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Mottainai, the Japanese culture of frugality

Mottainai and sustainabaility

Mottainai, the Japanese care of Nature

"Mottainai" is a Japanese word which translates as something like "What a waste" or "Don't be wasteful", but in the context of making objects it embodies a sense of frugality and respect for the materials which nature gives to us.

Clay refining sieve in Japan

Most of the work in refining clay is semi-automated, but they still use handheld sieves to refine some of the very fine clays.

For example, Maeda san at the Kuninari kiln uses the refined by-product of clay dug for the roof tile industry. The clay is refined so that the lighter clay is ready for the tile industry - in earthquake-prone Japan, reducing the weight of your roof can be quite valuable! Maeda san takes some of the remaining heavier and rougher clay for his work. His works often have a white/grey glaze which is made from the rice husk and straw left over after the rice husk from those same paddy fields. Without the tile industry and the rice-growing culture, the Kuninari kiln wouldn't exist.

The lacquer industry is also extremely frugal - they try and use every piece of wood in the workshop, even offcuts. One of the problems is that forestry suffers from a shortage of workers. This has put upward pressure on the price of wood, but also a lack of diversity because the forestry industry favours homogenous plantations of younger straight trees. This puts unusual grain patterns, larger pieces of wood and rarer species at a premium. As a result, Suya san struggles to find spalted oak and the pieces he does get are treated with considerable respect by his wood-turner Satake san.

The Asada wokshop work hard on using all their offcuts. Small pieces are used in marquetry, bark is used for presentation trays and they are always working out which wood works best for which purpose.

Even so, obviously, all our pieces are made with natural resources and then shipped to Europe. On the other hand, they are made by craftsmen who are part of an ancient tradition, who care deeply about their materials and who often display a similar restraint in their personal lives.