The Japanese have long been aware of the value of their crafts, a heritage they do not hesitate to modernize to meet the needs of contemporary creation.
Delicate porcelains, impossibly fine glassware, sumptuous lacquers and the purest woodwork, all these Japanese crafts and know-how were on display at the latest Maison & Objet show, in what seemed to be an organized operation by a variety of the country's institutions to promote its handicraft.
The timing couldn't be better. This season, a wave of Asian motifs seems to be appearing on objects, dinnerware and fabrics, regardless of which part of the world they are from. JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization) presented a selection of objects created by blending craftwork with modernism: aluminium vases hand-made by a company that usually designs accessories for Buddhist altars; "Magewappa", craftwork consisting of objects fashioned from curved lacquered wood; beautifully lacquered, high-tech speaker cabinets; and light-as-air "Usuhari" glasses, created by specialists in glassblowing techniques generally used in crafting light bulbs.
Under the same concept, the Yamagata Koubou project combines designer Ken Okuyama with ancestral know-how from the region of Yamagata (birthplace of the famous butterfly-shaped stool designed in 1956 by Sori Yanagi), which includes woodwork, casting, carpet weaving and, finally, magnificent objects featured as part of the regional scenery in a lovely picture catalogue.
The principle is not new, and many other countries have also understood that this alliance is salutary not only for the traditional trades, but also for contemporary design, which, by taking the path of exclusivity and luxury, finds a way to compete against mass production.