Kyoto needs little introduction to those familiar with Japanese history and culture; it is a by-word for elegance and refinement. For 1500 years, it was the country's capital and has remained the epitome of Japanese artistic and architectural achievement. To wander its ancient streets and visit its myriad shrines and temples is to experience living history.
Kyoto is also justly renowned for its traditional produce and the city's myriad crafts and ateliers are, in many cases, without parallel. Among Kyoto's many artisanal treasures are the various types of Kiyomizu Ware glazed ceramics, often characterized by vividly pigmented patterns. Over the past fifty years, Yamashina in the south-west of the city has become a hub for some of the finest producers of Kiyomizu Ware as they have gradually moved out of the center of Kyoto. And this, too, is the home of Kumagai, creators of the exquisitely innovative K+ ceramics.
A Brand Founded on Collaboration
For 400 years, Kiyomizu ceramics have been produced in Kyoto and Kumagai has been at the forefront of Kiyomizu Ware since the company's foundation in 1935. The company has long taken a collaborative approach to creating new pathways for Kyoto ceramics, and the K+ brand is very much in this tradition. Begun in 2014, K+ is a range of contemporary pieces designed in collaboration with international and Japanese designers.
The whole concept of the brand is encapsulated in the moniker, K+. The K stands for Kyoto, Kyomizu and, of course, Kumagai. The + symbolizes Kumagai's desire to cooperate with a range of domestic and international artists and designers. By doing so, K+ is bringing new perspectives and reaching new audiences for Kyoto's ceramics, rooted in centuries-old traditions.
From Traditional Techniques Come Innovative New Designs
K+ ceramics are not only a collaborative endeavor between Kumagai and renowned designers, it is also a collaboration between ancient techniques and modern sensibilities. Each piece builds on hundreds of years of knowledge with innovative new approaches and with the needs of 21st-century life very much in mind.
The striking simplicity of K+ wind chimes, designed with Issey Mayake, reflects this approach. The idea came by chance when Mr Kumagai noticed the sonorous tone created when he tapped a ceramic tea bowl. The challenge was set, and the result is a free-standing chime that condenses many generations' worth of ceramic techniques to create an entirely unique piece which fits seamlessly into modern living.
The apparent modernity and uncomplicated nature of K+ ceramic designs belies the detail, effort and skills used to shape the subtle intricacies on each piece. The 'flower crystal' patterning, for example, that appears on the surface of parts of the wind chime is the result of experienced potters understanding intuitively the effect of precise temperature changes on the zinc crystals in the glaze. The results are mesmerizing: each 'flower' pattern is unique, displaying a fascinating, nuanced intricacy.
Created for Modern Living
One remarkable aspect of K+ is that they combine a refined aesthetic with an ability to fit into our daily lives. There is something transformational that comes from integrating such carefully designed pieces into your everyday routine. This effect is only heightened by considering the long tradition behind these ceramics.
Indeed, the beak bowl set is a physical expression of this tradition; the set of five bowls represent the transition from the earliest, unadorned pottery styles of Japan gradually moving through different, more innovative glazing techniques until you reach a beaker with an array of beautiful glazes. The set, as a whole, connects the present with the deep past.
Moreover, by working with a host of designers, artists, chefs and interior designers from both Japan and internationally, Kumagai has ensured that K+ ceramics can be something enjoyed and used by people across the globe. Indeed, Mr Kumagai sees this as the main mission of K+: to pass the excitement and enjoyment of Kyoto ceramics on to everyone.