Interview with Taku Shinomoto - Designer of Hasami Porcelain and Owner of Tortoise General Store

Posted by Emma Tsuchida on

ET: Can you tell us what led you to design the Hasami Porcelain collection?

TAKU: Before Hasami Porcelain, I was a furniture designer and shop owner living in Venice Beach with my wife, Keiko and dog, Fido.  We started the Tortoise General Store together in 2003 after moving to California from Tokyo. I was never formally educated in design, but I designed furniture for a Japanese company called Idee for many years, and my work at Tortoise here in the U.S. was teaching me daily about life in America. I suppose this positioned me perfectly to gain the confidence of a Japanese distributor exporting Hasami ceramics overseas, and they asked me to help them launch an original tableware series specifically for an American audience.  

I had never designed tableware before, but I instinctively understood that Japanese ceramicware catered to Japanese cuisine and eating habits, which were totally different to what I was observing in the U.S.  I wanted to design a line that suited all cuisine types and eating styles, a design that was neutral and universal. Japanese tableware is typically small, thin and lightweight as they’re held in the hand and brought to the mouth when eating.  Americans eat with a fork and knife, so plates and bowls need to be heavier, larger to avoid sliding on the table.  My personal and professional life seemed to have placed me both metaphorically and literally between Japan and the U.S., so my understanding of both sides helped me design a collection that appealed to everyone.  

ET: From the beginning, you set out to design tableware that was a big picture collection, where all the pieces worked together cooperatively.  What was your inspiration for Hasami Porcelain’s overall design?

I believe you won’t find a line of tableware with as many sizes and dimensions as Hasami Porcelain.  When I set out to design Hasami Porcelain, I wanted its modular, multi-functional character to be a central tenant, so people would be encouraged to build a personalized collection of tableware that worked for their specific needs.  Even when making furniture, I am drawn to modular, multi-functional design for this reason.  For form, I’m attracted to simple and minimal shapes–even though simple design is oftentimes the hardest to achieve.  In Japanese, we say ‘nigerbashoganai’, as in there’s no place to hide from our mistakes when a design is reduced to its simplest form.  It also goes without saying that some inspiration for Hasami came from my own heritage.  The Japanese ‘jubako’, which are stacking boxes used by food delivery services, and ‘oryoki’, the Japanese lacquer eating bowls used by monks, were an inspiration designing Hasami Porcelain.  Being Japanese is part of my DNA as a designer so even when it’s not intentional to infuse Japanese sensibilities into my design, those influences are always naturally there to guide me.

ET: The Hasami Porcelain collection straddles a lot of dualities.  On the one hand it contains an impressive range of pieces, but remains minimal by being modular.  In appearance, it feels organic with its rougher texture and natural finish, but precision in design allows you to literally stack them into neat columns.  With all these unique features to the line, were there any challenges when making the line initially?

TAKU: The part of design I enjoy most is finding a place where design can be in harmony with the limitations of production.  I don’t want to manipulate or complicate the production process to achieve a specific design.  Instead, I try to understand the production process, both its limitations and advantages, to create a product that compliments its parameters.  When I first visited the kilns and factories in Hasami, I found in their archive a tiny teacup in a beige, neutral tone that was very textured.  

I was told the teacup was a combination of white porcelain and sandstone.  Finding this teacup changed the trajectory of Hasami Porcelain because I knew instantly that Hasami Porcelain needed to be made from this material.  However, when you mix clay with porcelain, the reaction in the kiln is quite unpredictable, dramatic even, and since precision is the foundation of my design and clay is not a precise material, we ran into challenges right away. Applying intense heat to a natural material is always a challenge in and of itself - you’ll find it can warp, shrink or even break the material in the kiln, and the finish can come out too dark, too light, brown, red, all different shades. 

We tried many times to correct and control what we were seeing from the kiln, and originally there was some negative association with the variations we had on our hands.  But I came to see that the variations were  special in their own way– a reflection of the natural material and its manmade quality.  Pottery is not perfect, and by embracing these imperfections as an attractive feature of the line, I believe that it helped Hasami Porcelain resonate with so many.  In a time where almost everything is mass produced, including Hasami Porcelain, we appreciate what is still unique, what still reflects nature on our table, and what feels truly authentic. 

ET: How is Hasami Porcelain made today?

