For foreigners, eating with chopsticks can be quite exhausting (and maybe frustrating as well…). Should you rest your hands, you can place your chopsticks on a chopstick rest. Actually, chopstick rests are used to place your chopsticks so that they do not touch the table, the same way as you would use a knife rest to place your fork and knife. Not too many casual restaurants use chopstick rests, but if you dine in a more fancy restaurant, you should also keep an eye out for chopstick rests. They come in all sorts of shapes, design and colors. These sleek chopstick rests are from Nousaku.
Celebrating their centennial this year, Nousaku is a manufacturer of tin, brass and bronze. They are located in Takaoka city of Toyama Prefecture which has flourished and built a reputation for their unique casting techniques and copperware for more than 400 years. Nousaku’s history begins from manufacturing Buddhist altar fittings, tea sets and flower vases, then adding interior goods and tableware to their collection. Today, they are the forerunner of traditional craft, bringing new value to the industry and to the area of Takaoka . Their uniqueness comes through a combination of their expertise in casting methods and the refined techniques of their craftsman, as well as their innovative spirit. I love to visit the top page of their website. The sounds of the craftsmen at work mixed with the high tone of their famous tin windbell, takes you inside the factory and offers you a glimpse of what goes on inside.
The motif of the chopstick rests are “Mizuhiki”, a colorful twine that is tied in knots to decorate gifts. “Mizuhiki” plays an important role in Japanese culture as a symbol of affection, warmth, and togetherness. There are several stories on how the culture of “Mizuhiki” began. One story goes back to 607 AD, when a Japanese delegate retuned from China with a gift for the Japanese Emperor. The gift was decorated with a red and white twine knot symbolizing “safe journey” for the delegate. The Japanese began recreating the knot from washi, starting a tradition of presenting gift boxes with “Mizuhiki” knots.
“Mizuhiki” are usually made from washi(Japanese paper). Each knot has a meaning and is used for a specific event (for example wedding ceremonies, funerals, birth, etc.) Mizuhiki knots are closely associated with the Japanese word musubi (meaning “connection” or “tying”) because tying a Mizuhiki knot connects people and ties them together. These chopstick rests were actually a gift from my brother and his wife as a symbol of their marriage. They couldn’t have chosen a more perfect gift! (By the way, they come in a wooden box with a small leaflet about the product and brand in both English and Japanese, so it would definitely be a great gift)
Tin is a very flexible metal. It is usually mixed with other metals so that it is easy to work with and more durable, but Nousaku uses pure tin without additives. You can bend it easily without breaking it, and the crackling sound caused when bending tin is referred to as “tin cry”. Nousaku has actually taken this unique characteristic of tin and designed their products around it. The KAGO series, probably the most famous product series at Nousaku, can be pulled and extended to various directions to create all kinds of shapes. My sister has one at home and uses it is as a fruit basket. She would change the shape and size of the basket to match the size of the fruits which is quite smart. The shape of the chopstick rests can be changed as well, and bending them gives them a new impression.
Lastly, let me introduce you to an interesting collaboration that Nousaku initiated. Recently, they took a step into the avant-gard side of things by teaming up with Noritaka Tatehana, the designer who has become famous for designing the heel-less shoes for Lady Gaga. Tatehana’s work “TRACES OF A CONTINUING HISTORY” is a series of works made by brass castings of Tatehana’s actual skelton that serves as his “self portrait” as an artist.
As you can see form this collaboration, Nousaku is not afraid to try something new, to combine traditional methods and craftsmanship with new ideas. Maybe that is the secret behind their growth and why they have been loved by both locals and the international community.