Takaokaya – Traditional Craftsmanship with a Modern Twist

Takaokaya brings a piece of Kyoto to you when you visit IFFS 2019/Nook Asia next year. Takaokaya is a producer of hand-made Japanese zabuton cushions and futon in Kyoto. With an emphasis on culture and history, Takaokaya embodies Kyoto’s spirit of hospitality, or ‘omotenashi’ through their products that help users achieve ‘kutsurogi’ amidst today’s fast-paced lifestyle.

Founded in 1919, Takaokaya was first based in Fushimi. At that time, it sold both futons and kimonos custom made from fabrics selected by the customer. In the 1940s, the appearance of many department stores changed the retail landscape in Japan. They moved to the heart of Kyoto to join the competition and before long, Takaokaya’s ready-made futons was sold in these department stores. Come the new year in 2019, it would be Takaokaya’s 100 year anniversary.

The Frontpage editorial team spoke with their current owner, Koichiro Takaoka. He is the third generation owner and through his efforts, all of Takaokaya’s products continue to be made by hand, the same way as a cenutry ago. However, there have been some changes in recent years. Takaoka-san has placed a greater emphasis on zabutons and other seating-related products, a difference in the operational direction compared to the earlier days when his father led the company. Back then, they focused more on futons and other sleep-related items.

A product that would symbolise this shift would be their Ojami cushion, the first in Japan. Takaoka-san said, “It has become more and more difficult for Japanese people to sit on traditional zabutons. It might be the change in lifestyle that caused their posture to change, but it has become more difficult. So we created the Ojami cushion, it is slight taller, so it raises you a little higher when you sit on it. This makes it easier for the modern Japanese people to sit on floors.” Thus the Ojami cushion is slightly taller than the conventional zabuton and much denser. The design was based on a popular Japanese beanbag toy, Otedama or Ojami in Kyoto.

A key cultural influence on Takaokaya is the idea of kutsurogi and the spirit of omotenashi.  Kutsurogi is a Japanese word that means easing, chilling, or relaxing. It is a state of pure relaxation when you let go of all your stresses and just do what makes you calm and happy at the moment. Takaoka-san firmly believes in bringing about kutsurogi or the relaxation of the mind and body into Japanese homes. By creating products that help users to sit and sleep more comfortably, he wishes for everyone to experience kutsurogi amidst their fast-paced lifestyles.

On the other hand, omotenashi, the spirit of hospitality that is unique to Kyoto, is what drives Takaoka-san to continue to innovate and inspire. To him, it is more than just providing and accommodating to guests. It is a way of life, to live while caring for the wellbeing and safety of others. “These tassels at the corners of traditional Kyoto zabutons are called ‘sumibuchi’. In our culture, we believe that these tassels help to keep evil and bad spirits away,” he said. Takaokaya’s zabutons and Ojami cushions can also be spotted at multiple hotels in Kyoto, providing an authentic experience of ‘omotenashi’ to guests from around the world.

The climate of the Kyoto also affects Takaokaya. “Kyoto is a city that gets very hot in summer and rather cold in winter, so we change the things we use as the year goes by. Cotton is used during winter because it keeps people warm, while linen is used during summer for breathability,” Takaoka-san added.  In addition to cotton and linen zabutons, Takaokaya also uses the local Nishijin silk to create beautiful silk Ojami cushions.

Japanese textiles are not just the only kind of fabric Takaokaya works with. They have done several collaborations with European and American textile producers. Some of their most famous collaborations are with Casamance from France, Moon in the United Kingdom and Jakob Schlaepher from Switzerland. By working with European and American textiles, Takaoka-san shared that they “can exchange techniques and broaden their horizons”.

Visit www.NookAsia.com.sg for more information about Takaokaya, and check out their booth at E642 in Basement 2 at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Marina Bay Sands when you visit Nook Asia 2019 from 9-12 March next year.