By Saneyuki Owada, edited by Mike Sullivan
The Omamori Pokke is a clever twist on the traditional Japanese Omamori amulet, it is just one of the products that have appeared under the direction of the Kichijitsu designer, Aya Inoue. She studied at Tokyo Zokei University, which consists of two schools, Design and Fine Arts, and is located in Hachioji, and she joined an academic-industrial programme in which she partnered up with Hikariorimono Ltd, a textile maker. The result was the Kichijitsu brand under which the Omamori Pokke product became a reality. Despite her busy schedule we were able to ask her a few questions and learn more about her and her background.
Please introduce yourself and your background.
I am the designer and planner for the Kichijitsu brand. I have a MA in textile design from Tokyo Zokei University.
Please tell us about your work.
My work is currently to make a new product or plan for Kichijitsu by using traditional Japanese items, or long standing conventions, and modernizing them in order to bring them into a new world.
How did Kichijitsu start? Please tell us more about your collaboration with HikariOrimono Ltd.
I took part in academic-industry partnership MA program in Tokyo Zokei University, the program was basically to collaborate with a Japanese industry and make a new plan and product. That was when I first met with Hikari Orimono Ltd. After that I worked with Hikariorimono Ltd, for 2 years to make a new brand. In the second year we set up the Kichijitsu brand with products such as the Omamori Pokke. After we established the brand we participated in local exhibition events for market research, and then we got several offers from department store staff, retailers and buyers. That was the catalyst for us to start producing items under the Kichijitsu brand. Now I am working with them as a designer and planner.
Where did the idea for Omamori Pokke come from?
When I started to work with Hikari Orimono Ltd, I was thinking to make something new but not products that are completely different, I wanted to use their strong point. I heard that Hikari Orimono Ltd, was making amulets for a shrine as one of their regular business customers. So I thought it is a waste to not pay attention to this advantage as well as the fact that I personally have an inherent like for items that are related to shrines, and I felt an intimate connection with Omamori (Japanese amulet) and also other items connected with shrines. Moreover, I like something that has a Japanese spell or charm element. So I felt that I wanted to make a new value from a very traditional amulet or charm product.
How long did it take to design and make an Omamori Pokke?
In total it took about 6 months from concept planning to the actual announcement. First of all I decided on the size and the specifications, I then had to design the pattern and form. I guess the most amount of time was spent on the size and specifications; I had many discussions with the sewing staff and needed to get a lot of advice in order to turn an idea into a commercial reality.
Where do you find the inspiration for your designs? I noticed they are very bright and happy.
Basically, each pattern uses a motif that has something related to luck that are longtime fixtures in Japanese culture. So first I need to decide on a motif and then I will start drawing a design. However, some motifs have quite subdued subjects, so I try to avoid to using Japanese style to a large extent and instead I want to make it more light and pop like, moreover, the Omamori amulet is related to Shintoism or shrine, and if I make the Omamori design too directly connected to a Omamori amulet it will be too easy to evoke mysterious and ghostly feelings. So, I want to avoid it becoming too religious.
To what extent do you draw upon your Japanese heritage for your work?
To be honest, I don’t think too much into it. Because I believe our products already have many elements of Japan and Japanese culture. The “Omamori equals amulet” and the “motif is of Japanese luck.” Conversely, I am not sticking to the traditional Japanese style for my designs. However, I like 60s and 70s Japanese graphic design such as Tadanori Yokoo and Keiichi Tanaami, so to a certain extent I am influenced by them so maybe this kind of taste bring elements of Japan to my design. I am not sure how I find the source of Japan for my inspiration but when I go to the centre of Tokyo I often pop into the nearest shrine.
What do traditional Japanese crafts mean to you?
Firstly, from when I was young traditional Japanese crafts were really not a familiar topic for me. Of course, I had seen them on TV or in books in my daily life and I felt it looked so Japanese yet old when I saw it. It is a completely different world and I had no real idea in my life. So I can learn about it from a fresh perspective and that is why I can work with this topic. I am exploring something new for me and at the same time I realized that it is valuable to learn something new. So I think it would be a waste that traditional Japanese crafts are not closely related to our lifestyle.
Do you have any exhibitions or events coming up?
For kichijitsu, we will attend a couple of exhibitions close to the end of the year. Also, in February we will announce a new kichijitsu product.
As a personal activity, I am working for another product design company and we will start selling new products in the New Year.
Finally, any last words for anyone interested in Japanese crafts?
I am actually still learning about Japanese crafts so I feel a sense of affinity if you have an interest in Japanese crafts. So it will be great if we could find the fun of Japanese crafts together.