I was born several years after the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, when Sori Yanagi was busy concreting his career as a product designer by designing the Olympic cauldrons. Despite his long career and international fame, I only recently fell in love with his work.
Too late, you might say. He was born in 1915 and passed away in 2011.
Now that he is no longer with us, the only way I can learn about his work is through exhibitions and using his products at home. My mother thought I was crazy when I bought his signature product, the kettle, which is 12 times more expensive than the one she bought some years ago.
I haven’t told her that I’m planning to buy his iconic chair – the Butterfly Stool – for her birthday. The Butterfly Stool was designed in 1954 and continues to be loved by people (like me) who love the collaboration of simplicity and practicality.
Back in 1994, the New York Times’ art writer Rita Reif describes the Butterfly Stool as follows by situating it in the context of post World War II.
The butterfly stool, from 1956, Mr. Yanagi’s most memorable work, exploits the molded-plywood technology of the industrial designer Charles Eames in a non-Western way: the rippled seat and base recall the roofs of Japanese temples, and the shimmering surface emphasizes the richness of the rosewood grain.
I’ll probably not tell her how much the stool is, though.
Of course, he designed more than just a kettle – furniture, tableware, drinking fountains, manhole covers (!), pedestrian overpasses and more. Yanagi is described as “both a representative of the wholly Japanese modern designer and a full-blown modernist who merged simplicity and practicality with elements of traditional Japanese crafts”.
I wasn’t really surprised to learn that there is an international cult following for Sori Yanagi’s work, particularly in Europe, and his exhibitions are held overseas. In fact, since we opened our online store, Takaski.com, in November 2015, orders for his products are mostly from Europe.
I so wish I had a chance to meet him. For my belated new year resolution, I’ve decided to learn more about Japanese designers and go and meet as many of them as I possibly can. Meanwhile, I just need to decide which type of the Butterfly Stool would suit my mother’s taste.