E: How have you been during this time of Covid? Have you felt a big difference since it all began?
J: The biggest difference I've felt on a personal level is that I'm not able to travel freely. I've always enjoyed visiting my favorite cities: Tokyo, Kyoto, SF, NY and London.
On a professional level, from March to May, product development slowed down, while our furniture business did very well because people right now are focusing on making their home more comfortable.
E: You were born in Japan. Then later educated here in the United States and worked in architecture for a number of years. Can you tell us more about your background and history from the time you lived in Japan until now? What led you to ultimately start designing and making your own furniture?
J: I was raised in Tokyo, and when I was 16, my family moved to Seattle because of my father’s work. I graduated from an American high school, then went to University of Washington and majored in architecture. I continued my architectural education at Penn and received my master’s degree in architecture. After graduating, I returned to Tokyo to work for one of the largest construction companies in the country. I was hired as an architect, but later transferred to their real estate development division. Once I arrived there, the company I worked for sent me to UCLA for their MBA program to study business. I was sent to LA in 2000. After 12 years in LA, the company I worked for called me back to Tokyo and I had no choice but to follow their orders, and I left my wife and two sons here in the States. I spent 2 years in Japan, but I knew my sons were going through a critical time in the their life, including entering college, so I resigned from my company after 30 years of employment and came back to LA to join my family. At age 55 I was given an opportunity to start a company where I could spend everyday practicing what I really loved, which is design and product making.
When I think about the way your life's trajectory can change, I am most moved by the life story of George Nakashima who was once placed in a Japanese Internment Camp during WWll and started his furniture making studio relatively late in his life to secure his family’s independence. His story makes me believe in personal power and motivated me to create my own path through design and craft.
E: Your multi-cultural, multi-disciplined background must effect how you design. How would you describe your line of furniture, and what are your biggest influences? Do you think you design through a Japanese perspective?
J: I describe my furniture as “minimal” as I'm trying to use only the essential structural elements to compose each piece. At the same time, however, the pieces need “charm” or “character”. It's a challenge as a furniture designer to realize both aspects in my designs.
I also think our pieces have to make practical sense in terms of material sufficiency, production efficiency and commercial effectiveness. It's difficult to define Summer Studio's style. We're trying to make good products through a holistic approach, which I believe all product designers try to do. I think my Japanese background influences my design only on an unconscious level. I don’t intentionally express Japaneseness in my furniture, but I’ve been told by people that my pieces have a Japanese aesthetics, which honestly surprises me sometimes. I regularly go back to Japan to see my parents in Tokyo and take trips to Kyoto as an annual ritual. This year I canceled my trip to Japan in April due to safety concerns, and I miss the country so much.
E: "Summer Studio" sounds so joyful as a name, and feels appropriate for a place like Los Angeles. What's the meaning behind the name, "Summer Studio" and how would you describe your brand? What's your vision for the future?
J: The company name, "Summer Studio” expresses my state of mind. I feel that I'm in the summer of my life! This studio is where I can explore my interest in design and craft to the fullest. I honestly have so many ideas for new products, and I always try to make time for product development, which is what I enjoy doing the most!
E: What's your studio life like - do you have a daily routine as a designer and maker?
J: I don’t think I have daily routine. Our studio is growing so rapidly that every week, we're in a different phase of product development, or taking product orders from clients for fabrication. It sounds hard, but actually this makes our operation interesting for me and our employees. We enjoy challenges. We have to!
E: Do you think you've been more productive or creative during this time of social distancing? What's helped you cope during this time?
J: I have to say social distancing makes our design effort less productive as our work depends on communication between designers and production collaborators. Plus our work is very “physical”. Lack of travel and less opportunities to meet people sometimes restricts how we exchange new ideas, and sadly it can have a negative impact on creativity when our work is so collaborative....
E: When you're not working at Summer Studio, what do you enjoy doing? What are you most excited to do once things return to normal after Covid?
J: I enjoy watching movies on the Criterion Channel. I love slow moving films with visual poetry. Recently I found films by a new wave of Chinese directors, including Jia Zhangke and Bi Gan, which are so interesting to watch!
As soon as our Covid situation is over, I definitely want to take a trip to Tokyo and Kyoto.