In this era of cheap, mass-produced products, Nihei Toru sells restored old furniture at his shop in a verdant mountain village north of Tokyo. Pieces that were in bad condition are brought back from the dead. But rather than aiming for good-as-new, he strives to preserve their vintage feel. His passion even extends to his own home—once abandoned and decaying—now tastefully restored. To him, bringing out the hidden charm of such seemingly worthless things far more than just a job, it's a way of life.
Since ancient times, the Japanese have believed that a life force resides in all creations.
Valuing and caring for the things we use, a "Zero Waste Life."
Pointing the way to better living for a new era.
If you don't think it's cool or fun, just saying,
"old things have value," isn't enough.
I propose using such things in a way
that makes them naturally desirable.
Cheap, mass-produced furniture is all too common.
How to dispose of it and finding ways to encourage its reuse have become global issues.
But there are artisans uncovering the value in old furniture that's been discarded, giving it new life.
In this verdant mountain village, a seller of old furniture is attracting national attention.
Each piece has its own unique feeling.
But before making their way to the showroom floor they were all in nearly unsellable condition.
Nihei Toru is the owner.
He's taking a recently purchased load of old furniture to the workshop for repairs.
We buy things from antique markets.
The sellers get them from schools
or people tearing down old houses.
They collect the furniture directly,
and we buy from them at the markets.
I search for the things I like, pieces that
will suit our store, buying from auctions.
The newly arrived pieces are unmaintained and dirty.
Nihei and his team take furniture like this,
that would ordinarily have to be thrown away, and give it new life.
To avoid making the selling price too high, they carefully decide how to proceed with repairs.
First, we look for the best way to do it.
But costs can't be over the sales price.
We look for the best, least time-consuming
method to proceed with repairs.
Once that's decided, the next step is cleaning.
And worn-out old paint is removed with a chemical stripper.
Modern plywood furniture
doesn't hold up to washing.
But the old stuff is made with
good materials, so it cleans up well.
Once it's dry, it's good as new.
After drying comes sanding.
The final work is done by hand.
- How about the color?
- Not bad.
This one's all finished.
A small table likely used in a kitchen.
The badly stained top, now clean.
Many years of use give it real character.
It will sell for around $90 US dollars.
Minamiguchi Toru, one of Nihei's most trusted restorers.
I just like old things, but the pieces
we restore with our own hands
form a connection with their new owners,
and it's fun to be a part of that, too.
It was so dirty, but now it looks great.
That's also the joy of restoration.
Nihei has had his furniture shop for more than 15 years.
And as a child, his interests were somewhat unusual...
Instead of trendy things, I liked things
others had already thrown away.
Or I'd pick up stones I thought were pretty.
Mom always got mad at me for that.
Something literally worthless, but I loved it.
That's the kind of kid that I was.
As he grew up, he naturally developed a fascination with old Japanese furniture.
Nihei began working with old furniture at 28 with zero experience, and all on his own.
He now runs four locations, and his restored old furniture has fans all over the country.
This couple drove two hours to get here.
They've already purchased ten items from Nihei's store.
As soon as we put a piece of old furniture
in our home, we fell in love with it.
- It feels like it's always been there.
- The texture of it...
It feels good to touch it.
We love that.
Instead of a quick glance, you wonder
"When did those marks get there?"
You think about the previous owner.
We also have a daughter, so we hope
to pass it on to her someday.
Instead of being expensive or fancy,
I want it to be fun and approachable.
As my business and my vocation,
I'd be happy if that's what people see.
Nihei and his family live in this house.
Here too, his aesthetic sensibilities find expression.
The home had been unoccupied for close to 20 years,
in a state of near ruin, with no buyers in sight.
Just as he does with furniture, Nihei restored every detail, transforming it into a charming home.
It was in rough shape, but I thought
I could revive it if I put in the effort,
Just like with old furniture,
you aren't starting from nothing,
you work with what's there.
Like when we took down the ceiling,
we left the beams visible.
It brought out the home's beauty,
and made the space more open.
All the renovations aimed to maximize
this sense of openness.
Even things that seem valueless at a glance have an inner charm.
Nihei finds it and brings it to life.
That's the essence of his work.
Occasionally the repair shop takes in very old furniture.
This chair is a vintage piece.
It's believed to be around 100 years old.
The seat cushion was stuffed with straw.
The detail on the legs is quite stylish,
and the back has a lovely curve.
With the finish removed,
it will have a simplicity to it.
This will emphasize the form.
It'll be a beautiful chair.
Such good materials, all this detail,
it isn't commercially viable today.
But since these things are old,
we can have them for a reasonable price.
But there are also cheaply made things.
There's a simple beauty in that as well.
There's no single word that defines it.
Old things can be good in many ways.
Once the repair work is done, a new cover is placed on the chair.
The fabric used is moquette, a type of upholstery commonly used in trains and movie theaters.
The tacks that hold the edge band in place are deliberately rusty
so as not to spoil the feeling of the original piece.
It was in bad shape when it came in;
something you might just throw away.
It's our job to bring it back to life.
The aim, in both looks and strength,
is to be usable for another 100 years.
There are fewer and fewer old things,
our work gives new life into the ones
that were headed for the scrap heap.
I think this one came out perfect.