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Traditional Modernity: Kohchosai Kosuga of Kyoto
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When a culture has been using a material for over 10,000 years – in this case, bamboo – a certain degree of proficiency and expertise is to be expected. Factor in the reverence for craftsmanship woven through the whole of Japanese history and it’s no surprise a century’s old company like Kohchosai Kosuga not only still exists today, but thrives.

Kohchosai Kosuga-interior

Established in 1898, the family operated business began as the purveyor of bamboo crafts to the Japanese Imperial family, elevating the utilitarian handiwork of woven bamboo items into artful pieces valued beyond their intended utility.

Photos: Kohchosai Kosuga

Photos: Kohchosai Kosuga

Kohchosai Kosuga currently operates several workshops and facilities throughout Kyoto where bamboo arts and crafts are still made by hand, a tedious and involved process requiring hand harvesting the plant in the cold winter months, cutting the stalks with a specialty blade called a kiku-wari, then dyed or lacquered the wood before pieces are woven by hand into highly intricate, tightly woven patterns created both for their beauty and tensile strength. Once completed, woven goods like baskets and wallets, alongside carved kitchen wares, eventually make their way to a flagship store in Kyoto.

If not for my limited luggage capacity during the trip, it would have been easy to imagine replacing much of our kitchen tools with the Calder-esque spoons and cutlery on display.

If not for my limited luggage capacity during the trip it would have been easy to imagine replacing much of our kitchen tools with the Calder-esque spoons and cutlery on display.

It was in fact this past winter I found myself shuffling in through those very same doors of the Kohchosai Kosuga’s flagship boutique located on the first floor of the Royal Park Hotel in Kyoto, harboring me from a gentle snowstorm which surprised this Southern California kid with its fluffy density. Once inside I was shepherded to chat with the managing director Tatsuyuki Kosuga, a dapper 30-something who now helms the company since taking the reins given to him by his father. Through a translator Kosuga waxed proudly about his family’s legacy stretching over a hundred years and across an existing line of 1,000 products, whether it was about a modest $6 condiment case all the way up to the intricate Italian leather and Japanese bamboo weave gracing his very own luxury wallet designed in partnership with Danish design studio, OeO.

The Sartorial Collection is comprised of leather and bamboo goods designed in partnership between Kohchosai Kosuga and OeO Design Studio.

The Sartorial Collection is comprised of leather and bamboo goods designed in partnership between Kohchosai Kosuga and OeO Design Studio.

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In each instance Kosuga underlined how attention and technique used by their craftsman results in the subtle and satisfying details which gracefully age along with its owner; the oil from our hands not only embellish a patina onto the wood’s surface unique to each product, but actually feed the wood from drying out. In this way Kohchosai Kosuga’s baskets, containers, utensils, and other bamboo goods are always functional first, each object’s beauty magnified because their life is connected inherently to those lives using them. As beautiful as bamboo is to admire, Kosuga believes it’s a material best appreciated when used day after day. Who are we to argue with over a hundred years of experience?

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Tatsuyuki Kosuga extended the scope and reach of Kohchosai Kosuga products by partnering with Italian leather craftsman and Danish designers to complement their range of traditional woven floral baskets.

Tatsuyuki Kosuga extended the scope and reach of Kohchosai Kosuga products by partnering with Italian leather craftsman and Danish designers to complement their range of traditional woven floral baskets with fashionable accessories as pictured behind him here.

The Kohchosai Kosuga flagship store is located at 74 Nakajimacho, Sanjo-dori Kawaramachi Higashi-iru, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto with a selection of goods available online via retailers like twentytwentyone.

Gregory Han is Tech Editor of Design Milk. A Los Angeles native with a profound love and curiosity for design, hiking, tide pools, and road trips, a selection of his adventures and musings can be found at gregoryhan.com.