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The Making of the Book: Craftland Japan

Posted on 08 Jul 2020

Mountain fog, indigo farms and a friendly Shiba Inu. From first idea to final design flourish, head behind the scenes of 'Craftland Japan' and discover how a six-month campervan road trip became a printed celebration of Japanese craft.

Preparing shots at Yamaichi Ogura Rokuro Crafts in the Kiso Valley.

Inspired by a deep admiration of the country’s traditional crafts, designers Uwe Röttgen and Katharina Zettl embarked on a six-month journey around Japan, equipped with cameras and a campervan.

Visiting the workshops of paper makers, bamboo artists, iron casters and more, Uwe and Katharina traversed the Japanese landscape and learned the remarkable stories of the artisans who are keeping centuries-old traditions alive with their creativity and skill.

The result of the trip is Craftland Japan, a breathtaking voyage through the craft studios of a culturally rich country. But how did the project go from road trip to bookshelf-ready? We spoke to the authors, as well as the team here at Thames & Hudson. From mountain landscapes to our London office, here’s how the book came to be.

With Sakura, indigo farmer and dyer BUAISOU’s Shiba Inu.

Inspiration and inception: How the idea came about

“During several visits to Japan we became fascinated by the country’s architecture and innovative design, as well as their arts and crafts culture. We knew we’d like to experience the country in winter, and also wanted to learn how make Japanese Washi paper, so we came up with the idea of travelling around Japan for six months in a camper van, visiting exciting artisans in different regions with the aim of portraying them photographically and on film for our first book project.” (Uwe Röttgen and Katharina Zettl, authors)

Short stop at Mount Iwaki after visiting Kobayashi Shikki lacquerware artists in Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture.

Kiso Valley on a misty day

On the road: Artisans and ateliers

“Assisted by friends and translators, we conducted individual interviews with most of the artisans in order to learn more about their craft background and personal views.” (UR & KZ)

Makeshift camera dolly for filming the looms at Tamaki Niime’s atelier.

Interviewing Ayane Muroya in her garden on Noto Peninsula, Ishikawa Prefecture.

Bamboo craftsman Masato Takae’s yearly mochi-tsuki with family and friends.

Capturing and curating

“When putting together the book, we had to find the best way to sort the material we’d captured. This meant selecting the right images from thousands of shots, transcribing and condensing quotes from the interviews, and writing the passages that accompany each craftsperson’s profile in the book.” (UR & KZ)

Uwe and Katharina with the Yanase Washi family and papermaking team, and translator Yuika Kubo of JETRO Fukui, in Echizen, Fukui Prefecture.

Preparing shots at Yamaichi Ogura Rokuro Crafts in the Kiso Valley.

A series of vases made of sen and keyaki wood by Yamaichi Ogura Rokuro Crafts.

Both a book and a beautiful object

“Uwe and Katharina are passionate about Japanese crafts and bookmaking, both of which shone through during the creative process for Craftland Japan. It was important for them and for us at Thames & Hudson to capture not just the craftspeople at work, but also to offer insights into the history of Japanese crafts and their connections with the country’s local regions.” (Fleur Jones, Editorial Manager)

“We shared with Uwe and Katharina a strong vision for how the book should be structured, presented and designed. We wanted to reflect techniques in Japanese bookmaking, which can be seen in the natural colour palette and contrasting paper stocks for the cover, jacket, bellyband and inside pages. We went through several samples and proofs before we settled on a set of materials that felt right for the book.” (FJ)

“Right from the start, our goal was to make a compact book, smaller than a coffee table book and more like a compendium, with different types of paper and a variety of information. We consciously decided against hardcover, because in Japan many books are published with softcover and often in smaller formats, in order to take up less space in often small Japanese apartments.” (UR & KZ)

The finished product: Something to treasure

“It was important to have contrasting textures on the cover, jacket and bellyband to represent the natural themes inside the book. It was tricky to source an FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) coverboard with texture, so in the end we found a board and applied graining to it, rather than using a pre-grained board, to give the texture of the trees on the cover.” (Jane Cutter, Senior Production Controller)

“We wanted to include the artisans’ names on the cover as well as some technical terms in Kanji, the Japanese characters of Chinese origin. The cover photo of a vase is by studio ceramist Koichi Onozawa, and it gives the book a Japanese aesthetic, which was very important to us overall.” (UR & KZ)

All images: © Uwe Röttgen and Katharina Zettl

Discover the book

Craftland Japan

Uwe Röttgen, Katharina Zettl

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Video: Craftland Japan

'Craftland Japan' is a photographic voyage to the remote studios of Japan’s most fascinating and ingenious contemporary craftspeople. Written by designers Uwe Röttgen and Katharina Zettl, the book profiles twenty-five artisans who work with natural materials to produce objects that are intended for everyday life but are worthy of museum display.