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Off the beaten track Japan

Naegi Castle Ruins (Nakasendo Trail area Gifu / Nagano)

We’re huge fans of this beautiful country. Japan has so much to offer, from gorgeous scenery to historical places to stunning centuries-old temples. You could spend decades here and not see everything (as we can attest to).

Unfortunately, like many places around the world, Japan suffers from a new phenomenon, overtourism.


Overtourism describes destinations where hosts or guests, locals or visitors, feel that there are too many visitors and that the quality of life in the area or the quality of the experience has deteriorated unacceptably.

https://responsibletourismpartnership.org/overtourism/

If you’re like us then you probably don’t love crowded places and you definitely don’t want to experience first-hand the devastation caused by overtourism (litter, graffiti and a general disrespect for the place).

But at the same time you have a bucket list with things on it. We get it, you want to see Kinkaku-ji and the Great Buddha or Todai-ji.

A photo at Fushimi-Inari-Taisha … would be epic but did you know there is an even better place to see these iconic red tori gates? Motonosumi Inari Jinja is “an impressive sight” in a beautiful location, in Yamaguchi prefecture.

Bartok design fans tell us they love Japanese architecture. While you are in Yamaguchi you must visit the Kintaikyo Bridge it is “quintessentially Japanese”.

And we all know that one of the BEST things to do while in Japan is visit an onsen hotspring. Check out these off-the-beaten-track places: JNTO onsen recommendations. Our friends in Beppu speak highly of the new Intercontinental hotel there. Oita is full of more budget-friendly places too. We wrote about that.

The Japanese Tourism promotion board is serious about welcoming wonderful people of the world to this fine country but also wants you to enjoy your trip and not have to deal with the negatives of overtourism. They’ve created this whole website for just that. We love their categories: Onsen & spa, Meditation & mindfulness … our suitcases are packed if JNTO wants us to visit 🙂

Post towns in Magome and Tsumago are wonderful: Nakasendo Trail, Gifu / Nagano
Nakasendo



The team here at Bartok design love off the beaten path destinations in Japan. This past year we visited the Kumano Kodo sacred pilgrimage trails and the historical Nakasendo Trail. Check out our blog posts about these trips.

Tell us where you are planning to visit and why you chose that location? We’d love to hear more. If you post to Instagram tag us so we can share snippets of your trip to Japan!

Sustainability and the Japanese ofuro bathtub

Hinoki forest of Japan
The great hinoki forests of Japan’s Kiso Valley

In a world where it is as easy as a click of a button to start the process of a bathroom renovation, it’s equally easy to overlook where the products you’re using were sourced from and where the products you will dispose of actually end up.

It’s important to us that you know your Bartok design, wooden Japanese bathtub comes from sustainable resources and is ultimately a biodegradable item at the end of its lifecycle.

Japan is only a small country, roughly the size of the state of California. With its huge population of 120 million people, would it surprise you to learn that Japan is almost 70% covered in trees?

With such massive forests and few other natural resources, it is no surprise that trees and the wood they provide have an important place in history. Wood is the main building material used in the construction of houses, buildings and religious buildings such as temples.

Historically the five trees of Kiso were most prized. Hinoki, the king of trees, was reserved for use by nobility. Whole mountains were claimed as the property of feudal leaders and of temples in order that the wood needed for new construction and repairs would always be available. Â 

Starting in 1600s Japan began to view theses natural resources as worth caring for and conserving, mainly at the behest of a conservation-minded feudal lord. Huge swathes of forest were designated as national parks and native species came under the protection of the lord (with severe penalties for illegal felling or even gathering wood from the forests).

We note that this is way ahead of other civilisations!

Wood remains an important material in Japan and is also viewed globally as being a sustainable material. 

Of course, there is an economic motivation behind this as well as a conservation perspective. In any country, forests provide a source of income for rural areas. Our operation at Bartok design is made up of several smaller companies each taking a role in bringing your bath to you. Your purchase enables us to continue supporting our local artisans and craftsmen.

The hinoki (and other native wood) we use in the construction of our Japanese soaking tubs is generally from ancient forests. The trees are between 250 to 300 years old. Understandably we need to be careful not to overuse these ancient woods so we trust our lumberyard partners to abide by the regulations that govern the use of this wood. In most cases, as part of a healthy forest management program trees of this age either fall naturally or are part of the cull to ensure the maximum health of the surrounding trees and healthy undergrowth, which contributes to overall biodiversity in the forest.

Trees prevent soil erosion and landslides. Trees help maintain a clean supply of water, sequester carbon and produce oxygen. It’s been said that an initiative to plant just 10 million trees on earth would offset global warming in a major way.

