With over 150 years of experience manufacturing Wagasas (traditional Japanese umbrellas), family-run Hiyoshiya creates contemporary products that fit into any modern context. Their beautiful, functional and sustainable designs keep this important craft alive using green materials like bamboo wood and washi paper. Last week I had the chance to visit Hiyoshiya in Kyoto and talk with Kotaro Nishibori, president of the company and 5th generation of the family - read on for our exclusive feature!
About 10 years ago, with the demand for traditional Japanese umbrella decreasing dramatically, Kotaro decided to get involved in his wife’s family business in order to help it survive. He took a deep dive into the thousand-year history, manufacturing evolution and cultural importance of Wagasas in Japan, and began thinking of new ways to apply this unique craft in contemporary products.
Kotaro identified 3 main elements of the traditional Japanese umbrella: a bamboo frame, a folding mechanism, and the warm atmosphere created when light shines through the Washi paper. He thought of lighting products as the perfect way to reinterpret these elements – they could perpetuate the essence of wagasas in designs that would fit in contemporary homes. Working closely with designers, Hyoshiya developed Kotori, a collection of pendant and floor lights that are manufactured using the same materials and craft techniques the company has mastered over the past century.
Hiyoshiya’s Kotori collection of lamps is hand-made in their small studio in Kyoto by a team of 4 skilled craftsmen that work closely with local suppliers. Using sustainable materials like bamboo, paper, and house-made tapioca glue, their designs are inherently green. The lamps’ foldable mechanisms allow them to be easily stored and compactly shipped. The Kotori lamps became an instant success that drove Hiyoshiya to expand into special orders for contract projects like hotels and stores in Japan. They have also entered new markets like Europe through important design events such as the Maison & Objet in Paris and more recenlty during the Milan Furniture Fair.
The new spirit of the company led to an additional innovation through the reinterpretation of umbrellas. The Moto lamp, designed in collaboration with renowned Japanese designer Kazushige Miyake, is a light whose shade changes shape by lowering or raising a central ring. This lamp uses the framework of a modern umbrella to open or close its mechanism, creating different light intensities. Moto lamps are also assembled at Hiyoshiya in Kyoto, and they have joined the Kitori collection in winning several design awards, like Japan’s prestigious Good Design Award.
Although the company has rebuilt itself as a producer of contemporary interior products, it has continued to produce traditional products side-by-side, fulfilling their mission to keep this craft alive. Hiyoshiya is a great example of how innovation and tradition can work together to create products that have cultural, emotional and sustainable value — and Kotaro Nishibori is an intelligent businessman who understands that the best way to move forward is to look back in history.