Editor's introduction: Our product collaboration with Maison Kaikado has convinced us to interview them for this 2nd issue of the 'Artisans & Craft Makers' series.
Takahiro Yagi, the cheerful heir and leader of Maison Kaikado has been actively promoting Made in Kyoto heritage and traditions. It makes sense as his family business was established in 1875. Since then, Kaikado tea caddies beauty & longevity have been praised and one can only appreciate the fact that they are at the same time very minimal and very sophisticated.
Japanese people are known to be both detailed and design savvy so it is with joy that we explore Takahiro's views on the state of Japan, design and of course Kaikado.
Takahiro at work in a Paris event (picture: Jardins Florian)
Who are you (in 3 words)?
Tea Caddy Craftsman
Would you please tell us a little about yourself, your Life path and work?
I started working in Kaikado 13 years ago. Before that, I was working in a duty-free shop in Kyoto. In my previous company I worked in Malaysia and also visited the US frequently for business. This experience helped me to trade Kaikado products in foreign countries.
What’s the story behind the Kaikado brand?
Kaikado was established in 1875, shortly after Japan opened its doors to the rest of the world. With civilization came the import of tinplate from England. Tin was used for the plating of steel and was considered a fashionable foreign-made item.
A manufacturing process that involves anywhere between 130 to 140 steps, the hand-made tea caddies have virtually remained true to the designs established by Kaikado's founding generation. The dye and mold used in the early years of the company is still in use today whilst some shapes of tea caddy used 130 years ago are still in production today.
Kaikado has made the same tea caddies it has always done. Doing away with excessive detail, the caddies are based on the pursuit of function; their simple forms are overflowing with functionality. Each time a Kaikado tea caddy is handled, it develops a unique sheen specific to the type of material from which it is made. Witnessing the changes in color that develop will surely bring great joy to the person wishing to nurture their caddy over time. A tea caddy that has been filled with the memories of 100 years can be passed onto the next generation to treasure. With the hand-made materials and methods that comprise Kaikado’s selection of caddies, one can enjoy the expressions unique to each and every tin caddy, or the rapidly changing appearance of copper, or the mellow changes of color that make the brass tea caddies so unique. With these qualities forming an important characteristic to its tea caddies, Kaikado have only selected materials with which this can be achieved.
This inspiring video shows the many steps required to make by hand each Kaikado caddy
What do you consider as the achievements of Kaikado?
The main achievement of Kaikado will be to continue for 100 more years; if we are still making tea caddies, this will be our biggest achievement.
Kaikado, passing down the traditions - 2nd, 3rd and 4th generations on the same picture
What inspired you to continue the Kaikado heritage? What are the pros and cons of being a family business today?
Both the fact that that I was in the English Language Department at university andmy old job at the duty-free shop, which sells souvenirs to foreign people in Kyoto, were advantages. I found that people bought tea caddies naturally. When taking over my father’s job, I thought that I could use my English skills to sell caddies internationally. I could also continue the tradition that I had seen during my childhood; so I moved back to Kaikado.
While I was helping my father, I saw several cases of people visiting us with very old tea caddies, around 100 years old. Their grandmothers had used them and they had brought them to us to be fixed. I thought then that I have to ensure this business continues for another 100 years; people could bring back the caddies that I had made. If I manage to pass Kaikado onto the next generation, my generation will have been a success.
What makes your tea caddies different?
How airtight they are and their functionality.
Why are artisans important? How do you see their future?
Engineering is important but artisans are also important. This is because there are so many individual techniques. The uniqueness of the technique results in interesting products. If we have products that are only made in a rush, there is no difference between them. However if we merely concentrate on making the same products from the past, people would not buy them. In this life we need to factor in adjustments; Kaikado caddies may all look the same but every generation has brought adjustments.If artisans can understand the tipping point between changeable and unchangeable, what must be changed and what must be kept, they will be able to continue for a long time.
Why is producing in Japan/Kyoto important to you?
In Kyoto there has always been a focus on making bespoke products to order; in the past this would be for the Emperor and other people. Therefore, the skill of making products then wasvery high and we have kept it through to the present.
It is part of our culture to make products using these special skills. If we make products in Kyoto, we always compete with one another and constantly aim higher. It is important for us artisans to keep improving our skills and stay in touch with our culture.
Tell us a bit about the other Kyoto makers you partner with.
Here in Kyoto I have friends that I am affiliated with: Kanaami Tsuji, who does wire work for kitchens; Asahiyaki, who has been making pottery for 400 years; Nakagawa MokKougei, who makes baskets from wood and so on. Everyone has a long history and wonderful skills. Everyone is used to making products to order so they can adjust their products for countries outside of Japan.
Kanaami Tsuji products
Asahiyahi pottery - Japan Handmade collection
Nakagawa MokKougei collection on Japan Handmade
What are the greatest challenges you face with sourcing materials and manufacturing your products?
Actually, tin is one of the hardest materials to find. The material we use is not electric-plated tin. It is a hot dip tip tin.
There is now only one company who can make it in Japan, so we cannot tell if we can still make our caddies ten years later in this material.
How do you reconcile artisan quality and productivity/growth?
We never reduce any steps to make our products, so they take time to produce. Now people are kindly waiting for three or four months. We retain the detail of products. Our products look simple but they actually incorporate a lot of details; they seem minimal but have a strong presence.
How do you see the roles of tradition and innovation?
