Boxes are crafted from wood, paper and other materials. But in Kyoto, boxes are not mere containers. They serve to protect the dignity and enhance the value of the contents. Fittingly, when selecting one, people look for exquisiteness and beauty. The boxes exude a presence to equal their contents. In the world of food and traditional confectionery, the contained space of a box serves as a canvas for beauty. Discover the functionality and aesthetic sense craftspeople imbue in the boxes they make.
A wooden box: simple yet elegant.
Within lies a just-as-elegant bowl used in tea ceremonies.
For ceramicists, their vessels are the centerpieces.
Yet the box plays an indispensable role in the appraisal of the item it contains.
The boxes do more than contain
an object. They certify the content.
They are well-respected and cared for
by each successive owner.
In Kyoto, a box preserves the quality of what lies within while enhancing its value.
And in the world of traditional confectionery, the limited space in a box serves as a canvas for beauty.
Customers enjoy a surprise when they open the
box, and again when they sample the sweets.
I aim to create that
joy and excitement.
Artisans wield their skills to craft boxes from wood, paper and other materials, and creators use their imagination to devise surprises.
Core Kyoto explores the functional beauty of boxes through the professionals who produce and use them.
A wooden-box workshop in Kyoto's east.
Mori Hitoshi took over the century-old family business after graduating from art university having studied ceramics.
He employs traditional techniques to craft paulownia boxes known as "kiribako."
The boxes evolved as containers for tea utensils of great artistic value in Kyoto,
a center for grand tea masters.
"Kiribako" are primarily used for fine arts
and crafts, and are order-made for artisans.
Kiribako vary in shape and size, depending on usage and purpose.
The simplest version has two crosspieces framing the reverse side of the lid.
This more complex type has four crosspieces.
The tight-fitting lid prevents distortion, making this the ideal choice for housing luxury items, such as tea utensils.
Paulownia wood is lightweight, pliable, and easily processed.
It resists insects, humidity, and corrosion, a combination of preventative characteristics making it suitable to Japan's humid climate.
The boxes are fastened with wooden nails, never metal ones.
Metal nails rust and damage the wood.
Rust from the nails also discolors
the wood, so I just don't use them.
Mori is resolved to create boxes as beautiful as the craftwork they hold.
His precision skills are directed to areas not visible at first glance.
While his box lids appear flat, they are in fact gently curved.
This workmanship is known as "tenmori."
The lid's thicker midsection helps prevent warping.
And the gentle curve contributes to the box's beauty.
"Tenmori" offers artisans an opportunity for displaying their skills.
They must feel their way as they curve the lid with their planers.
Sandpaper is avoided as it roughens the wood fibers.
The wood's smooth feel and elegant texture is the product of a sharp, well-tended blade and a handcrafted finish.
A beautiful finish ensures
the boxes will last for years.
And taking care of your tools
and honing your skills -
naturally makes a difference
in the final product.
Mori's kiribako are highly appreciated by Kyoto craftspeople.
One such client is Suwa Sozan, the fourth-generation artist in a family of prominent ceramicists.
Building on techniques handed down over generations, Suwa adds red and yellow shades to create her own signature celadon work.
Suwa's father was the first family member to discover Mori's kiribako.
Ordering a box like this guarantees
a certain quality, which is reassuring.
The rounded corners are also
an important consideration.
And, the way the lid sinks down
perfectly when you close it,
you can feel the exceptional
skill of the artisan.
Before nesting each new craftwork in its container, Suwa carefully inscribes key details directly onto the box.
She writes the title of the work and her name, then attaches her official seal,
which certifies the craftwork long after it leaves her hands.
I know this will be seen
by many people,
and it may even endure
for hundreds of years,
so I write each character
with care and feeling.
One kiribako has particular meaning for Suwa.
It safeguards a piece created by her great grandfather,
who was recognized by the Imperial Household Agency as an outstanding artist producing refined celadon works.
This large incense container, capped with a chrysanthemum, expresses his dedication.
The first-generation celadon master inscribed the box lid with the title of his work.
The reverse bears extensive writing by a friend of his.
It describes how the piece was commissioned by the imperial household for an event to be held in 1921,
and that Suwa purified himself before devoting his efforts to the project.
This box is over a century old.
The explanation clarifies aspects not
evident by just looking at the artwork.
The creator and his friend wanted to relate
this heartfelt message to later generations.
I think of it as a time capsule of sorts.
