Oji Masanori is a quiet spoken, concentrated man whom I talk to via his business partner Takuya Matsuo. Masanori designs innovative craft ware for the home, based on traditional Japanese crafts and made by small manufacturers who still master age-old techniques. Thanks to Mr. Matsuo, his elegant, delectable products, especially the Futagami brass, is now available in design shops in 25 countries.
He is staying at the Lloyd Hotel at invitation of Dutch Culture, Centre for International Cooperation and the main purpose of his visit is his lecture at the congress ‘Crafts, Heritage, Economy and Sustainability’, organised by the Nederlands Centrum voor Volkscultuur en Immaterieel Erfgoed and the Fonds voor Cultuurparticipatie in Eindhoven and Tilburg on 14 and 15 March.
It is his first visit to the Netherlands and today he will visit Hotel Droog. When studying Architecture and Design at the Hiroshima Institute of Technology he heard about Droog and was influenced by its designers. His invitation to the Netherlands made him research the history of Arita, the porcelain producing region of Japan with an important relation with the Netherlands in the 17th and 18th century. This is in general how he works to develop his products. He says ‘The design is not about my ideas. The material is what is most important. I listen to the history and the techniques of the manufacturer, go to museums and then develop a design.’
Oji Masanori is a solo designer who does not believe in a work style where a lot of staff are hired to do parts of the work. The manufacturers he works with are small sized, with one or two employees and he feels this is the right size to create his products.
Masanori’s home ware products have been exported for four years, when Takuya Matsuo became his business partner. He began to receive lots of inquiries from overseas.
They are now available in small shops by young design entrepreneurs, like in Toronto, Taiwan, at Nalata Nalata, in a pop-up in New York, or at Objects of Use in Oxford. His carefully made woodwork and porcelain products are great, yet the most popular items everywhere are the ones made from brass.
They are made by a foundry which formerly made Buddhist altar fittings, Futagami. They manufactured for example the brass oil lamps used for Buddhist rituals. The foundry in Takaoka goes back to 1897, but in the last decade the demand for Buddhist altar fittings has sharply declined. Tagami was looking for new challenges. That’s when he met Masanori five years ago. The sales volume of Oji is now mainly based on these brass items.
The sand-cast altar fittings are minute, very decorative and highly polished designs. Oji found the coarse surface of the brass prior to the polishing very loveable, so he decided to focus on that for his objects.
Tagami had to be convinced, they were very surprised to be asked to make items ‘i-hada’; unfinished, with the texture naturally drawn from the sand into which the molten brass is poured. Tagami had to overcome a mental block to deliver products like these. But then the president changed his mind, when he found out that they are indeed beautiful objects and very marketable. So now, in ever more small design shops, one can obtain a brass bottle-opener with a Buddhist background.