The traditional technique is based on life from the old times, so it is very natural and sustainable. If we use these techniques to make something suitable for the current age, it also makes sense for the future.
It is not necessary however to make things exactly the same as in the old days. We have to adjust to daily life in the present.
As a traditional maker, what is your view on fashion and luxury?
When we began our work, it was kind of a new thing. After continuing it for 100 years, it has become traditional, so I do not place any differences between fashion, luxury or tradition.
Who is the Kaikado final customer?
Our customers like simple design. They like to use products for a long time, usually they are tea or coffee lovers.
Can you tell us about the recent Salone del Mobile and what kind of impact the Wallpaper Handmade exhibition has had on your business?
Having the exhibition with Wallpaper* Handmade made an impact with those people who do not normally pay attention to tea caddies. People who are interested in design turned back to Kaikado thanks to the exhibition.
Wallpaper Handmade Exhibition 2013
As your collaboration with Jardins Florian has focused on a travel size tea caddy set, please tell us what your secrets are to enjoy travelling with style and comfort.
Travelling should be synonymous with a relaxing time for people, so we want to make it as comfortable as possible. Sometimes we have the urge to drink tea but we cannot find very good quality and then we cannot relax 100%. If we bring our favourite tea along, it will help create a perfect moment.
Kaikado x Jardins Florian exclusive travel set
This isn’t just applicable to tea leaves though, with this special caddy you can carry your favourite sweets, cookies, coffee beans etc. for a happy moment.
As evidenced here, you can actually store/carry quite many types of food!
What are the companies or brands that you find inspiring?
What are your next projects for Kaikado?
We are making table top products using the technique of making caddies with OeO which is a Danish design studio.
How do you relate to ecology and sustainability?
Ecology and sustainability command that we make a product people can use for generations and generations. So when people bring back old caddies to adjust and use again, it matches our very definition of sustainability.
Whenever we create new types of caddies, we always think about the long-term use. To achieve good design, we always think about functionality and durability.
Describe what you are wearing. How would you describe your personal style? Who or what influences your style?
I often wear Margaret Howell. I can wear these clothes for a long time and the feeling when I wear them is just nice! So I feel like wearing them all the time. For me, feeling comfortable is very important.
Margaret Howell AW 2013 - photography: Koto Bolofo
Which Kaikado products do you use most of the time?
I really like the black tea by Postcard Teas. So I use our caddies every day to drink it!
I use Copper 120g and I purchase Gold tip Assam from Postcard Teas.
Postcard Teas - Gold tip assam
Takahiro's own caddies at home
What do you never leave home without?
When I am not at the office, I never leave without a Kaikado traveling caddy. (editor’s note: of course!)
Japanese are famous for being always ahead in terms of mobile technology? Do you consider yourself as tech-savvy? How do you see the current evolution of brick-and-mortar retail vs. online sales?
I do not think I am tech-savvy. Of course, I use an iPhone, a Mac, but I seldom play games on my electronic devices. I really like motor-racing and once I tried a motor racing game. After 10 minutes I went out with my car. So I prefer the real thing.
For me, until now, I always focused on brick and mortar retail. I feel I cannot tell what Kaikado really is just from the Internet, so this is now our big challenge.
What are you proud of?
The design, craft and know-how which I have taken over from my father.
What are your passions outside work?
My family, and car racing with a Lancia Delta.
Vintage Lancia Delta - stylish racing
What does it mean to be Japanese nowadays? Is ‘Made In Japan’ part of the strategy for the future of Japan?
Made in Japan still has a meaning in other countries but I think we have to speak about our culture as well. We should tell customers about our culture so that they connect our products with our story: why it was born, why people are still using it and so on. Then people in the world will know more about Japanese products and culture.
How would you describe Kyoto to someone who has never visited?
Kyoto is very interesting as a contrast of new and old. You can enjoy the old temples but on the other hand you can enjoy new things simultaneously. You can see these two aspects in the daily life, and not only in sightseeing spots.
What is your favourite restaurant in Kyoto?
Nakahara in the Gion Area.
What is your favourite food?
Japanese food. I used to like steak but now I prefer local natural food.
What is your favourite dish from Japan?
Shabu Shabu. (Japanese dish featuring thinly sliced beef boiled in water)
Which hotel and gallery/museum would you recommend in Japan?
Hiiragiya Ryokan in Kyoto (Hotel), and the entrance gallery of the Zoukei University of the Arts.
The movie one should not miss?
In my opinion, Stand by Me.
Please tell us about your most Life-changing travels or experiences?
It was my first London trip. I was there for a Kaikado event at Postcard Teas. It helped us to sell our caddies in foreign countries.
Last place you went on holiday?
Hawaii! Whenever I go there, I can relax.
A last word or message to convey to our readers?
Please use your caddies for a long time, we can adjust them anytime to use again.
This interview has been kindly edited by Shekha Vyas.
Shekha is a creative media professional with a varied background in editorial and academic writing. Having worked in Journalism, PR and Recruitment, she is fascinated by the world and talking to people: from artists and artisans to the unsung heroes of every day. A native Londoner and intrepid traveller, her favourite pastime is searching for the most unique places to eat, experience and enjoy. Passionate about innovative design, Shekha is delighted to be able to contribute to Jardins Florian. Examples of her previous projects can be found here. You can contact her via email: firstname.lastname@example.orgIf you are interested in Japan's economy and politics we invite you to read our article by Jason Mitchell "Abenomics Can Resolve Some of Japan’s Structural Problems and Boost Equities".