Hasami Porcelain is made in several different factories and kilns spread across the rural town of Hasami in Nagasaki prefecture.  Hasami is a historical pottery town with over 400 years of experience with the craft.  It's an accurate statement to say the entire town is involved in the making of ceramics, whether it’s the factory that builds the molds, or the workers who fill the molds, or those that empty the kilns or even packers who ship the ceramics overseas.  Hasami Porcelain touches every area of town, and is made through a collaborative, collective effort.  To achieve the precise and stackable shape of the line, we used stacked molds and machine throwing.  Despite the mechanics involved, there is a human touch at every step and you’ll see young men to older grandmothers at different stages of production.  Even with our embrace of Hasami Porcelain’s imperfections and natural variations, the line is incredibly challenging to make and our methods have been perfected over many trials and errors.  I believe this line could have only been made in Hasami.  Hence the namesake, Hasami Porcelain.  

ET: What do you hope for Hasami Porcelain in the future?  Where is it headed?

TAKU: I want to keep growing the line to include other materials and design new Hasami Porcelain products using the modular framework set in place.  I believe the success of Hasami Porcelain lies in its everyday versatility, so we want Hasami Porcelain to stay relevant for the people that use it.  I also hope that Hasami Porcelain can continue to support and revitalize the town of Hasami as a production center for ceramicware, within Japan and worldwide.  The reality is that people tend to move away from the countryside to the city, and as populations in rural towns like Hasami decline, we also see important crafts like ceramics start to dwindle. The preservation of important crafts, and towns like Hasami is crucial for the heritage of Japan, but also for humanity.  

With the support of Hasami Porcelain, I’d like to create a restaurant in the area using B-grade Hasami Porcelain products not sold on the market to promote zero waste, as well as a lodging facility in town where visitors can experience Hasami Porcelain during their stay.  It’s also my dream to someday hold an international design competition for Hasami Porcelain, and grow the line by broadening its inclusivity.

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May / Good Company with Mano Del Sur: Interview with Founder, Shuko Clouse

Posted by Emma Tsuchida on

After a 10-day trip to Chiapas Mexico, Shuko Clouse carefully unpacks her two large suitcases filled with beautiful weavings, clay objects and paper art thoughtfully sourced from over 20 small villages around San Cristobal de la Casas.  A typical trip will require Shuko to visit three to four families a day to find these wares.  Navigating the city by car, Shuko is warmly welcomed into multi-generational homes that double as studios where predominately female artisans impart the ongoing legacy of their indigenous craft.  They share meals, stories and sometimes the family's entire wardrobe with Shuko, inviting her to be a caring and curious eye-witness to the incredible techniques and traditions behind each piece so she can pass the experience along to her customers back home. 

Shuko's beautifully curated shop 'Mano del Sur' celebrates its three-year anniversary this month, and we're honored to announce Mano del Sur as our third Good Company event this year.  Mano del Sur translates to 'hands of the south' and focuses on unique handcrafts from Central and South America.  Shuko's initial spark for starting Mano del Sur was as much a journey of self discovery as it was a discovery of a new place that felt surprisingly like home. 
Learn more about Mano del Sur and about why Shuko is such Good Company by jumping to her interview down below.

TGS:  Can you tell us what led you to start Mano del Sur?

SHUKO: Several years ago I visited Oaxaca, Mexico with my family.  The trip introduced me to Mexico's indigenous culture and handcraft.  Being Japanese, I felt a warm kinship to the indigenous people I was meeting–partly because I think we look quite similar! As a child, I grew up in the Japanese countryside, eating vegetables, making things from the dirt, and there was some intangible similarity between my life in Japan and theirs. 
After that trip, I visited Belize, Costa Rica and Guatemala, then traveled to the Mayan ruins.  These subsequent trips made me want to start learning Spanish so I could communicate directly to the people I was fortunate enough to meet. I also began studying Mexican culture more seriously through regular cultural study tours to Chiapas and Oaxaca.  Traveling so frequently, I'd often bring back gifts and a dear friend said to me, 'You find such great crafts on your trips.  You should open a store.'  The start of Mano del Sur began rather simply with these kind words from a friend–but in reality it was a gradual process over the course of years where I immersed myself in learning more about Mexico, Mexican culture and the rich handcraft traditions that I found there.