We recognise the role wood manufacturers that play. Governing bodies accept the responsibility they have in offsetting climate change and global warming but at the same time, without a market for the wood that is grown, it’s hard to convince the private sector to take part.

When you buy a genuine Japanese wooden ofuro you can rest assured that the wood has been sustainably managed over its growing period, right through to how it was harvested and processed.

You are adding a thing of beauty to your home and are adding one less chemically derived product to the world. Bartok design ofuro are not varnished or lacquered so we do not use any unnecessary chemicals in the manufacturing process. Your ofuro will continue to breathe in your home, absorbing moisture and toxins from the air. Read more about our wood here.

Properly cared for your bath will last ten, twenty or even thirty years. When you’re finished with it you can safely recycle it into firewood or feed the pieces into a wood chipper to create mulch for your garden. The whole bath could become a planter for herbs in your garden. It’s a full circle environmentally safe product.

If sustainability is important to you then get in touch today to start designing your wooden ofuro soaking tub.

The power of scent

When asked to smell a piece of hinoki wood many Japanese people appear to be transported back to childhood or to a happy memory in their lives of being with family at an onsen resort or visiting grandparents.

In this video, Iacopo hit the streets to ask people for their impressions of our Hinoki Essential Oil.

A new study has shown that people feel more energized when smelling citrusy scents. Productivity increases by up to 54% according to a Japanese study.


Our interviewees overwhelmingly said they felt relaxed and they all smiled when they smelt the oil = Happiness!

There is research underway in many areas of neurology including studies into Alzheimer’s and dementia treatment, mental health, workplace happiness, the list goes on.

We’ve provided hinoki bathtubs for eldercare homes. The combination of the scent, the buoyant quality of the water and the improved circulation from being in hot water all contribute to overall health in the elderly, especially on brain function and memory.

From our own personal informal research, we have heard from our clients that the presence of a hinoki bathtub in the home emits a sense of calm and happiness. Guests will note the fresh smell when they enter the home — these are benefits without even soaking in the tub which has endless positive effects.

At Bartok design, we can build baths of all shapes and sizes, from a variety of native wood. In order to elicit maximum benefit for your olfactory system, we recommend hinoki. Sawara and asnaro are closely related scent and appearance-wise. We also supply our own 100% pure hinoki essential oil.

Pocket Onsen Set with Two Oils

None of our wood is varnished or coated which means it continues to absorb moisture and give off its scent, it contracts and expands depending on the air around it. Wood in this natural state contributes to healthy air in the home. It actually absorbs and filters toxins, according to some studies.

We’ve compiled this article from a number of sources. Check the Global Wellness Summit page for more references.

Get in touch with us directly if you would like more information about Japanese soaking tubs and health benefits.

Give the Gift of Pure Nature

Hinoki Esential Oil is both calming and uplifting. Like the scent of a forest on a warm summer day, the scent of Hinoki is earthy, lemony, fresh.

Our original Bartok design Hinoki Essential Oil is the purest you will find. We extract the oil ourselves from off-cuts, shavings and wood chips – all real wood. There are no twigs, leaves or bark in our product resulting in a pure clean scent that is unparalleled. The complexity of our oils is exceptionally deep.

Hinoki Essential Oil
Hinoki Essential Oil made by Bartok design
The Bartok design Pocket Onsen set is a gift box ready for holiday giving

The Bartok design Pocket Onsen Set contains a choice of two oils:

  • Hinoki Cypress is extracted from trees roughly 40 years old. A ‘young tree’ used in construction, for decorative items, religious artefacts and furniture. Our bath accessories are made from this wood which gives us a good supply of offcuts from which to extract the gorgeous essential oil.
  • Special Reserve Hinoki 250 is extracted from mature growth trees, usually at least 250 years old. The wood from older trees is compacted tightly which makes it ideal for use in wet zones such as the bathroom. Therefore we use this wood to make our Japanese ‘ofuro’ soaking tubs. Like a fine wine, cheese or whiskey, the aged product has a complexity and depth not seen in younger wood.

    *It is also possible to order a ‘compare set’ with one of each oil.
Instant onsen
Instant Onsen
special reserve hinoki 250 years oil made in japan
Hinoki Japanese Cypress extracted and bottled by Bartok design
Each Pocket Onsen set comes with three orbs made from hinoki.

Awaji Island – a quick hop and a jump from Kobe

If you’re in Japan this summer and are craving some time away from the city then we highly recommend Awaji Island. From the city of Kobe, it’s just a short drive or bus ride across the world’s longest suspension bridge, the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge.

