Asahikawa day 3 – part 1

February 18th, 2011

Our third day is Asahikawa was a really special one. We got to visit two amazing work shops so I thought we would do two separate posts so we can highlight them equally. Our first stop of the day is the Tanno studio, where our business card holders are handmade. The studio is a family run operation with both father and son carving out their unique paths in the world of precision woodworking.

Let me introduce the designers: the gentleman on the left is craftsman Norio Tanno, and the far right is his son craftsman Masakage Tanno, the designer of our business card case.

Above is a photo of Oji san showing some photos of our store on his iPhone.

We entered their home through sliding doors and took our shoes off, to the left was the work shop and the home just up the stairs. A beautiful light filled space with plywood walls and a central wood burning fireplace.

Flowers were drying from the ceiling of their office.

A beautiful antique cabinet.

In the dining room there was a large dining table with a row of shelves against the wall, chronicling the work of both Masakage and Tanio.

A set of storage boxes with embedded magnets.

Masakage Tanno in his work uniform.

A stunning rosewood tea container with folding tea scoop by Norio Tanno.

We fell in love with this cool storage box with little drawers that need to be opened in a certain pattern to unlock the larger doors – this was made by yet another wood worker.

A newly designed–and award winning—business card case, coming soon to Mjolk!

A little wooden Dala horse from a trip to Scandinavia, maybe from Gotland?

Norio Tanno mentioned he was recently there. Sitting down with Norio Tanno he was very intrigued to hear why we chose to open a Scandinavian inspired store. We answered with a long drawn out rationality about how Canadians can easily connect with the Scandinavian sensibility because the landscape and climate are very similar, and that when you eliminate unnecessary details in design you create a longer lasting and timeless product, etc.

We should have posed the same question to him!

A set of wooden scoops by Masanao Nakanishi who is currently serving an apprenticeship at the Tanno studio. In Asahikawa he works under the name Bjorn (Swedish for bear) and will be opening his own workshop in the near future. We look forward to getting our hands on one of those scoops!

Off to the work shop!

A collection of jigs hang on the wall.

Nearly finished business card cases, it was fascinating to hear the process. Since the stability of the wood is so necessary to create a long lasting product we found out that after each time the wood is cut, they set the piece aside and let it rest to stabilize.

A piece of local Hokkaido birch, Masakage Tanno tells me it’s a material he would like to work with in the future. He tries to use as much local materials as possible in his production, but it’s getting harder. Simply put, the cost to mill lumber is really high, but due to the fading economy the cost of milled lumber is at an all time low. It’s become cheaper to import wood than to mill it locally in Asahikawa. Masakage Tanno pointed to a stack of fireplace logs saying that sometimes if he finds a beautiful piece of wood he will mill it himself, but the drying process takes a lot of time.

I am intrigued by all of these little wooden pieces. Norio Tanno tells me that he cuts these pieces from a single piece so that the grains all match up.

You can see the two pieces being placed quite far apart, and it’s only when you look very closely that you can align the wood grain. For Tanno it’s more about personally knowing the piece is in harmony with itself.

These exact tea containers will be available through Mjolk shortly.

The matriarch of the family runs the business side of the Tanno studio, it really is a family business.

Good bye! Thanks for the hospitality!

We left the Tanno workshop to grab some lunch at Kitanosumai Sekkeisha (Northern House Planning) a collection of buildings which was once a school converted by architects and made into a shop, furniture showroom, cafe, and offices. The site is in the mountains quite a distance away from Asahikawa but it is worth the long trek, the destination has everything and visiting is quite satisfying. The food was great and we even purchased a few items from the gift shop.

Northern house planning refers to the architects who reside here, they specialize is Nordic inspired buildings. The cafe was very Scandinavian and we sat at a big birch table.

We loved this wooden utensil rest.

I ordered the onion soup, which was delicious.

Juli ordered the pizza. We found out later that the chef specializes in Italian food. Over lunch we talked about how a lot of tourists don’t really grasp how good Western food is in Japan. Taku, Naoto, and Masanori are all from the generation that was introduced to Western food at around 8 – 10 years old. Taku reminisced about the first time he ate a bun from KFC and how he thought it was the most magical thing in the world. The one thing they all shared in experience was eating a McDonald’s burger for the first time and being really grossed out by the flavor of pickles!

I pointed out the collection of pickle preserves on the shelf for sale, I guess tastes have come a long way.

The restaurant smelled so delicious because there was a bakery directly underneath us. Naoto grabbed some treats to take as a gift to our next host, who’s beautiful home you will see in Asahikawa day 3, part 2….

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