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happy 2020!

Japan is nicknamed as the “land of the rising sun” but not everybody knows that New Zealand actually enters the new year one hour earlier than Japan.

Nevertheless, considering the landscape, the culture, the personality of the Japanese, I think that there could be no better nickname!

In Japan it is custom to spend the last evening of the year laid-back at home and get up early to climb on high ground to contemplate the first sunrise of the year.

This year I was in Shikoku, on Inoyama – also known as Sanuki Fuji for its beautiful perfect conic shape – near Zentsuji in Kagawa prefecture. The sky was clear and the angle was unobstructed. The sun is popping out as an egg yolk being tossed out from the belly of the mountain.
I can understand the sense of surprise and reverence that pre-blue-screen generations may have felt everyday contemplating the most important daily event on earth: the rise of the sun.

Even if it is only once a year, assisting to this extraordinary miracle always has a powerful effect of filling up my energy cells while grounding all the negative stress. I do not know if I can call it a mindfulness experience but I am a big fan of the “hatsuhinode”: the 1/1 sunrise watching.

Of course one could do it 365 times in a year (366 times in 2020!) but nothing compares to enjoy it from a place like this, with the mindset of january 1st, feeling the warmth of the first rays shaking the winter night.

I wanted to share with you this moment with the auspice that 2020 can be a shining year for you: bringing happiness, health, and prosperity!!

2020 is also the year of the Olympic games and I am sure you will feel closer to Japan than ever. If you want to celebrate the games with a bottle of sake, do not forget to dress it properly with our “kimono bottle covers”.
New colors, new package. Check the shop here-> https://bartokdesign.com/product/kimono-bottle-covers

meeting friends in NY

Last December 11-15 I was in NY and as I explained my plans in the last newsletter, I received many replies from 4 past and present clients.
I experimented this way of traveling to other countries last year and it is extremely rewarding!
I go abroad and you meet people with whom you corresponded, friends, people who share my path and interests.
I will never forget in summer 2018 when a Parisian architect who used Bartok design ofuros for 3 projects come to meet me in Dubai.
Or shortly after when a Japanese lover and former Tokyo resident hosted me in her house in Phoenix with a huge cactus in the garden.
Feeling at home and meeting friends everywhere you go is probably one of the sweetest experiences in life!

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the warm heart of Nippon!

As a corollary to my recent trip to New York, the visit to Nippon deserves a post of its own.
Before leaving Japan, I asked a friend who used to work for Asahi television in USA for an authentic japanese restaurant in NY.
He had no hesitation in recommending me “Nippon”, on E 52nd street, also known as the “unofficial cultural Japanese Consulate in NY”.

I kept the visit for the last day (Sunday) at lunch and when I arrived I had the shocking surprise to find the restaurant closed!
Somebody was moving inside and I decided to knock on the glass and at least say hello.
They were very kind to let me in and started talking. The restaurant was closed as they were having a tasting session by the Japan Airlines officials as – yes! the restaurant Nippon is providing the food consumed on the flights back to Japan.
Hearing that I am an architect, they showed me the private tatami room near the entrance, simple but striking, built with premium material by a japanese “toryo” master carpenter.

The restaurant was opened here in 1963 by Nobuyoshi Kuraoka and his wife. Since then, they have been frontrunners when it comes to delivering the authentic japanese culinary experience to the USA.
Mr. Kuroda purchased farmland in Canada to grow soba buckwheat, installed a machine to produce tofu in the kitchen and won a 5-year long legal battle to legalize the import and consumption of the potentially poisonous (but delicious) fugu blow-fish.

All celebrities you can think are regulars here: from baseball Hideo Matsui to Bloomberg the Major. From Japan`s prime minister Shinzo Abe to tennis champion Novak Djokovic. Mr. Kuroda is also famous for having supported many athletes and golf champions who were struggling at the beginning of their careers. Too good to be true?

If it sounds like a plot for the next superman`s movie, well it is not.
Mr. Kuroda and his wife left this World in 2018 but their outstanding successes are a shining example of what a man can do when he has motivation and clear vision.

Now the Restaurant is in the capable hands of the general manager Yasuhiro Makoshi, his wife and the chef Akira Azuma, for 40 years behind the counter.

But the story does not end here. While the restaurant was closed, the manager and his wife offered me to sit on the bench in the waiting area and served me a “small snack” – service from the chef. What come out from the kitchen was a delicious soba noodles salad with wagyu thin sliced beef. I really felt like the prodigal son returning home without notice and finding the benevolent mom and dad happy to feed me with what was in the house.
This confirms that the generosity, sense of hospitality and warm heart planted by Kuraoka did not depart with them but are now part of the DNA of Nippon.

On a side story, with so many celebrities enjoying the delicious cuisine of Nippon, I suggested that if Donald Trump ate this soul food, chances were that the curse would break and Donald would turn into a nice guy…
On the other hand, I had the feeling that he would not be welcome here.
Sorry, Donald…

Anybody with a good idea? Maybe a take out?

kanna thoughts

On the quest of a woodworking atelier that can help me create the right furniture for a super-brand store I am working on, I met with Toshio Tokunaga.

His atelier is in the Kobe countryside, next to his residence (who he built himself 25 years ago) and in front of a vegetable garden is also adjoining a temple which hosts a festival once a year.

We arrived there in a winter afternoon and the setting was just like stepping on a stage of Kurosawa Akira. Smoke, sharp strokes of light from the dying sun, country sounds. The atmosphere was primed with an explosive concentration of poetic charm.