Once on the island, you can hire bicycles, hire a car or use public buses to explore. The island is a lot bigger than you might expect, so don’t think you’ll cover it all in one weekend. However, you can easily plan your trip around one or two tourist attractions then finish your day with an evening swim before heading back to your hotel for a soak in the hot onsen bath.

Food highlights include an abundance of fresh seafood and world-famous Awaji Beef (similar to Kobe beef or wagyu with marbled fat throughout). Onions are also grown locally so don’t miss the local speciality onion tempura.

Sleepy fishing towns on Awaji Island

There is plenty of information about Awaji Island on the official tourism website. For accomodation, there are quite a few options listed on sites like Booking.com. We are lucky to have a friend there to stay with but our hotel choice would be the Westin, designed by Ando Tadao.

As far as it being a tourist mecca, it’s far from it. We observed a lot of young people enjoying time on the beach, driving to the local cafes that are popping up along the coast and riding rented bicycles while enjoying spectacular coastal views. Everything felt leisurely and stress-free.

For the ultimate in stress-free relaxation, we would start trip planning with a visit to a hotspring. Find a few on this page.


Made in Awaji

Our Su~ Daybed is made on Awaji Island. The slow pace and relaxed lifestyle there really lends itself to creating a quality product with attention to detail. See more about Su~ Daybed here.

Stunning minimalist piece of handcrafted Japanese furniture

Su~ Daybed

The world’s first daybed made entirely of wood, with no metal parts


Oder this stunning piece of furniture for your home.

A stunning minimal daybed handcrafted from Japanese native wood

Minimalist Japanese homes typically don’t have a lot of furniture in them but when they do, it’s a simple yet stunning piece such as the Su~ Daybed.

A classic piece such as a daybed is at home in a modern environment where wood adds warmth to the room. The leather cushion is timeless and can be a little bit edgy and unexpected in a family home.

Place the Su~ Daybed in your office to greet clients over coffee and sneak in an energizing nap after a long evening at the desk.

Imagine lazy afternoons in front of a picture window, perhaps overlooking a Japanese garden, cozy with a throw rug and the newspaper.


Japanese Craftsmanship

You have an appreciation for fine craftsmanship and attention to detail.

The Su~ Daybed is made according to centuries-old Japanese furniture-making techniques and does not include even one metal part – incredible! It’s definitely a talking point. No nails, no bolts or screws, just beautifully shaped wood.

Each Su~ Daybed is handcrafted from a piece of lumber chosen for its beautiful grain. No two are alike due to the unique voice that is lovingly coaxed from the wood. The wood from which it is made is somewhat rare – keyaki (Japanese Zelkova) and is chosen for its beauty.

The process of assembly requires precision and attention to detail as each piece must slot together perfectly. It requires the patience and training only a master craftsman displays.

Each Su~ Daybed takes about 7-8 weeks to make and a week for delivery, via seafreight. The Su Daybed is made to order.


Beautiful grain is unique to each custom-made piece
Our passionate furniture maker partner, Kitajima san

The product specs

Product Specs for Su Daybed
Product specs

The Su~ Daybed has a keyaki frame (Japanese Zelkova) a native hardwood prized in furniture making.

The slats are soft yet durable, aromatic hinoki (Japanese cypress).

The external frame size is the same as a “kyoma” size (Kyoto-module) tatami, the golden ratio of tatami mats is 1910 x 955mm.

The daybed is a comfortable 410mm high which accommodates all heights of people when seated.

The leather mattress is 1810 x 755mm. The leather is joined with simple double stitch quilting and through stitching to keep the tufting in place.

The mattress is finished with fine full-grain leather (other versions with Japanese traditional fabrics etc. may be available upon request).  The filling consists of 90mm of hard chip urethane and 20mm of low repulsion urethane. The whole thing is wrapped with acrylic non-woven fabric which allows the leather to move smoothly. The mattress side is tightened at 90mm thickness while the filling is more than 110mm. This results in a sharp and tight edge and a soft yet supportive super comfortable mattress.



Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or problems.


About Us

I am Iacopo Torrini, an Italian architect and designer living in Japan. My company, Bartok design, custom-builds interior furniture items such as wooden bathtubs, sliding doors and the Su~ Daybed. My passion lies in sharing the history and traditional craftsmanship of Japan with the world.

We have been in business for more than twenty years and have an established reputation for superior quality and exceptional customer service. I invite you to get in touch with me directly so we can get to know each other and I can understand what you are looking for in a daybed.

