Located in the center of Kyoto Prefecture, the town of Kyotamba is nestled in the forest, with more than 80% of the surrounding land designated as woodland. It is an area of fields and mountains, crisscrossed with snow-melt streams, where visitors can benefit from the therapeutic power of nature. The environment also serves to inspire artists and craftspeople living in the region. Here we profile some artists who chose to relocate to Kyotamba, seeking out a different pace of life. Their daily lives and work will go some way to explaining the charms of Kyotamba.
A Map of Kyotamba
1. Leather Artists: logsee/Yoshie and Mikio Ishiguro
Known collectively as logsee, Yoshie and Mikio Ishiguro are designers who create a variety of goods from quality leather. They moved to northern Kyotamba in 2015 from a neighboring prefecture in search of a quiet, creative environment.
Located upstream from the Yura River, the place where the couple lives has a beautiful landscape with terraced fields that spread out towards the mountains. “This stunning view is why we decided to move here. We also love how we can see the seasons change in the mountains nearby,” says the duo, from their hilltop home and studio.
Their studio, converted from an old farm equipment shed, feels like a small cabin. Natural light is plentiful and with the windows open, the sound of birdsong and wind blowing across the fields can be heard like music, inspiring their creative endeavors. As they put it, “Nature sounds are the best to listen to while working. We love the soothing pitter-patter of rain too.”
LO and unn: The Story of Two Brands
Yoshie and Mikio originally specialized in custom-made bags tailored from the finest leather. However, since their relocation to Kyotamba they have been developing their own unique styles of work. Yoshie has launched a new brand called LO. Based on the sewing skills she has honed over the years, she is now creating simpler leather goods for everyday use. “If made-to-order is about adding craftsmanship and design, LO is about subtractive creation. I try to take the designs to the next level,” says Yoshie. “I value the beauty of lines and forms.”
LO carries a wide range of bag designs, including functional bags and baskets made of soft woven leather. Her minimalist designs make the best use of the leather’s innate beauty.
Mikio’s brand uun aims to bring people’s attention to the animal skin before they are treated for human use. In Kyotamba, local hunters practice wildlife removal to protect the forests. Mikio takes the hides of deer and wild boars that have been handled by these hunters and tans them himself to create his art.
The impetus to his new series of work came when Mikio accompanied a neighbor on a hunting trip. “What moved me that day was my neighbor’s attitude and respect for life. I could tell by the way he made sure that when the time came, the creature suffered as little as possible. Then he dismembered the animal with such dexterity so as not to waste anything.” Mikio’s appreciation for this process grew even more when he tried processing the raw hides himself. After cutting the flesh, removing all hairs, washing and then drying the hide, he could clearly see the veins and scars, the traces of life led by the animal. Each scar tells a story of survival in nature, how precious life is and the beauty of it all—which is what Mikio expresses in his work.
The round objects hanging from the ceiling of the studio are lamps made of thinly stretched deerskin. They each have a unique hide pattern, which shows when light shines through the lamp. Mikio also makes sculptural works by wrapping a chunk of wood with deerskin and combining dirt and dry leaves gathered from the forest. Try holding one of his pieces in your hand and you can almost picture yourself in the same habitat.
While Mikio’s unique creations manifest the material’s evolution from hide to leather, Yoshie’s work elevates the value of leather as if to remind us that it is born from animal life. Both show us the possibilities of working with leather. Their amazing crafts are a testament to the skill and vision of these two artisans living in Kyotamba. http://logsee.net/
2. Fashion Visionaries: Roggykei /Hitoshi and Keiko Korogi
The beautiful nature of Kyotamba certainly appeals to fashion designers as well. Hitoshi and Keiko Korogi, co-founders of their fashion brand Roggykei, are one such couple who moved to the town in March 2020. Debuted in Paris in 2012, their modern but relaxed designs are genderless, creating a loose circular silhouette when worn, and have developed a following among fashionistas. At the advent of the pandemic, they closed their store and atelier in Osaka and relocated to Kyotamba, marking the start of a new chapter for Roggykei.
The duo relocated to Shizushi, a village in Kyotamba, where they set up their studio, store and home at the foot of a gentle slope. Surrounded by mountains, fields and starry skies at night, the move has drastically changed the rhythm of their lives and the way they create. Back in Osaka, work used to be the center of their lives and they would sometimes stay up all night, but now they work from 9am to 6pm. In their free time, they grow vegetables, explore the surroundings, and enjoy the scenery and sunsets. These rich experiences serve to stimulate their senses, causing new creative ideas to spring forth.
“We eat really healthy now, with all the fresh vegetables and rice we now have access to,” says Keiko, with a healthy smile on her face next to her partner. They also prepare their own tea from herbs and wild plants.
Concept shop: tomoribi
At the back of their home is their concept store called tomoribi, set up inside an old house which they renovated. In addition to Roggykei apparel, the store sells ceramic vessels and wooden trays made by local artisans, straw bags handcrafted by an 85-year-old neighbor, and other handmade tools for everyday life. All these items are selected by Roggykei so that the aesthetic fits with their apparel.
