Kaikado – The Oldest Tea Canister Manufacturing in Japan
Hi, my name is Irwin Wong and I am professional photographer based in Tokyo, Japan. Every month on Lenspire I’ll be bringing you a journal introducing aspects of my ongoing personal project, which involves documenting traditional crafts and traditions in Japan that are in danger of going extinct. Here is entry number 4 – enjoy!
by Irwin Wong
I’m a little awestruck as I take in the quiet beauty of the Kaikado showroom. It’s located inside a nondescript townhouse just off one of my favorite canal walkways in Kyoto; I’ve often strolled past it without ever thinking to go inside. It’s a reminder of how many hidden gems are in this city – even after dozens of visits I’m still discovering something new. The showroom itself is understated yet magnificent – a modern Japanese style interior lined with the burnished metal tea canisters for which Kaikado has become internationally famous. Each one is geometrically, aesthetically perfect; stunningly minimalist and yet somehow quintessentially Japanese. Maybe it’s because Japan as a country really really loves tea. Maybe it’s just been baked in over 140 years of continuously perfecting the design.
I’m so impressed that by the time Seiji Yagi – the 5th generation owner of Kaikado – comes out to meet me I’m almost apologetic for taking up his time. He’s not concerned at all though, and with barely any prompting he takes us around to the back of the house to the workshop where everything is made. Kaikado was founded in 1875 and they are the oldest tea canister makers in Japan. Their finely milled and crafted tea canisters are so proficient at preserving the freshness and aroma of tea leaves that it is not uncommon to spot their weathered, decades old canisters in prominent view at fine tea houses across Japan. A Kaikado product is a product for life, and they are made to age gracefully over time – as the years past the brilliant. burnished metal surface slowly fades to a pleasingly weathered patina, developing its own character as time progresses. The results have made this brand popular around the world; Kaikado products are available in boutiques throughout Europe, USA and Asia, although they are often on backorder due to the demand.
The relatively small workshop is tucked away behind the showroom in the very same property. It’s not loud at all, in fact the only sounds of work behind done are almost contemplative, meditative. The sharp sound of the ancient metal slicer as sheets of metals are cut down to exacting specifications. The hum of the grindstone as the metal is polished to its characteristic sheen. The almost delicate tapping of Mr. Yagi’s hammer as he meticulously shapes the metal cylinders on the anvil that has been used since the company’s founding. It’s a symphony of quiet professionalism, performed by a mere handful of skilled craftsmen as they painstakingly hand make canister after perfect canister to sit in homes and kitchens around the world. Of course, the result isn’t cheap, but in today’s world of fast fashion, fast food, fast furniture and so on, what a breath of fresh air to see a family-owned company still making things the old, slow way. As we sift through a market dominated by the mass manufacture of cheap things, Kaikado is a shining example that tradition and quality never go out of fashion.
Visitors to Kyoto may like to visit Kaikado Cafe – an absolutely lovely modern tea house just down the road from the showroom and workshop. Kaikado products are on display or for sale, and of course they serve delicious tea and coffee for those looking for a quiet spot to get away from the tourists! Website: http://www.kaikado-cafe.jp/
Lenses used on this shoot:
I am a Sony Alpha shooter for many reasons. They have everything I need in a camera and more: power, size, great photo and video quality, not to mention all of the other bells and whistles such as in-body image stabilization and 4K recording. That’s why I’m overjoyed ZEISS has released the Loxia series for E-mount. The Loxia family perfectly balances the Sony Alpha series’ dual role as powerful stills and video cameras, not to mention they are sharp and extremely well built. The same filter thread size across all four lenses (21, 35, 50 and 85) means that you’ll be able to swap out ND filters with ease on a tricky video shoot, and the butter smooth manual focus is super friendly for rack-focusing or stills photography without the frustration of buggy AF. And they are so small! Nothing beats this lens family in my opinion.