[From May Issue 2012]
These high quality book covers and eye catching pencil cases at first glance appear to be made of leather, but are actually made from washi (Japanese paper). Handmade, these products were developed by OKIMAK, a subsidiary of Vectculture Inc., Chuo Ward, Tokyo.
OKIMAK refers both to the name of the brand and to the style of paper production. When you purchase a product from their website, it is delivered to your door wrapped in tenugui (a traditional hand towel made from cotton), rather than in paper. This form of packaging adheres to the Japanese tradition of wrapping items with extreme care before presenting them to someone. Another special feature of OKIMAK is that the company allows the general public to take part in the production process by attending a regular workshop.
In Nara Era (8th Century) Japan, kamiko culture existed. Kamiko were garments made of paper crumpled to make the fabric soft, and painted with tree sap to make it strong and waterproof. They were worn by ascetic monks to keep out the cold and, in the Warring States Period (15~16th Centuries), by samurai as jinbaori – sleeveless jackets worn over armor. But, as western clothes became popular, the culture of kamiko disappeared.
At the workshop, the method of production is roughly the same as that used to create kamiko; participants crumple paper, coat it with sap from a fir tree, dry it and apply the finishing touches using a sewing machine. Crumpling creates tiny creases that mark each work out as being unique. Applying the sap not only makes the fabric durable, but also creates a brilliant gloss.
Director and designer ITO Taichi says, “The workshop is a place in which we can demonstrate the traditions, enjoyment and unexpected qualities of paper by creating something from raw materials. When participants see paper in a way they never have before, as a three-dimensional object, their interest is captured; it’s the best way to get through to people. I feel there’s been a shift in emphasis from ‘what is made,’ to ‘who made it’ and, in the future, ‘whom you make it with.’”
Expressing the idea of a modern take on the kamiko tradition, the name OKIMAK was created by reversing the word KAMIKO. Ito says, “Paper is traditionally a medium used to convey messages. That’s why we wish to create items made of paper; by cultivating the art in cooperation with many people, we can get the word out. The important thing is to adapt to modern styles, not to just make paper by using the same methods and materials as in the olden days.”
TANAKA Satomi, who participated in the workshop says, “By engaging in the same activity, we were able to communicate through the medium of paper. The sense of having created something new made the experience really worthwhile.”
The company name Vectculture was coined by putting the words “vector” and “culture” together and has the meaning of “cultivating new directions.” The company hopes to revive valuable Japanese traditions and pass them on to future generations. Although it is only one year since the company was established, the various high-quality products made in the spirit of OKIMAK have inspired quite a response from the public and are being widely talked about.
Text: MUKAI Natsuko