Kyotoites also cherish boxes that enhance food culture.
Bento boxes, such as these, are used to carry and display a full meal.
This specialty store encourages visitors to learn about the long history of bento boxes.
Founded three centuries ago, it produces Kyoto-style wheat gluten products.
The shop also houses a bento box museum.
Successive heads of the family have collected over 300 bento boxes, most dating back over a century.
Kyotoites have long enjoyed a tradition of celebrating each successive season alfresco.
As meals are the highlight of such excursions, bento boxes developed into containers for carrying feasts to outdoor parties.
This is a portable bento box used
during cherry blossom season.
It's very functional with a plate here and a
sake bottle next to the stacked boxes of food.
This multi-tiered lunchbox made of woven bamboo was designed for summer with its cooling presence.
This vessel-shaped bento box was
used during boating excursions.
The chopsticks of the luxurious container
are fashioned into oars.
The roof features mother-of-pearl inlay
and serves as a plate.
Beautifully shaped bento boxes are among the many articles that bolstered Kyoto's food culture.
It's not only about the delicious food, but also the
dishes, arrangements, and surrounding scenery.
All these become
components of the meal.
I hope to pass along this
treasured concept to future generations.
Kyoto chefs juggle many considerations when filling bento boxes.
This catering business founded in 1829 produces bento meals.
They use various tricks of the trade to fit a variety of grilled, simmered, vinegared, and other dishes into a fixed space in each box.
Since a bento is meant to be eaten cold,
we accent each of the flavors.
The eater would lose interest
if everything were equally delicious.
So there are
garnishes and pickles.
After something light, you'll want something rich.
Then, something to cleanse your palate.
We make the bento so the eater
will ponder about what to eat next.
The chefs must not only worry about the balance of flavors; they must also excite the palate through visual beauty.
Just a bit more.
Fill it out, so the gaps aren't visible.
Don't pack the food in tight.
It must look like the bento is brimming.
It's no use making it delicious if the presentation
is unappealing and gives a bad impression.
So we look at the bento from
the customers' perspective.
Kyoto boasts a store specializing in bento boxes.
About 500 containers of varying sizes and colors line the shelves.
The shop is owned by Thomas Bertrand, originally from France.
Drawn to Japanese culture, Bertrand had been a student in Kyoto long before opening his bento box store in 2012.
The bento box itself becomes a dish to use while eating;
Bertrand became enamored with this culinary style not found in France.
In France, we also carry our lunch to work,
but we don't eat directly out of the container.
We usually microwave the food, transfer it to
a plate, and enjoy it with a knife and fork.
In Japan, we enjoy the convenience of eating
beautifully arranged food directly from the box.
It makes the lunch break
Bertrand sponsors the International Bento Contest - a competition for the best lunch content and design - to spread the tradition globally.
It's not just about transporting food,
but also about the sentiment behind it.
Not only is it joyful to make a bento for someone,
but when they eat it, they can feel the sentiment.
Thanks to this small box, you can enjoy
a tasty, fun, and pleasant interlude.
This specialty box store in Kyoto opened in 2014.
A multitude of colorful and adorable boxes line the store shelves.
"Haribako" are cardboard boxes covered in fancy paper.
Onishi Keiko is the shop's creator.
She opened her first shop in Tokyo in 2009, and the second shop in her hometown of Kyoto.
As a "haribako" shop, we make boxes that
are fun to open and just as delightful to select.
Choosing one is all about the spirit of hospitality,
so we create boxes as tools for gift-giving.
Haribako are created from cardboard then covered with decorative paper.
The boxes are secured with a traditional adhesive that remains durable after hardening.
Consummate skill is required to secure the paper quickly and accurately into place to prevent it from warping.
Cylindrical containers present a particular challenge.
Onishi's haribako are known for their exquisite decorative covering.
She searches for unique designs and has procured paper from 17 nations including
Italy, Finland, India, and Nepal.
Her boxes are practically one-of-a-kind; new perspectives emerge when the paper is cut differently.
Boxes are often thrown away, so we try to create
items people will adore and not want to give up.
Onishi's motivation to launch her store was influenced by her family's business.
The Onishi workshop was established in 1919 to manufacture paper boxes.
Many such workshops were founded in the tourist haven of Kyoto
to answer a growing need for appealing boxes to house local craftwork and sweets bought by visitors.