TGS: You just went on a 10-day trip to Chiapas, Mexico and you were excited to find things for this upcoming pop-up with Tortoise.  What was your most recent trip like, and what are your trips like typically?

SHUKO: I landed in San Cristobal de las Casas where I stay in a house and travel around by car.  Every day I visit three to four families.  They're all family businesses or a co-op of several women in the same village that work together.  I visit them at their home, and they're so welcoming. Finding items on this trip with Tortoise in mind was a fun experience because I selected items imagining what the Tortoise community would feel most excited to see.  Personally I'm drawn to weavings, clay items and baskets–and I brought back many huipils, ceramics and even recycled paper crafts for next week's event.  The paper crafts come from a studio with zero waste work.  Absolutely no electricity is used there, and their work is made entirely from recycled paper, tree bark, plants and their hands–it's beautiful.  I'm also going to show a special weaving from the only Tzotzil weaving community in the tropic lowlands, Carranza village, located in the southern part of Chiapas.  Their work is so fine they split their thread into two to achieve a weaving so exquisite it's sheer.  Their work is the kind worn by Mayan queens.  

TGS: You travel alone for these visits, but do you have anything you need to take with you on your journey?

SHUKO: These trips can be quite physically demanding so I always bring with me some miso and umeboshi (laughs).  Around four years ago on a trip, I got very sick and couldn't keep food down.  I found a fermentation shop in San Cristobal de la Casas and got miso there.  This helped me, and now I never go on a trip without a small tupperware of miso and umeboshi.  

TGS: When Tortoise was on Abbot Kinney, you oversaw the gallery space.  You have a great eye for craft and design, but you're also a talented and creative person.  What do you enjoy making now, and how do you incorporate your creativity with Mano del Sur?

SHUKO: Most recently I bought fabric from Oaxaca that inspired me. I used it to make trivets and furoshiki.  I'm self-taught and can hand-stitch and machine sew, but my skills are nowhere near the artisans I meet.  The families I work with are multi-generational artisans.  They start to teach their craft to children when they're as young as eight.  Sometimes they will teach me things like embroidery when I visit, and I'm stunned by the level of perfection.  It's obvious they've been learning how to do their work since they were eight.  

TGS: What do you hope for the future of Mano del Sur?

SHUKO: I want to keep learning from the artisans I meet and from my travels, and I'd like to help others learn more about Central and South America through Mano del Sur.  There's power in connection, and I'd like to find more ways to support the indigenous people of Central and South America by connecting more people to the artisans I work with and encourage them to keep their traditions alive.  Mano del Sur also currently supports two philanthropic organizations.  The first is Mexican Dreamweavers, which sponsors a group of artisan weavers residing in a coastal village in Oaxaca.  They often can't afford their materials and don't have an effective means to sell their work.  Mano del Sur helps fund their work and also pays for their travel expenses to weaving events held both here in the U.S and in Mexico.  We also support an organization called Oaxaca Street Children, which helps children from financially struggling families have better opportunities in the future.  
Thank you Shuko and Mano del Sur for all the wonderful work you do!  Please join us for Mano del Sur's special three-day pop-up featuring artisan wares from Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico.  Pop-up starts Thursday, May 5th (Cinco de Mayo - also known as Children's Day in Japan) and ends Saturday, May 7th - the day before Mother's Day!
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April / Good Company with Nazraeli Press: Interview with Founder and Publisher, Chris Pichler and Editor, Maya Ishiwata

Posted by Emma Tsuchida on

Founded in Munich in 1990, Nazraeli Press publishes stunning photography books, often utilizing unusual materials and formats with print runs rarely exceed 1,000.  We first encountered Nazraeli through mutual friend Larry Schaffer, the owner of the OK store, and bonded over Nazraeli's elegant black and white photobook, Hokkaido, capturing one of Tortoise's favorite destinations in dramatic detail. Nazraeli founder and publisher Chris Pichler and Nazraeli editor Maya Ishiwata are a husband and wife team and currently run Nazraeli Press in conjunction with a sprawling olive farm in Paso Robles where they've maintained over 2,000 olive trees, two cows and vacation properties since 2015.  Their Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a Tortoise staff holiday gift staple, and we're excited to finally bring these bottles to Tortoise shelves with an Art Book + Olive Oil Pop Up, April 22nd to April 24th!

Please enjoy our interview with Chris and Maya down below.