Get in touch today to start the order process. Or order directly from our online store.


mail: japan@bartokdesign.com
whatsapp/phone: (+81)90-8205-1200
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/itorrini


…enjoying life, japanese style!

Brought to you by Bartok design, Japan.

Kameoka ready for test start

Following all the talks in April and May, we are finally ready to start with the enrollment of students interested in learning the traditional japanese wood construction crafts!!!

We are starting a new renovation project and are ready to enroll students.
Officially we are aiming at July 1st but if you are planning to come to Japan in June, we are basically ready to welcome you anytime.

The students will both the taught the principles of the craft and will also have the possibility of working in the actual construction site.
It will be an experimental phase with the following conditions:

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update about the Wakayama project

Thank you again for the smart ideas and the kind support about the project of infusing new functions in the Kiwata-house in Wakayama.

Last month I presented the conceptand we are now discussing on how to implement it. Apologizing for the delay in getting back to you, let me summarize the main points.

The first chart exemplifies the structure of the project.
Striking a parallel with the cycles in agriculture:
*rooting = 5 basic ideas I illustrated in the mailing message
*seeding = based on the (biased) opinions of all of you who replied I selected some concepts and lines of intervention
*watering = many of you gave me great indications for the overall branding
*growing = some ideas about the promotion and management
*reaping = goals to be fine-tuned, reached and further developed.

In the PDF (see below) I am also including a selection from the comments I received from all of you.

The second table is a tentative plan of the house with come ideas about functions that can be hosted and their interrelations.
You can download the whole pdf here, inclusive of all your comments.

The concept that stuck me the most are:
ONE DAY IN LIFE:
* the house provides the experience of “just a normal day in prewar Japan”
* second meaning: one day in the life of each visitor. We want to leave a memory that can entangle with and become part of their personal story-roll.

TOTALLY TRADITIONAL – TOTALLY CONTEMPORARY:
* the house is historical and original therefore should not be faked. Any addition or modification should be in harmony but cutting edge.

MUSEUM OUTREACH / COLLABORATION
* we should explore the possibility of operating in connection with a famous museum. This could widen the scope of the project and hopefully make it become a model for other beautiful houses in Japan that could be rescued and preserved.

This is all for now.
We have more meetings coming up this month and I will keep you updated on the solution that the owners chose and about the next steps of the project.

Thank you!!

iacopo


japanese traditional patterns coloring book!

From the beginning of this year I have had the privilege to associate with Jogan Yoshio, kimono designer in Kyoto. I visited his atelier, had the chance to attend some events with him and we are also starting to collaborate on some projects (such as the one in Wakayama) .

He is really the quintessential Japanese artist/craftsman: soft spoken, passionate and humble. His right arm is the charming Hiroyo, with feline eyes riding high heels and sports cars: it feels like she could have just come out from a 007 movie or a Lupin III cartoon. The matching and the positive contrast of different elements is somehow a trademark of Jogan sensei.

He practiced since his childhood in the ateliers and along the water streams of Nishijin, the area where Kimonos are woven, dyed, block-printed, painted and embroidered with the collaborative work of dozens of separate companies. Kyoto is famous for its rigid and at the same time soft structures. Rules are not written but are so strongly encoded in the social behaviors that create a kind of invisible system of relations that puzzle the westerner. The secret is to learn every thing with the body rather than with your rational mind.

Rules are not there to be discussed but can be interpreted. Traditional patterns cannot be modified but of course are filtered through the sensibility and the DNA of each individual artist.
I think you will understand what I mean by watching this video:

check below for more photos and info to purchase the book.

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new yield of hinoki oil

We made a new production of hinoki oil, both DSB quality (young trees) and SR (special reserve kiso valley old growth hinoki)

I bottled 100 – 10ml. flasks per type, and I am willing to sell the rest in larger bottles at a discounted price.
DA – DA – DA -DADADA DA !
A) 1 bottle 100 cc of young trees oil (plastic bottle, no drip cap) = 12,000 JPY
B) 10 bottles 100 cc (1 liter in total) of young trees oil (package as above) = 80,000 JPY
C) 1 bottle 50 cc of special reserve oil (glass bottle, no drip cap) = 12,000 JPY
D) 10 bottles 50 cc of special reserve oil (glass bottle, no drip cap) = 90,000 JPY

*) packaging and shipping worldwide 1,000 JPY per parcel (air mail – no EMS)
– one parcel can hold up to 300 ml in any combination –

stock is limited so if you are interested please contact me at japan@bartokdesign.com asap!!

(see below for the production photos)

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