While the family originally created boxes for Kiyomizu ceramics, the business now mainly produces haribako.
Onishi's father, Shigekazu, is the second-generation owner.
While he takes pride in the family's work, he continues to lament the problems facing the industry.
Boxes are packaging, so they are thrown away
despite the effort we exert to create them.
but that's the way it is.
What's more, Kyoto was overwhelmed
with over 300 box manufacturers.
Cost competition keeps prices
from rising, which minimizes profits.
We're still facing tough times.
Onishi considered the frustrations of her father and those faced by Kyoto's haribako manufacturers.
And she decided to launch a specialty store to spread awareness about these attractive Kyoto boxes, branding them as being hard to throw away.
However, the concept of boxes taking center stage was a hard sell, and the shop got off to a slow start.
At first, we sold them simply as boxes,
leaving the usage up to the customer,
but the response
That turned around when we began
suggesting specific purposes for each box.
One example is a box for jewelry and accessories.
Customers are allowed to select a different decorative paper for each partition.
These containers hold coffee filters.
Magnets are attached to the boxes for added convenience.
The concept of boxes with designated purposes quickly caught on, giving Onishi's business a lift.
Her shop also accepts custom orders.
This aroma oil is marketed
by a Kyoto company.
I'm discussing box shape and size,
and paper options with my staff.
The client requested fashionable box designs for each of the indoor scents.
Onishi enjoys designing boxes with the younger members of her staff, embracing their ideas and sensibilities.
- The shade's different.
- It's darker.
The dark one is better.
Onishi and her staff will experiment until they come up with something they are satisfied with.
This box offers three tiers of joy.
Open the lid and your eyes are treated to a flurry of color.
Each bite-sized sweet measures only 3cm in diameter.
The confections sport seasonal motifs, such as flowers and Kyoto heritage vegetables.
This Kyoto confectioner first opened in 1926.
The sweets are the brainchild of Kishimoto Hirosuke.
His motto is to offer sweets evoking the seasons of Kyoto.
His personal designs are crafted using simple tools.
This one takes the shape of a chrysanthemum.
Here, he burns patterns into steamed buns using custom-made branding irons.
Stamps depicting a variety of plants lend a seasonal flair.
Crafting these time-consuming sweets emerged from his eagerness to please customers.
When I reduced the sweets to a
third or fourth of their original size,
they became even cuter.
So I began making all
sorts of products smaller.
Kishimoto has created some 100 designs that are associated with Kyoto.
His customers keep returning to buy the sweets as gifts.
One customer sent our sweets to
a friend, who called them to say -
how delighted they were to
find a jewelry box full of sweets.
Those kinds of stories
warm my heart.
This cafe offers a particular box which has patrons buzzing.
Here you are.
Kindly open the lid right away.
This array of sweets is made with Kyoto's quality matcha green tea.
The tiramisu, truffles, and parfait become visible as the mist clears.
The cafe's owner was once a chef at a traditional restaurant in Kyoto.
Inspired to present a twist on classic parfaits, he created an arrangement that was sure to entertain.
The owner saw an artisan making "kiribako"
at an exhibition and envisioned -
presenting sweets in the same way
as traditional cuisine, as an array of tidbits.
The set of sweets caught on, and thanks to a boost from social media, it has become the cafe's signature item.
This is the first time I've ever
seen something like this.
The presentation is brilliant.
Onishi and her staff are presenting their custom-made boxes to the aroma-brand client.
The final version.
- Just as I imagined.
- That's great.
How about the color?
The color is perfect.
Really nice. Beautiful.
The foil stamping and paper
give it a luxurious feel.
It clearly communicates the gentle image of
our brand and exudes a good feeling.
Boxes fascinate me because each
one contains something different.
They introduce me to all sorts of people
and take me to all kinds of places.
Onishi has a new goal.
She hopes to spread the culture of decorative boxes around the world.
Workshops are helping her accomplish this.
She shares her expertise and suggests ways to enjoy the boxes.
I'll use the box to store photos.
Every box is created differently,
so each session is fun.
Onishi has begun workshops overseas, which suggests that the haribako skills and designs cultivated in Kyoto have universal appeal.
I think Kyoto's "haribako"
are the prettiest.
I want to give them global exposure
through the workshops.
Kyoto's many boxes play a supporting role in showcasing their contents.
Cherished, rather than neglected, they are showered with meticulous attention as they further Kyoto's aesthetics and food culture.