Tokunaga sensei was surrounded by young apprentices, friendly, understated. But the wood board floor showing the scars of thousands of births, the table we sit at, stained with sweat and passion and the religious dedication of his apprentices were clear signs of the genius.

Tokunaga sensei was himself disciple of a giant: the Kyoto based woodwork artist and “Japanese National Cultural Treasure” Hekigai Takeuchi.
Tokunaga`s core concept is based on the use of the japanese hand planer (kanna). With this tool it is possible to cut sharply the wood fibers (as opposed to the use of sandpaper) thus conferring shine, hardness and durability to the object he finishes which do not need any paint finish.
Here below is a comparative microscope photo.

 kanna-finish                                sandpaper finish
← kanna planer / sandpaper →

Let me mention two other points about his “kanna thoughts” I really found enlightening.

  1. Tokunaga sensei uses the plane also to finish curved, three dimensional and organic shapes. “When you use the plane on a curved surface, you create narrow faces of a polyhedron. Each face reflects the light and provide sharp edges to guide the eye. When finished with kanna, a curved shape becomes more iconic, its line is crisp and meaningful.”
  2. using kanna is not only finishing the wood, it is more like communicating with the material. While planing, you feel the wood direction, its soft and hard spots. You interpret the message already contained in the wood, you help revealing the shape that is already there. He goes as far as saying: “It is difficult to become a good craftsman if you do not have an understanding of nature. All people that played in a river in their childhood (before turning age five) have the potential of becoming a skilled craftsmen”.

    (I read a similar concept about mindfulness from a 3rd century Chinese classic “Prince-Wen-Huis-Cook” and his technique in cutting meat! – but this is another story…)

Mr. Tokunaga speaks English so you can contact him directly for any information/project/quotation etc.
If you need some help, let me know: any alibis is welcome for me in order to be able to work with these incredible craftsmen who reveal the deep philosophy of life through their hands.

townhouse in NYC

Here I am showing some photos of 2 ofuros and japanese bathroom accessories installed in a project in NYC. I had the pleasure to meet the owner in the past 2 times in Tokyo but it was the first time I saw the house.
I received permission to share here the photos of the ofuros.


For privacy reasons, I will not publish the other photos of the interior but I can ensure you it is a real masterpiece and I am honored that Bartok design products are used in such a house.


Of course, the scale is grand and the materials luxurious but what really strikes is the attention for the details, the functionality, the balance.


I hope that these photos can offer inspiration for other projects as well!!

Hiroshima and Miyajima

After 21 years of living in Japan, I finally had the opportunity to visit Hiroshima.
The A-bomb memorial left me very deep emotions. I feel more adult, more responsible, I feel stronger after the visit.
Again, photos and videos are here if you want to visit through my eyes.
https://photos.app.goo.gl/kD9QotW8YP8yLLLh9

From there is also possible to board a powerboat to Miyajima (about 45min.), the famous shrine with the orange torii emerging from the waves. You can buy the round trip ticket but if you get the one way only, you will have more options to choose from for the return trip.

Miyajima was wonderful beyond the imagination! I do not know why it took me 21 years to make it here!
There are friendly but wild dears strolling around. Unfortunately, the famous torii was under restoration: an additional reason to come again.

On the island, the atmosphere is relaxed, few cars, the shrine surrounded by the sand and water is just spectacular and all the other sites and the village itself are a paradise if you enjoy taking photographs.
I am an amateur photographer and just used the phone but I hope that the photos at the link below can stir your appetite…
https://photos.app.goo.gl/fk3VTAUbBKxn2EHy7

This december day was blessed by a warm sun, wild clouds and the colors of the autumn maples. The only problem was the little time. I definitely want to return soon, maybe in springtime and definitely with a full day to mindlessly stroll around…

Princess Sawara – outlet tub – SOLD OUT

(sorry, sold out… but its twin is available here↓ )
https://bartokdesign.com/8-outlet-tubs/princess-sawara-twin-outlet-tub.php

Sawara is a close cousin of hinoki and is commonly called japanese cypress tree because of its slightly orangeish color (it reminds of cherry wood). Soft, light and feminine, it is definitely the “princess” of japanese conifers.

Lightweight and compact, this ofuro does not require a plywood box for the shipping making it possible to cut both on the costs of packaging and shipping.

We still have other material of this beautiful lot, so if you need a custom size in Sawara go ahead and contact us (we do not have thick material to make top border frames, so it needs to be a compact size that can be build with simple plank construction.

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japanese softwoods

For a description of the essences we use to build ofuros, please read the description below. (or return to the category: our woods and scroll down)
Note that we may also have the availability of Koya-maki wood or knotty hinoki but these are becoming rarer.
For a more compact, printer-friendly version, check our download area and select the document on top of the list (1)

Lastly, note that we only use japanese woods. we cannot make ofuros in teak or port orford cedar. Also, pine is not suitable to make ofuros because it bends easily with changes of humidity and it produces discharges of resin.

If you need samples, please contact me by email at japan@bartokdesign.com specifying your preferred shipping address.

some like it hot… some like it cold

I am glad to be able to sharing with you an instagram post (with lovely comment) from our client @taigawinterswimclub

Hi there!
I am loving my bath tub so much!!!
Thank you.
What a beautiful feeling to wake up and take an ice bath under the morning sky!

A section devoted to people we like and respect and would like to share their awesomeness


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