Our world is in constant motion. Clouds billow and roll across the sky, waves crash on the shore,
flowers bloom and scatter, and birds take wing and fly away.
Even our hearts are ever-changing as we share life in this world of impermanence and beauty.
The Japanese word awai refers to dynamic balance, both harmonious and contested--the space between two people,
the distance separating two objects, and the pause between one moment and the next.
What better name than this evocative word for a brand that creates artworks and interiors born of the awai between classical and modern,
tradition and innovation, Kyoto and Kamakura, and artisan and user?
Water is life itself.
Our own bodies are 60% water, and water covers more than two-thirds of our world’s surface.
It rises into the sky to drift above us as clouds, then falls back to the earth as rain.
This endless, fluid cycle above and below is expressed in Japanese by the phrase koun ryusui, “floating clouds and flowing water.”
Zen monks used this phrase to encapsulate the Buddhist teaching of “no-mind”--experiencing the world just as it is.
Water-related motifs have also been popular in Japanese textiles and other crafts since ancient times, from clouds and mist to rain, snow, waves, and ice.
AWAI embraces the “Water of Life” as a key concept and designs and produces items that use these very motifs.
Every item we create is crafted to refresh contemporary lives with the purity of running water and the freedom of drifting clouds.
AWAI’s origin can be traced to producer Mami Otaki’s preparations for a table d’hôte for some close friends. Table d’hôte, literally “table of the host,” is a form of hospitality where host and guests sit down at the same table to enjoy dining and conversation. Mami, an experienced food coordinator, placed a three-meter-long table in her atelier and planned a menu to be served on carefully selected tableware. There was only one problem: she couldn’t find a suitable table runner.
Now nursing the urge to produce new tableware to enliven dinner and conversation, Mami happened to meet Suzuki Takeo of Seirinsha Traditional Textiles, opening the door to the world of Nishijin-ori: literally “Nishijin weaving,” Nishijin being the region in Kyoto where this technique first flourished. As a student of the tea ceremony and a connoisseur of Noh theater, both of which make extensive use of Nishijin-ori, Mami had long been deeply interested in this textile tradition. Fascinated by its elegance and beauty, she soon hit upon the idea of producing Nishijin-ori tableware.
At around the same time, Mami was also developing a strong interest in the wood-carving tradition known as Kamakura-bori (“Kamakura carving”), partly through her work on a renovation of Cafe Guri at the Kamakura-bori Hall. As she learned more about Kamakura-bori’s history and met the artisans who keep the technique alive, she conceived the desire to produce Kamakura-bori items for contemporary spaces. In January 2019, the AWAI brand participated in its first French exposition and also held a gallery exhibition in Paris entitled Kamakura-bori and Nishijin-ori: Kamakura and Kyoto, Two Ancient Capitals. Both received an enthusiastic response.
AWAI thus began from Kamakura-bori and Nishijin-ori, but Mami hopes to expand the brand in future to collaborations with artisans from other traditions both in Japan and around the world. The word awai can also refer to an intermediary, and Mami believes AWAI can play a role in connecting future generations to the cultures that humankind has cultivated over its long history.
Isaku Kiuchi, third-generation artisan at Suisando. Kiuchi’s works have a palpable warmth, partly because of the teguri hand-carving method he uses to produce the basic shape instead of a lathe. Most of his designs express the movement of waters filled with latent energy, like calm seas and deep pools. They have the power to add flow to the spaces they inhabit.
Takeo Suzuki, Seirinsha Traditional Textiles. Suzuki draws on Japan’s ancient heritage of textile motifs and artisanal skill to create designs that harmonize with modern aesthetics. He shares Nishijin-ori textile culture to the next generation as something that is always new. As befits a Nishijin-ori artisan, his workshop is stocked with threads of countless colors, and Suzuki works with skilled, experienced artisans to produce textiles imbued with the light of silk in a way that only Nishijin-ori can offer.
Based in Kamakura, Mami is AWAI’s producer. She is also the CEO of Delices de Mami. After working in PR for an apparel maker and store and menu development for food manufacturers, she struck out on her own as a freelance chef and food coordinator. She has produced countless spaces and menus bringing out the concept of their location, including Cafe Guri at the Kamakura-bori Hall. She currently engages in creative activities using the consistent color aesthetic she has cultivated working as a textile designer and space coordinator. At AWAI, she strives to listen to the “sound of the light” born of the interaction between Japan’s beautiful artisanal works and the people of the world, and share those traditions with future generations.
Film maker/video artist: Shin Yamane
Writer: Kyoko Sugimoto
Photographer: Masaharu Okuda