An interview with Kazuto Yoshikawa 2021

For Mr. Yoshikawa, who grew up near a forest as a child and witnessed the life and death of living things, wood is not just a material with mass, but something that has the delicate texture of life that only materials that were once alive can possess. Wood has the beautiful potential to decay,’ he says. His works are  impressive for their warm look at life and smooth curves created from his observation of nature, such as the lines of animal bodies and the shape of water drops.

About three years ago, in addition to the workshop in Tokyo, he set up a new studio called a day in the forest" in the mountains of Mie prefectureand with the backup of TOYOTA, he started activities to connect people and the forest. One is to develop and sell products made of wood from the forest in order to preserve it and make effective use of it, and to use the proceeds to purchase more wood from the local area. The other is to provide education using trees in local schools. The new workshop, which was built on the banks of a beautiful river flowing through the deep mountains, was originally a wood factory. The last time we visited, it was still a huge, empty space, but now, with large machines and a lot of lumber, it is becoming a little more like a workshop. In our last interview in December 2019, we asked him about how he became an artist and his thoughts on his works. This time, he talked about his new studio, "a day in the forest".


Why did you apply for the Toyota project and establish a base in Mie?


I've always wanted a place where I could make things in nature. I wanted to work in a place directly connected to the mountains, where I could see the origin of the materials I use. This place is a bit far from Tokyo, but it's a great environment. The Miya(shrine) River, which flows right next to my studio, has this name because it flows to Ise Shrine, and it has been ranked the best water quality river in Japan. I've always liked rivers, and  I knew as knowledge that mountains and rivers were connected, but when I was here, I could really feel it. I wanted to get out of the studio in Tokyo, where I had been confined to just making things.


What changes have you noticed since you started living in two locations?


There are many sensations that I cannot get when I am in the city. In the city, all you see are man-made things. The only thing that isn't man-made is the sky, the asphalt ground, the walls of the buildings, and everything you see is designed by someone else, and most of it is a secondary or tertiary product made by humans to suit humans. It's a natural function of a city, and good design is very inspiring. But near my studio in Mie, on the contrary, there are almost no man-made objects, and what you see are natural forms. When I am surrounded by such things, I feel like I am regaining a more fundamental sense of form and materiality that I had become numb in the city. I also become more sensitive to natural phenomena. The sound of the river, the coldness of the water, the scent of the forest in different seasons.


What do you want to do with the workshop in the future?


It's not a venture business in a rural area, what I want to start. I want to show people who live in a big city that there are many options other than joining an organization in the city. We live in an age where we can enjoy entertainment and everything with just one click. But these are things that someone else has arranged for us. I would like to propose to people that there are many ways to enjoy life that cannot be bought with money. For example, making tools for your own life at a workshop, walking in the forest and feeling the smell of the trees, playing in the river... I think you will realize how much fun it is and how much you can enjoy it. I would like this place to be a space for such relaxation, a playground that is open to both adults and children, a place where they can once again see the world in a fresh light. In today's life, our physicality is too expanded by various technologies and we are exposed to too much information, and I think we sometimes cannot keep up our minds. I believe that being in touch with nature and being able to enjoy returning to one's true simple self is the power to live. I hope to provide such opportunities in parallel with my activities as a woodworker.


Recently, you have made works that we can sit in the tree, and furniture too.


The large wooden piece ("My Tree") was first made for the library in Hyogo. I would like to continue making it little by little.  It's simply fun to be included in a tree. Both adults and children naturally smile in there. This is also made from the memory of playing in a tree hollow as a child. It is a kind of shelter where you can escape from the world for a while, and return to yourself with peace of mind. I used to make furniture mostly for stores, but after someone ordered a chest of drawers and a table, I started making furniture for houses in earnest. After graduating from university, I worked for a furniture manufacturer for about 12 years, and now I am focusing on not only the chests and tables but also other furniture. In Mie, I made a mirror frame with a long-established local picture frame maker, and I would like to make a sofa someday. In this way, I intend to create things which relate to our entire lives.

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