The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Would you like an Obama bun?

As I was writing about chopstick innovation and learnt how a design company, Nendo, attempted to innovate the chopstick while keeping with the traditions of lacquerware-making from the Wakasa province, a historic province that is today part of the Fukui prefecture, and I learnt a lot about the lacquerware type unique to Wakasa called Wakasa-nuri 若狭塗り.

The Wakasa province is renowned for its exquisite lacquerware, including its signature chopsticks, and the ancient capital of the Wakasa province is a town called Obama 小浜市.

Yes this lacquerware hub of ancient Japan shares its name with the current U.S. President Obama.

“Obama,” which means “little beach” in Japanese, has many of the temples during the Yamato dynasty. Needless to say, when President was first senator and ran for presidency, the city gained worldwide attention.

From Wikipedia:

The city of Obama has received much publicity because it shares its name with U.S. President Barack Obama. It began when Obama as a Senator gave a 2006 interview to Japanese television network TBS where he noted that, when passing through customs in Narita Airport, the official who inspected his visa said that he was from Obama. The Obama City Hall heard about the interview and the mayor, Toshio Murakami, sent Senator Obama a set of the city’s famous lacquer chopsticks, a DVD about the city and a letter wishing him the best. As Senator Obama’s presidential campaign progressed, more local businesses began to organize primary parties and put up “Go Obama!” posters, sell “I love Obama” T-shirts, and produce manjū (a type of Japanese confectionery) with Senator Obama’s face on them. A hula group began in the town in honour of Senator Obama’s home state of Hawaii. The troupe visited Honolulu in June to perform at the Pan Pacific Festival.

President Obama has since thanked the town for their gifts and support, saying “I look forward to a future marked by the continued friendship of our two great nations and a shared commitment to a better, freer world”.

Check out these Obama buns

Of interesting note, the card says: Obama Manjuu, Oba-man, using the typical Japanese practice of making portmanteaus

Also, unsurprisingly, Obama, Fukui’s Wikipedia page has been vandalised. Under “Demographics,” someone wrote, “The population of Obama consists of Japanese aboriginal groups mixed with Indonesians, mulatos, Texans and Koreans.

van

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Chopsticks innovation

Chopsticks are such simple tools that rethinking, redesigning, and improving them seems like an impossible task. But, if something as simple as the umbrella can be redesigned, so too can a pair of chopsticks.

Oki Sato from Japanese design company Nendo was asked to redesign the chopstick, and looking at the kind of problems that people run into when using chopsticks (square chopsticks are too pointy, round chopsticks too slippery, chopsticks are messy to store, etc.) Take a look below at the concepts he came up with for re-imagining chopsticks and how they can be made better.

hanataba 花束 (bouquet)

“Round chopsticks are slippery to use, but overly square-cornered ones aren’t as comfortable to hold. We explored ways of increasing the surface area of chopsticks in the hand, as a way of improving holding comfort, and discovered the natural form of the pleated cross-section. When viewed as a cross-section, the chopsticks look like flowers, so a bunch of chopsticks kept together into a cup turns into a ‘bouquet’.”

jikaoki 直置き (direct placement)

“We designed new chopsticks in collaboration with Hashikura Matsukan, a manufacturer who continue Obama’s traditional manufacturing techniques today. The firm’s expert artisans carefully carved away the chopsticks’ tips to fine points, so that they float above the tabletop when the chopsticks are laid down for cleanliness, even without chopstick rests.”

sukima 隙間 (gap)

“The world is full of patterned chopsticks, so we wondered if it wouldn’t be possible to create pattern in the space between the chopsticks. We came up with four patterns: hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades. The two chopsticks are carved into different shapes for all patterns but the diamonds, but it’s possible to use one of the diamond chopsticks as the top chopstick with a spade, or the bottom chopstick with a heart, for a total of four different patterns from the four different chopstick pairs. The carving made the chopsticks so thin that they weren’t strong enough with wood alone, so we embedded a carved aluminium core in the wood to solve the problem.”

kamiai 噛合い (engagement)

“We designed new chopsticks in collaboration with Hashikura Matsukan, a manufacturer who continue Obama’s traditional manufacturing techniques today.We put a gap on one of the four sides of the square shaped chopstick, and embedded a magnet, so that the two would snap together in one piece when they are flipped and fitted to each other.
We placed the magnets towards the outside of each chopstick, so that the chopsticks don’t come together accidentally while someone is using them to eat.”

udukuri 浮造り

“We used the udukuri process, in which the wood surface is carved away with a metal brush, leaving only the hard wood grain, then lacquered the chopsticks and polished them again to bring out the wood grain as pattern. The traditional technique, in which materials clamshells, eggshells and gold leaf are applied with the lacquer then polished away to reveal a pattern is known as ‘togidashi’ (literally ‘to polish and show’), and is particular to Wakasa-nuri. Unlike patterns drawn by hand, this combination of processes allows patterns from nature to appear organically.”

rasen 螺旋 (helix)

“We designed new chopsticks in collaboration with Hashikura Matsukan, a manufacturer who continue Obama’s traditional manufacturing techniques today. Chopsticks ordinarily come in pairs, but the rassen chopsticks are a single unit. They’re separated into two for eating, then rejoined into one form when not in use. We used the artisans’ hand skills and a multi-axis CNC miller to create these unusual chopsticks.”

All photos by Akihiro Yoshida