KYOTO, Japan — Kaikado tea caddies, glossy cylinders of varied sizes that are available brass, copper and tin, appear like prototypes for the long run. Which makes it all of the extra shocking that their design has not modified in almost 150 years.
Crafted by the Yagi household for six generations, the caddies are referred to as chazutsu in Japanese (“cha” is the Japanese phrase for tea, “zutsu” for canister).
They arrive with easy care directions: don’t wash, don’t refrigerate and gently caress them every single day; the oil from an individual’s pores and skin helps offers them a mild sheen and modifications their colours over time — starting from just a few months for brass to some years for tin.
“It’s worthwhile to use your tea caddy every single day, so the colour modifications in a great way,” mentioned Seiji Yagi, 75, chairman of the board at Kaikado and a fifth era craftsman. “If you happen to don’t use it each day, you possibly can’t benefit from the colour altering.”
The principle attribute of the caddies is that they’re hermetic, an vital function to keep up the flavour and high quality of recent tea leaves. “While you line up the joints of the lid and physique, the lid easily goes right down to the very same degree whereas expelling air from the caddy,” Mr. Yagi mentioned.
Kaikado was established in 1875, shortly after Japan opened its doorways to the remainder of the world and the Meiji period noticed change all through the nation. (“Kaika” is the Japanese phrase for enlightenment and “do” for store.)
The corporate’s historical past notes that new imports had been amongst these modifications, and tin-plate from England turned modern. Seisuke Yamamoto, Kaikado’s founder and a steel craftsman, designed a tin tea caddy and made it right into a commercially out there merchandise (he later handed the enterprise to the Yagi household). Even now the physique of all caddies, no matter their exterior steel, have tin linings as a result of the steel doesn’t work together with foodstuffs and helps protect freshness.
On a weekday in late September, Mr. Yagi welcomed some company to the Kaikado headquarters, which stands on the unique web site of the enterprise. A 15-minute stroll from Kyoto practice station, it consists of three buildings: the store, workplace and household house; a workshop that’s greater than 120 years outdated; and a more moderen workshop.
From the Meiji Period
Making a caddy entails 130 to 140 steps and the method has remained just about unchanged through the years. Even among the dies and molds used within the early years of the corporate are nonetheless employed right this moment, Mr. Yagi mentioned as we entered the primary workshop, a preparation space, the place there are containers piled excessive with tin sheets.
For the caddies, “the tin we use continues to be processed the identical approach because it was within the Meiji period,” he mentioned. “Just one manufacturing facility, situated in Nagoya, nonetheless does it in Japan.” The approach is named dobozuke and produces a uninteresting floor as a substitute of a mirror shine.
Mr. Yagi confirmed how he cuts the tin-plates utilizing what appears to be like like a guillotine paper cutter. “I all the time lower by hand to maintain the sting easy,” he mentioned. (A few of the enterprise’s different artisans lower tin, too, however Mr. Yagi’s course of is taken into account so particular that his son Takahiro mentioned they’re working with Nagoya College on a pc venture to seize his father’s actions.)
The strips of steel are delivered to the workshop subsequent door, the place we watched a male artisan utilizing a gasoline flame (coal was used within the early days) to solder collectively the sides of a copper strip to create a cylinder, which might turn into a caddy’s exterior. The seam “needs to be utterly straight so it’s a really delicate activity,” Mr. Yagi mentioned.
As soon as the tin lining is added to the cylinder and the 2 items of the lid are soldered collectively, an excessive amount of ending and adjusting are accomplished and the caddy is polished to create a gleaming floor. An artisan makes certain the lid slides on easily and, in a ultimate step, one other does an total high quality test. The enterprise makes about 40 caddies every working day.
Eight artisans work full-time at Kaikado; they’re a younger staff ranging in age from 25 to 37, most with an artwork faculty background. (Together with part-timers and workplace employees, the corporate’s employment determine rises to fifteen.)
Tsubasa Miki, 27, joined in June. He’s from Tottori Prefecture, on Japan’s east coast, and after graduating from school, he utilized to Kaikado. “I needed to work for a corporation that was conventional but progressive,” he mentioned.
Telling the Story
The caddies appear to have an everlasting assure. “Folks convey again 100-year-old tea caddies to get them fastened to allow them to hold utilizing them,” Takahiro Yagi, 48, wrote in a later e mail. “We will restore them as a result of we by no means modified the way in which we make caddies, or their measurement, so we are able to substitute components.”
“When it’s that outdated,” mentioned the elder Mr. Yagi with a smile in the course of the interview, “I generally secretly suppose they need to simply purchase a brand new one.”
Costs begin at 13,500 yen ($93), whereas espresso ones that include a high deal with and scoop begin at 25,500 yen. The Kaikado signature product is the tea caddy, however some improvements have come alongside. Takahiro Yagi, for instance, developed a two-tier caddy and he has initiated collaborations with manufacturers, together with Panasonic, which put a Bluetooth speaker right into a caddy.
One other collaboration was with OEO Studio, a design enterprise primarily based in Copenhagen. Thomas Lykke, its founder and now head of design and inventive director, wrote in an e mail: “Our design intent was to inform the story of Kaikado in new methods with a water pitcher, a tray, a flower vase and even a lamp — but all within the spirit of Kaikado.”
Mr. Lykke’s studio additionally designed the Kaikado Café, which opened in 2016 and is only a five-minute stroll from the headquarters. Together with Kaikado merchandise, it sells housewares from a gaggle of Kyoto artisans and serves tea, espresso, alcoholic drinks and delicate Japanese confectionery.
Strolling again to the workshops from the cafe, Kyoto’s streets had been comparatively quiet, however they doubtless wouldn’t be for lengthy. On Oct. 11, Japan reopened its borders to impartial vacationers after being shut for nearly three years as a pandemic precaution. Whereas the strict measures had given residents some feeling of safety, it had monetary penalties for native craftspeople.
Takahiro Yagi mentioned he expects a surge in demand, however Kaikado’s output is proscribed. “We must ask prospects to attend for a while,” he mentioned. “If Kaikado is well-known all over the world, however we are able to nonetheless keep small, we’re very blissful. Then we would be capable to proceed for the following generations.”
Kaikado is actually a household affair, with Seiji Yagi’s spouse, Kazuko, because the enterprise director and Takahiro Yagi’s spouse, Mitsue, working within the workplace. (The Yagis’ youthful son, knowledgeable firefighter in Nara Prefecture, isn’t concerned within the enterprise.)
However on the subject of passing down the craftsmanship within the household, there is no such thing as a instructing, simply displaying. “Kyoto craftsmen don’t train their kids,” mentioned Mr. Yagi. “If you happen to train them, they gained’t develop their expertise. They should develop their expertise by themselves and outgrow their dad and mom.”
Takahiro Yagi mentioned he now understands this angle. “As craftspeople, we hand down our philosophy not with phrases, however with our fingers. For me, faculty was the each day life with my household. There have been so many issues to be taught from my father and my grandfather.”
Regardless of his age, Seiji Yagi mentioned he’s nonetheless not able to retire and needs to proceed working and transmitting his expertise. “The perfect craftsmen usually are not good from the beginning,” he mentioned. “They develop their expertise time beyond regulation, and that’s how they’ll proceed for a very long time.”