“Since we started living in Kyotamba, we are less concerned about what’s trendy in the world today than we used to be,” says Hitoshi. For these two designers, fashion is now defined not as a trend, but as “an indispensable tool for comfortable living”. Cherishing their encounters with the locals, they now spend their time searching for hints of beauty and comfort in everyday life.
Creating sustainable apparel
The second floor is where clothes designed by Roggykei are featured. The homelike display features their creativity, including a collection inspired by Japanese farm clothes and their work in the fields. Hitoshi and Keiko both place importance on making sustainable apparel, which is why they use only natural, biodegradable fibers that are comfortable to wear. They also make hats and bags using only left-over scraps of fabric. Their efforts to minimize fabric waste are also inspired by zero-waste designs of kimono patterns. And by focusing on made-to-order production, they try to avoid holding excess inventory as well.
The Korogis are also trying to grow organic cotton in the field in front of their house. Their goal is to recreate a sustainable cycle like the way we used to live—sowing seeds to grow cotton and making comfy eco-friendly clothes that are biodegradable. By doing so, they hope to bring people’s attention to environmental issues.
tomoribi is open every Saturday, Sunday and Monday (but closed in the winter months). Drop by and spend some time with Keiko and Hitoshi, and you will be sure to feel a connection with their designs.
3. Dokkatoyu/Gallery Hakuden: Potter Naoto Ishii, Craft designer Sumiko Ishii
Fresh air, birdsong, and soft sunlight filtering through the trees—as Henry David Thoreau noted in Walden, the forest is the perfect place for contemplation and self-reflection. Ceramic artist Naoto Ishii and craft designer Sumiko Ishii are another couple who dedicate themselves to their creative practices in the serenity of Kyotamba.
Naoto felt a strong connection with the Kyotamba landscape some 30 years ago, when he began clearing a section of woodland to build himself a hut and a kiln. Today, the premises have expanded to include a large thatched-roof house and a gallery run by his spouse, Sumiko.
The Ishiis’ home is a 150-year-old house that was relocated to Kyotamba from the neighboring Shiga Prefecture. Naoto fell in love with the house when he happened to pass by it while it was being disassembled, so deeply that he took ownership of it. The thatched roof and mud walls effectively control humidity and provide good thermal insulation, thus the interior is always comfortable. When fire is lit in the hearth for warmth and to enjoy meals, “the smoke that rises from the hearth also protects the roof from insects.” The couple lives in what could be the ultimate eco-friendly housing.
Naoto and the Art of Clay and Fire
Naoto’s workshop is set in a corner of their thatched-roof house. Mainly working with locally harvested clay, he creates vessels for everyday life while paying attention to the natural rhythm of his surroundings. For instance, when wind blows and if a piece of twig happens to land on his palm, he uses it to make a mark with it on his piece.
Naoto’s work is known for the rustic and yet expressive quality that results from the unpredictive nature of wood firing. The type of kiln he uses is a large noborigama, or climbing kiln, constructed along a slope and consisting of several fire chambers. With the help of his friends, the kiln is fired once a year for three to four days straight. The temperature inside can rise over 1,200 degrees Celsius, causing amazing changes to happen—wood ash can build up on some of the pieces and even create its own natural glaze, hence producing a range of unexpected colors, pattern and texture. No two pieces fired in a noborigama are alike.
At the gallery set up inside a teahouse, visitors are welcome to hold the pieces created by Naoto, whose work ranges from dishware and earthen pots to tea ceremony bowls and sculptures. Each piece has a sense of boldness due to its raw, earthy quality, and yet feels welcoming and wholesome. The pieces would certainly be beautiful complements to food or flowers.
According to Naoto, the secret to making one-of-a-kind ceramicware is to “not get too involved in the process.” Simply letting his kiln do its work is the magic behind his naturally beautiful pieces, enhanced because of their imperfections.
Gallery Hakuden speaks to the Beauty of Life
On the premises is another gallery called Hakuden that showcases everyday items designed and selected by Sumiko. The gallery is housed in a charming wooden hut that she designed, since she previously worked in the field of architecture. Hakuden carries Naoto’s ceramic work, as well as plant-dyed clothing and aprons designed by Sumiko. Visitors can also find wooden cutlery and baskets woven with crimson glory vine that are made by artisans who she works with. All products at Hakuden are handmade using natural materials. The simplicity, refreshing colors and pleasant textures of these beautiful items would certainly bring a smile to your face.
Sumiko is also a researcher of handicrafts across Japan and around the world, occasionally producing publications and curating exhibitions. She is particularly attracted to prehistoric textiles and paper made from plant fibers and tree bark. She says, “By tracing the origins of these products I am able to discover a deep connection between nature and everyday living, which is something that we have lost while leading our contemporary lifestyle. I would like to continue searching for hints on how to live comfortably in the present.”
The gallery is open every Saturday and Sunday. The beautiful handicrafts are sure to add some sparkle to your life.