TGS: Purchasing art can be an intimidating idea for many people, but One Picture Book came from the belief that anybody should be able to obtain an original form of art.  Can you explain your inspiration behind these books and also tell us how you choose the artists you feature?  How do you and the artist work together to put together the final product?  

CHRIS: Our inspiration for the One Picture Book series was to make art collecting accessible to more people. Most of the books in the series are made by artists who have exhibited and sold work around the country and around the world, and they agree with our goals for the series. It’s great when somebody on a tight budget can still collect good art. As with all of our books, we work with the artists in a collaborative way. The books in this series are small, and only have 16 pages and 1 loose signed original photograph, so the challenge is to create the strongest display of the work within these parameters.

TGS: What sort of photography excites you right now, and how do you think photography and the photo book medium have changed over the last 24 years since you began publishing One Pictures Books in 1998?

CHRIS: Photography is exciting when it’s authentic, and when the subject is something that the photographer cares deeply about, no matter what that subject is. During the past two decades, publishing has become much more democratic. Almost anybody has the means to make a small edition of photo books, and the best, most interesting ones rise to the top.

TGS: Nazraeli is a name you invented as a child and gave to your guardian angel. When it comes to photography, independent publishing and books in the 21st century, what is Nazraeli Press guarding or protecting?

CHRIS: As a guardian angel, Nazraeli gave me courage to do things that I was afraid to do when I was younger. And later it gave me the courage to start publishing, first postcards and later books. It felt like I wasn’t so much an upstart publisher, as I was the Publisher of Nazraeli Press.

TGS: Nazaraeli Press is a partnership between you and Maya.  How did you begin working together?

MAYA: We met at a book fair in Los Angeles in 1994, while I was living in the East Bay and Chris was living in Munich. I saw the Nazraeli stand, and thought that they would be a good publisher to approach about some book ideas I had for Japanese photographers. We found that we liked doing things together!

TGS: Who are your influences as an art book publisher?

CHRIS: It was Jack Woody’s company, Twelve Trees Press, that we both looked up to when we were in school, and those beautiful books were certainly a huge inspiration to us. Jack paved the way for many of the Independent publishers who began publishing in the 1990s.

TGS: What is one book, published elsewhere, that you hold dear?

Maya: “Fushikaden” by Issei Suda
Chris: It’s not an art book, but “Look Homeward, Angel” by Thomas Wolfe

TGS: Where is Nazraeli Press headed when you look to the future?

Chris: We will continue to publish books on the fine and applied arts, but we also enjoy running the olive farm, and producing Extra Virgin Olive Oil. We have also built some AirBnBs on the property, which allows us to share another thing we love: our little slice of Central California.
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Shoe Clearance Sale - ASAHI and Moonstar - April 16th to April 30th!

Posted by Emma Tsuchida on

Starting Saturday, April 16th to April 30th, we will have a 40% off clearance sale on ASAHI and Moonstar shoes in all available styles until supplies last! 

This is a clearance sale, so sizes are very limited, however we've written our current available sizes in the post below showing U.S. Men's Sizes. Please note that all sales are FINAL sale, and that we're unable to place holds, take phone orders or email orders for this clearance sale.  All sales must be in person at our brick and mortar.

Shoes Like Pottery by Moonstar
U.S. Men's Sizes (Top to bottom - left to right):

Yellow SLP01: 7 
Indigo SLP01: 4, 6, 7, 9, 9
Black SLP01: 10, 4, 7, 8, 12
Black Mono SLP01: 5, 7, 12
Black Slip-on SLP02: 6, 9
White High Top: 8
Black SLP03: 4, 8
White SLP03: 4, 8, 8

U.S. Men's Sizes (Top to bottom - left to right):

Gym Court White: 4, 6, 7, 7, 12
Al Weather Brown: 4, 8
Mudguard Khaki: 6, 6, 7, 8, 10
Mudguard Charcoal: 4, 5, 5, 7, 8, 8, 
Tabi White: 3
Tabi White and Black: 3, 6, 9
Tabi Black: 3, 8, 8
Al Weather Charcoal: 7
Gym Court Navy: 6, 11
Gym Court Green: 4, 11
Al Weather Khaki: 8

U.S. Men's Sizes (Top to bottom - left to right)
ASAHI runs around 1 size larger than listed size :

