Grovemade Gets Inspired In Japan

Last month, our co-founders, Joe and Ken, and our programmer, Yuji, traveled to Japan with a small group of Portland crafters to take part in POP UP PDX. The event included two pop-up shops of small Portland companies, one in Tokyo and one in Kyoto, which showcased the work of Grovemade and other similar companies, like our friends and neighbors at QuarterTwenty and Woodblock Chocolate.

Portland, as a brand, is really trending these days in Japan, and the goal of POP UP PDX was to expose nine Portland companies to the Japanese market. The best part of the trip was cementing friendships with our fellow Portland craftspeople as well as creating new friendships with the incredibly talented Japanese craftspeople Ken, Joe, and Yuji met, which were all 2nd to 5th generation in their trades. Read about some of the Japanese craftspeople they met below:


Yuki Yokoyama, from Kyoto, a master bamboo craftsman


Yokoyama San’s company [] resides in an old residential area of Kyoto, supplying various bamboo materials and also doing custom bamboo craftwork. His warehouse is packed with hundreds of different species of bamboo, from $10,000/stick rarities to squiggly bamboo and bamboo grown into a square shape. Ken, Joe, and Yuji were amazed at the large selection at this bamboo wonderland!

Woven bamboo


Squiggly bamboo



Kenji Takenaka, from Kyoto, 2nd generation master print maker


One of Takenaka San's apprentices working, photo credit: Walnut Studio (

Kenji Takenaka operates a print shop [] in Kyoto in the second story of an old house. The print shop ceiling is only 5 feet tall, so the apprentices have to squat down while they work. It’s quite a tightly packed space, like many of the Japanese workshops visited. The low ceiling was made from ropes loaded with prints hung to dry. Kenji’s print shop does original contemporary work as well as reprints of traditional Japanese works. They also refurbish ancient printing blocks.


Printing blocks, photo credit: Walnut Studio (



Tomita-san, from Kyoto, 2nd generation master wood carver



Tomita-san’s wood carving studio creates and repairs intricate wood sculptures, mostly for Buddhist temples and memorials. He was a typical Japanese businessman for a while, before returning home to continue the family’s traditional business of carving. His father carved the memorial statues for the previous Japanese Emperor, Emperor Shōwa. And, Tomita-san himself carved the statues for the current Emperor’s memorial, Emperor "Kinjō"s. Tomita-san showed us some of his incredible techniques, including gold leafing by hand (which leads to prices upwards of $50,000 for a sculpture like the one pictured here). Our Grovemade "ambassadors" were very impressed by this traditional craft!


Some of Tomita-san’s carving tools



Wataru Hara, from Nagano, master furniture designer and architect



Master furniture designer Wataru Hara [] was trained in architecture, but also designs and makes unique furniture pieces -- often for use inside the homes he designs. He’s designed several restaurants and cafes, which were visited on the trip. Ken, Joe, and Yuji were also able to stay at his beautiful guest home in the mountains, which was loaded with gorgeous custom furniture.


A view from Hara San's studio


Typically, Hara San will design the home, have it built by a team of builders, and then commence creating the perfect custom furniture pieces to be used inside the home. Ken, Joe, and Yuji were most impressed by his incredible patience. Hara San will only use a slab of wood after it’s had ten years to dry in his workshop.


Yuji and Hara San near a table and chairs he designed and made



Mitsu Nakajima, from Kyoto, 2nd generation photographer



Another new friend from Japan is Mitsu Nakajima, who specializes in traditional photography, such as photos of temples and old architecture. Nakajima San also does contemporary and commercial photography. He shoots on medium and large format film, and recently had a book [] published of photos of temples and other important places in Kyoto.



An image from Nakajima San's photography book on Kyoto



All in all, it was an amazing trip for Ken, Joe, and Yuji. They solidified lasting friendships with local craftspeople and formed new ones with the amazing Japanese craftspeople mentioned here, and others! Check out one last picture of Ken, Joe, and Yuji standing with a deer in Nara, a city known for the friendly and sacred deer that wander freely through the town.



Written by Mary Yajko. She is a copywriter and member of Team Grove originally from upstate New York. She enjoys opened minds, uncontrollable fits of laughter, and large amounts of french fries with ketchup.


Nakajima San