as wood artisans for more than 15 years and have established a very successful business here. FB and I were instantly drawn to their un-souvenir like works that are filled with a sense of great humor with timeless craftsmanship quality. 

Few days ago, we had a chance to visit their shop even though their store is still closed for the season. I love their wood shop / workspace that was as down-to-earth as the Togawa-san and Midori-san. Togawa-san was concerned that the studio looked too messy for photographs... but I simply loved it as is. The space was filled with creative chaos and work-in-progress...

Just the way the inspiring work space should be... in my opinion.

After hearing the story about how they started their business and seeing some of their work (both in person and on their website), we have come to a pretty quick decision that their little toy cars and trains made of camphor tree would be so perfect for our shop. You can see the wooden car that we brought home on the very last photo!

The little figures on the car are loosely fit so they bounces cutely as the car rolls! They can also be removed and inserted as a part of the kid's play. Each car/train is handmade by Togawa-san and it shows as an amazing craftsmanship.

I am aware that there are a lot of toys out there... many of which are very cheap and made of plastic. I don't mean to compete with these plastic toy market.. but more to think of the baum-kuchen's toys as heirloom for the future... something kids can play for a long time then become a beautiful object/artifact until it gets passed on to the next generation... that are filled with stories and beautiful memories. Personally, that is the kind of toys I want our Roo to have and play with.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

02:26:12 [69/365] - toaster oven bakery

Our friend on the island jokingly told us that we could open a bakery here with FB's cupcakes (of course... a German recipe from his grandmother). It is actually baked in a toaster oven with Hassaku jam as a secret ingredient. Maybe we will run a fresh homemade jam / European pastry shop on the island... and it will be called as "toaster oven bakery".

Of course... we are kidding but I like the idea simply just as an idea.

It's never too old to use the phrase "when I grow up, I will be...".


Friday, February 24, 2012

02:24:12 [68/365] - forest and ocean

The island like this is truly one of the kind.

We decided to take a small hike and the moment we stepped into the forest, the air was filled with the green. We trekked for a while with little roo on my back (she is getting little heavy for this!)...  the moss filled trail smelled little bit sweet after the big rain from the same morning. Unfortunately we couldn't go too far due to the closed trail so we turned around and decided to head out to the beach. Within 10 minutes, we were back to one of our favorite beach where there is a hot spring in the ocean.

It was a warm day so we decided to stick around for the sunset after taking bath. Few locals were mingling around for the same reason... seeing something beautiful while breathing life in.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Coming soon to the shop! {Camphor from Yakushiima}

Remember our visit to the amazing coffee shop, Issou Coffee? Well... there is a little story that continued after the first visit.

When we were at the coffee shop last time,  a nicely designed small package caught my eyes as I was walking out of the shop door. I asked what it was to the owner... and he mentioned that it was something they recently developed... something about Kusuno-Ki (a camphor tree in Japanese). I picked up a sample bottle and smelled it for a short moment..., then put it down to leave the store. The coffee shop was getting little crowded as new customers were pouring in and I wanted to make sure that we did not get on their way.

As we drove home, I kept talking about how nice the bottle smelled... (and I was already so infatuated with the coffee shop) so I looked up on the internet to learn more and I found that the father of Issou Coffee's owner is running one of the last three camphor powder factories in Japan. Camphor powder is known as a great natural insect repellent and has been a huge industry on Yakushima island until synthetic insect repellent has dominated the market. Camphor powder which smells little bit like an earthy mint can be used in the closet as a moss repellent or placed in rooms as a room fragrant. Camphor essential oil which is the by-product of camphor powder can be used as an aromatherapy to uplift the mood while keeping the bugs away (and there are more benefits!)

I exchanged a few emails with Mikako-san, the owner of Issou Coffee along with her husband, and we have decided that Yaushima camphor powder and essential oil would be great additions to our baum-kuchen shop since they are very functional, carefully crafted to promote healthier way of living and come in a nicely designed packaging:) 

Fast forward one week... we were really excited to visit Issou to get a mini personal factory tour! My first impression of walking into the factory was, "wow... it smells amazing!" They told us that all the factory tools/machines had been built by hand and I could sense that products were cared very closely. The camphor tree is chopped in chips and steamed. From the large steaming machine (5th photo), vapor is collected and separated into oil, powder and water through a several cooling chamber and filtering system (6th-8th photo). Camphor oil is filtered several times for purification (9th photo) and they use leftover camphor wood chips as a heat source in order to minimize any waste that comes out of the process.

We came home with a small box full of camphor powder and essential oil... since then my little pleasure has been to check on the box and breathe in the fragrance to refresh my thoughts.

I will be shipping these camphor products along with other goodies from Yakushima (including a few rocks and sea shells) to our Los Angeles office when we leave the island! I hope you enjoy the new line up for the shop!


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

02:23:12 [67/365] - beauty inspires...

I wonder if seeing beautiful things everyday inspires us more...

Today... it's warm, humid and sunny after a big rainstorm that passed above us this morning... Roo and I were so happy to be outside while FB poured himself in his writing. I sat on a big flat rock and tried to just close my eyes... while roo played with rocks and puddles. I felt like I could hear waves crashing onto rocks in my heart not through my ears. When I opened my eyes, her face was full of dirt splashes and muddy sand. Cute little thing.

Our last 20 days have been the most magical and surreal time of our lives together ever...

photos are from our Onigiri (rice ball) picnic 2 days ago at Kurio beach.

02:22:12 [66/365] - a very special toy... in making!

I've been feeling really inspired since we have arrived to Yakushima island... inspired by FB, little roo, people we have met and a new adopted lifestyle as we live our slightly slower life. I've been sketching few of my ideas on my Traveler's Notebook and we just said, "let's go for it!".

One of the ideas I had was a simple wooden toy made of the Yakushigi cedar, one of the kind wood from the island that has a very distinct smell... it was a very special smell that I remembered from my childhood visits to the island and I wanted to create a toy that is beautiful but also stimulates senses including visual, tactile and smell. Hopefully it will be an object that lasts for a very long time and have a place in kid's room, living room, or in the parents' office when a kid grow out of "playing" with the toy and perhaps gets passed on when they have their grandchild.

We headed out to a wood shop nearby our house to discuss if it's anyway possible. I talked the vision and FB added a great visuals to communicate specifics. They are going to build a prototype and we will see where we go from there!

Having to leave our home and office for so long brought a lot of unexpected expenses and hurdles (like dealing with a car accident that happened earlier this month)... but it's hard to imagine following an organic and intuitive creative process if we were only here as a tourist for 5 days. So the idea of "Inspirational Investment" definitely works! We have little less than 20 days here on the island and I am really hoping that we could execute it! (crossing all my fingers!!!).

p.s. On the different note..., we just got a box of products that will be ready to be shipped from Yakushima to our office in Los Angeles. As you could imagine, I am thrilled!! More stories to come about this soon!




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