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February 4, 2015
This week marks the 79th annual Tokyo International Gift Show, taking place at Tokyo Big Sight, the 1996 convention center located in the city’s Ariake district next to Tokyo Bay. We’ll be sharing highlights over the course of the fair’s three days.
Tokyo gift fair 2015

This show highlights wares from 2,400 companies hailing from 19 countries and regions, focusing on apparel, food, and home merchandise. Over 200,000 attendees, comprised of buyers from all over the world, will filter through Tokyo Big Sight over the course of three days. 

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Porcelain utensils holders at the Tokyo Gift Fair

Tokyo, which is preparing for the 2020 Summer Olympics in earnest, is making a big play for increased international attention to the theme of Japanese hospitality. Much of the show floor held exhibitors displaying products that bridge traditional Japanese craft, technique, and product methodology with emerging technologies geared toward a more global consumer. Here we see a handcrafted porcelain rest for both Eastern and Western utensils designed by 224 Porcelain, presented by Go X Hachi Products

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Matsunoya booth with hand-crafted goods at the Tokyo gift fair

The Matsunoya booth was a pleasing jumble of hand-crafted goods, sourced from all over Japan. In the U.S., Matsunoya is known mainly for its sturdy canvas bags available at Dover Street Market in New York and Tortoise in Los Angeles, but the wealth of items on display at the show underscored the company’s dedication to carrying “tools for everyday use” made from natural materials in small batches. 

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Hiroshi Matsuno sewing a bag at the Tokyo gift fair

How often would you expect to see a president of a company sewing one of his bestsellers? Take it from us, it’s unprecedented. Here we see Hiroshi Matsuno crafting one of those sturdy bags we talked about. Hiroshi, who took over his grandfather’s 70-year-old bag-making business 30 years ago, spends much of his time traveling around Tokyo, sourcing new handmade goods. 

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Hasami porcelain cups at the Tokyo gift fair

Porcelain is, of course, a material pillar in the history of Japanese design. Today’s modern maker is not only exploring new forms, but new user behaviors that exist outside its home market. Take for example the porcelain Vidro Cup pieces produced by Hasami. Its faceted shape and soft pastel palette clearly place the line for today’s modern buyer, but the process for sourcing and production is the same one that has been used for hundreds of years. Hasami is known for high-profile collaborations, including a recent line with U.S.-based House Industries. By expanding upon traditional uses for porcelain pieces, such as their Soba Choco line, small cups intended to hold dipping sauce for Soba noodles but now offered as receptacles for anything, Hasami is maintaining its cultural relevancy and respect for tradition while expanding its global audience and reach. 

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% Arabica espresso machine at the Tokyo Gift Fair

Another huge shift in behavior in Japan is the embrace of coffee culture. Spurred by the meteoric global rise of Starbucks over the last two decades, Japan’s younger generation is steadily moving away from tea. One leader in this moment is Kenneth Shoji, CEO of Asiamix Limited and owner of % Arabica. Here we see award-winning head barista Junichi Yamaguchi working the Slayer espresso machine, a handmade instrument that is as beautiful as it is expensive (read: VERY). Shoji operates one flagship shop for his % Arabica brand, which is located in Kyoto, and he has set up residence on the show floor during the entirety of the Tokyo Gift Show. The booth, as well as the brand's Kyoto location, was created by architect and designer Masaki Kato. 

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Coffee van at the Tokyo Gift Fair

In another portion of the show floor, a more humble operation dedicated to the splendor of coffee takes place out of the back of a van.

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Wood cutting board by Cement Product Design at the Tokyo Design Fair

Cement Product Design presented a wealth of winsome products, including the Face Two Face series of plates, a two-sided cutting board/plate system that is laser-etched in Atami, a city located on one end of the Shizuoka Prefecture that is known for its regional proficiency in wood joinery techniques. 

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Macramé hanging planters at the Tokyo Gift Fair

It’s no secret that macramé has come back with a vengeance in the United States, and it seems that Japan is happy to return to the 1970s as well, as glimpsed in the DeMode Furniture booth.

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Felt pieces by Kuminuno at the Tokyo Gift Fair

We end with Kuminuno from f-pzl , which we consider to be the soft Japanese cousin to David Weeks Studio’s CubeBot. Kuminuno is a set of 60 recycled felt pieces that can be folded together to create any number of creations: scarf, tissue box, robot.

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Tokyo gift fair 2015

This show highlights wares from 2,400 companies hailing from 19 countries and regions, focusing on apparel, food, and home merchandise. Over 200,000 attendees, comprised of buyers from all over the world, will filter through Tokyo Big Sight over the course of three days. 

More to come as we continue to explore the Tokyo Gift Show—stay tuned! In the meantime, be sure to keep an eye on our Instagram feed for snapshots of Tokyo’s art, architecture and design scene. 

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