Although the phrase "tin cup" has a pejorative connotation in English, tinsmithing is nothing short of an art in Japan. While heavy industry and computer components comprise the bulk of the contemporary metal industry and Japanese steel is suited finer applications from bladed weapons to bicycle tubing, I was pleased to discover works in tin and brass at InteriorLifestyle Tokyo. As with wood and ceramics, producers are adapting their craft to contemporary taste and applications, both through designer collaborations and expanded product lines.
Nousaku is a prime example of a company exploring novel approaches to their craft, alongside traditional crafts:In terms of technique, our main features include products made from 100% pure tin—renowned for the processing challenges it entails—a hairline finish on brass that requires extremely sophisticated skills, and silicon casting that can create expressive details. NOUSAKU not only maintains and preserves tradition; we constantly pursue innovation.
The tin kago—which variously resemble flowers, spiderwebs, or snowflakes—can serve as trivets or bowls; the material is malleable at room temperature.
The wind bells are designer collaborations, crafted with "techniques acquired from producing Buddhist altar fittings and bear-repelling bells (kumasuzu)." The brass rings with a clear, distinctive sound, while the exterior can be plated with gold, silver or copper.
Nousaku limns the various advantages of tin: it resists corrosion and has antibacterial qualities—it's said that "water in a tin container does not spoil"—and it is regarded for its low allergic reactivity. It is also said to enhance the taste of sake by curtailing its bitterness.
Nevertheless, tin is in short supply in the island nation, and most of the raw material is imported from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and China in the form of ingots (35–45kg bricks). Considering that it's purportedly the "most expensive metal after gold and silver," these are more suited for high-end liquor cabinets than mendicants' fingerless gloves.
Osaka Suzuki had an ultramodern mult-tiered display... housed in an enclosed booth.
Storied tin company Osaka Suzuki manufactures its tableware with techniques that date back to the late Edo period (1603–1868), when the craft, which originally started in Kyoto, spread to Osaka, where it flourished. Following the Second World War, the five well-known families of the Osaka tin industry came together, forming Osaka Suzuki in 1949.
Various guinomi ("big gulp") sake cups; L, R
As tin specialists, they provide additional insight into the process of casting their wares: the material has an unusually low melting point—230°C—and it is typically cast in molds made of cement, soil or other metals. This creates the form, which is shaved down on a lathe, bringing out the "smoothness and radiance" of the tin (larger objects are finished piecemeal). The roundness and thickness of the final product are determined by the skilled hand of the craftsman, who use various kanna (a special tool) for shaving, shaping and finishing touches.
Sake not included
Further detailing is also done by hand—handles, spouts, and other pieces that can't be shaped from the potter's wheel are made separately and attached to the piece"—and decorative elements require an additional step:Patterns and designs are [engraved] on the pieces using lacquer or enamel. Once complete, the piece is soaked in nitric acid, corroding everything except the pattern. The level of corrosion also depends on the season, and is another point of the process that depends on the craftsman's skill. The designs are completed with black or color lacquer, which [applied in] multiple layers.
A guinomi series called matsukaze, which translates in to "wind through the pines": the texture is inspired by tree bark
Elm leaves and dried horsetail—a plant that can be used as sandpaper—are used to polish the tin to a shine.
Osaka Suzuki also produces several "Western products," such as wine glasses (pictured), tumblers and beer mugs
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Special thanks to Kai Mitsushio, co-founder of wakumi, for assisting with coverage and translations for InteriorLifestyle Tokyo.