Leather Hi Black: 8.5, 8.5, 9, 9
Leather Low Black: 8.5, 8.5, 9, 9, 9, 9.5, 11
Suede Low Black: 8.5, 9, 9
Suede Hi Grey: 8.5
Black Trainers: 7, 7.5, 8, 8.5, 9, 9
Grey Trainers: 8, 8, 8.5, 8.5, 9
Suede Low Mustard: 9.5, 9.5, 10, 10
Suede Low Grey: 9, 9, 9, 9.5, 11
Deck Black White: 6, 6.5, 7, 11
Deck Black: 6, 6.5, 6.5, 7, 8, 8.5
Deck White Grey: 6
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March / Good Company with Sanae Suzuki: Interview with the Author of 'Healthy Happy Pooch - Wisdom and Homemade Recipes to Give Your Dog a Healthy, Happy Life'

Posted by Emma Tsuchida on

Sanae Suzuki
combs the Santa Monica Farmers Market for fresh ingredients, as she mentally prepares a menu for herself and her pooches. Sanae's expertise in plant-based macrobiotic nutrition led her to teach macrobiotic vegan cooking around the world as a Whole Health Macrobiotic Nutrition Educator, and for 8 years, she co-owned the popular restaurant SEED in Venice Beach with her husband, chef Eric Lechasseur.  Sanae's passion for nutrition and holistic living intertwine with her love for dogs, and her book Healthy Happy Pooch - Wisdom and Homemade Recipes to Give Your Dog a Healthy, Happy Life shares her methods for preparing healthy dog food and caring for senior canines. 

What will your dogs get to eat today?
SANAE: Today my dogs will eat apples, cooked pinto beans, well-cooked brown rice, raw carrot, raw kale, raw broccoli, tofu, which are all organic. Snacks are nori seaweed and cooked sweet potato.  My husband is making their food for this week right now, and the kitchen smells so fresh with organic vegetables and apples.

How did you come around to cooking dog food? 
SANAE: After moving to America, my first dog, Sakura, struggled with skin allergies and arthritis. I wanted to help her after I had learned to help myself recover from cancer back in 1993. I studied natural nutrition for dogs and cats and created homemade dog food for Sakura. Her skin got better, her arthritis got better, and she was able to go hiking again.

What have your many years studying human health taught you about dogs' health?  

SANAE: I believe dogs prefer to eat non-packaged food without processed additives and preservatives to live healthy and happy lives.  Commercial dog foods can be unhealthy, but also dangerous for your dogs to eat. It's little known that commercial dog food companies are recalled or withdrawn from the market every year.  They can be worse than junk food for humans.

Commercial dog foods can be made with many harmful ingredients even though they are not recalled. I would like to share what I know of recalled dog food ingredients at the forthcoming lecture event at Tortoise.  Here are some of them:

  • BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) 
  • Meat Meal. ... 
  • Artificial Food Coloring. ... 
  • Corn Syrup. ... 
  • Rendered Fat. ... and more

Dogs benefit from eating balanced homemade organic food like humans.  For example:

Well-cooked whole grains support dogs' health conditions.

Too much oil is not suitable for dogs. 

Sugar is bad for dogs.

Less or no oil is better for dogs.

Dogs do not need to eat meat to thrive and stay healthy.

We love the quote - dogs are not your whole life, but they make your life whole.  How has making dog food impacted the behavior and health of your pooches?
We have healthy, happy pooches most of the time at home, just like my book title ' Healthy, Happy Pooch'. They are smart and easy to communicate with. We share our lives with our dogs every day.

We eat almost all 100% organic food at home. We share most of the delicious organic food we make with our dogs, and they can share their food with us. The food is bonding us!

We rarely had to take them to a veterinarian except for routine checkups, which saves lots of money, hahaha!  When our dogs get older, they still look younger and more graceful. It is not only love and homemade food we give to our dogs. When our dogs have health issues or get older, we first apply *holistic natural medicine and modality, so they have a chance to fulfill their lives, and many die naturally in their sleep.

*Holistic natural medicine and modality are homeopathic medicine, Bach Flower Remedy, animal acupuncture, animal reiki, animal communication, animal massage, moxibustion, etc.

We hope you RSVP for a free lecture and book signing with Sanae on Sunday March 20th. Learn how to deepen your relationship with your dog even more through food and be in good company with us!
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