The prestigious “Cool Japan Award 2019” was recently added to a list of other domestic and international recognitions of the products of K-Ino Inomata Art. Mr. Inomata, its principal owner proudly showed us the certificate and talks about the background of his business. Basically a woodworking craft, he has managed to turn what is known as “kumiko” it into a unique art form.
Along with the introduction of Buddhism-influenced architecture during the Asuka period (around the 7th century), many carpenters came to Japan from China and Korea. They brought the skills as well as the tools to bring wood work in Japan to a higher level.
By the Heian Period (794 to 1185), functional and decorative interior design had progressed to a high level. The refined fittings such as “fusuma” (sliding doors), ”shoji” (papered sliding doors and screens) and “ranma” (decorative transoms) were collectively described as kumiko. When pronouncing this word, emphasis is on the 2nd syllable. With emphasis on the first syllable you have a woman’s name and this mispronunciation can lead to serious, yet entertaining confusion.
For kumiko, wooden strips are cut into small pieces that are friction-fitted in order to form various designs and patterns. No nails or metal fasteners of any kind are used. Measurements for high grade kumiko are in the range of 2 to 4.5mm.
The choice of raw material for kumiko is usually coniferous wood, either Japanese Cedar (sugi) or Japanese Cypress (hinoki). Sometimes also Canadian Cedar is used. Kumiko production starts with making long and thin strips of wood. Hence the he choice for the long and straight hinoki and sugi trees.
Specific varieties that are very suitable are Kiso hinoki, Akita sugi and the very rare Jindei sugi. Each variety has its own characteristics and the choice is usually based on design considerations.
Design & production
An Inomata designed screen
in restaurant “Helice”
The two basic designs are “hishi kumiko” (diamond shape) and “koshi kumiko” (lattice), with several hundred design variations within these two categories, making use of the differences in colour and other characteristics of the wood used.
A declining population, changing life styles and the trend to have fewer and fewer Japanese rooms in the house are reasons why it is becoming harder to find he specialized craftsmen to make kumiko designs.
Production of kumiko ranges from mass-production of fusuma, shoji and ranma as well as interior goods to the unique art work that Inomata Art has become famous for.
The long Joetsu winter — extended this year by the need for self-isolation with regard to the Corona virus crisis — is the time to work on new designs and build an inventory. In the meantime, Inomata-san is also preparing for his next overseas exhibition, most likely the Maison & Objet exhibition in Paris
He took over responsibility for the company from his father who started the company in the 1950s and is still actively involved. Although the construction of traditional style Japanese houses is declining, a new trend of incorporating kumiko designs into modern architecture has emerged. Many of Inomata-san’s unique designs have found their way into contemporary residences and Japanese restaurants. A fine example of kumiko is an Inomata design for Joetsu’s premier kaiseki restaurant “Ukiyo”.
For Inomata Art’s website, see https://k-ino.jp/