Oketo is well known in Japan for its wood crafts, called “oke craft”. The majority of these crafts are household objects such as plates and bowls. They are usually made from a local white pine.
Smooth, tactile and fragrant with the heady smell of hinoki — the Japanese cypress they are constructed from — “ki-oke” are used for a variety of purposes from storing rice and miso paste to holding water for bathing.
The level of craftsmanship, honed over a century of teaching and built on traditional methods that go back 700 years, creates a flawless finish and it is almost impossible to see the joints between the slats on the buckets.
Nakagawa employs 700-year-old carpentry techniques in the making of wooden buckets and other specialist items
His following continues to grow, as has the critical appreciation of his work — he’s just been chosen as a finalist in the prestigious Loewe Craft Prize 2017.
The story begins with Nakagawa’s paternal grandfather, Kameichi, who 90 years ago went to work at famed carpentry studio Tarugen — when he was just 10 years old.
At 45, Kameichi left to pursue his own ki-oke firm, calling it Nakagawa Mokkougei.
Now run by Kiyotsugu — Kameichi’s son and Nakagawa’s father — the company still operates and is one of the most highly regarded traditional carpentry firms in Japan.
“If we go overseas people tend to look at what we do as a creative business and think of it as a very positive thing.”
Despite the renewed appeal his beautiful pieces hold, Nakagawa says he doesn’t want to force his own son — who is seven years old — into the family business.
“I don’t want to force my children into the family business unless they want to. Traditional crafts in Japan had been customarily taken over by the oldest son of the family, but I don’t think it is necessary.