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Home > Passions of Artisans #031 Momentum Factory Orii Co., Ltd.

#031 Momentum Factory Orii Co., Ltd.2015/01/07

Unique Coloring Method Developed by Evolving the Traditional Technique
Alive in the Current Lifestyle (Takaoka Copperware)

Orii Marble, the Center of Attention at the International Trade Fair

Some products attracted great interest at the 2011 International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), an event that exhibits the latest works of designers and artists from around the world and that is held annually in New York. The products that were the focus of attention were colorful tiles with complicated patterns on the surface. The colors on the surface of the tiles include a unique kind of brown, as if smoked, featuring a calmness and antiquity; an emerald blue looking like the southern sea; and an austerely elegant kind of gray. The buyers were in awe and surprised to know these colors were created by chemical reactions of copper plates. Awestruck, they commented “I cannot believe that no paints were used to create these colors” and “I’ve never seen any copper plates like these.”

The walling materials created by Orii have found more and more fans, and have been used on the walls of the observation floor of Roppongi Hills and the walls of Hyatt Hotels around the world. Orii’s works are drawing a lot of attention inside and outside of Japan.

These copper plates with an unprecedentedly excellent coloring are the creation of Koji Orii, a traditional craftsman and CEO of Momentum Factory Orii Co., Ltd. Copper plates characterized by a unique texture called Orii Marble are now the center of attention around the world as materials for craft, interior decoration and building applications.

Dedicated to “Coloring” of Traditional Takaoka Copperware

Momentum Factory Orii is located in the city of Takaoka in Toyama Prefecture, which is famous for its copperware products that have a long history of some 400 years. The tradition is believed to have started back in the Edo period when Maeda Toshinaga, the Lord of the Kaga Domain, invited casters to invigorate local industry. Even today, the city is a globally known producer of copperware as it has a market share of about 90% in the field of vases, tea ceremony utensils, figurines, Buddhist altar articles, and copper statues.

Takaoka Copperware is made through four major processes: mold making, in which a mold is created; casting, a step in which the material is poured; finishing, where patterns are given to an item by carving, etc.; and coloring, where the finished work is colored. Each of these processes is conducted by the respective veteran craftsmen, and their combined efforts create a single piece of work.

Orii Chakushokujyo, the predecessor of Momentum Factory Orii, had been in charge of the coloring process since its foundation in 1950. Highly valued for its unique coloring and skills, the company provided its service at various places, including for decorations in the Imperial Palace and the coloring of the 41-meter-long Reclining Buddha image of Nanzo-in Temple, Fukuoka.

The copper coloring shop was the playground for Koji, born as an heir to the coppersmith family business. As he never doubted his future as the third successor of his family business since he was knee-high, he observed the job of his father and grandfather and absorbed their skills and knowledge. Despite his determination in his childhood days, the choice he made as a grown-up was to go to Tokyo and work for an IT company because he became uneasy about the future of traditional craft amid a drastic change in the times.

He enjoyed his job in Tokyo, commenting on his life in those days, “There was vitality about the future of that business, and I really had a good time.” He liked interior decorations and walked around such shops in Aoyama and Meguro on holidays. He fully enjoyed an urban life.

However, in 1996 Koji made a decision that would change the course of his life at the age of 26 and returned to Takaoka. What made him change his mind was what his uncle, who was also working in Tokyo, said to him.

“We had provided our service for artists who regularly submit their works to the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition or for objects created by designers and had plenty of experience in expressing the sentiments, feelings and emotions of artists and designers in colors. The word ‘momentum’ means the impetus or force that makes a thing move on. We are determined to continue taking on new challenges with unprecedented ideas that go beyond traditions,” Orii said.

“I told my uncle that I wanted to make it in the world like him, but what I got from him was a scolding. ‘You idiot! You are the successor of Orii Chakushokujyo, and if you don’t take it over, the craftsmen’s skills are going to disappear forever!’ At that moment, I strongly felt that I must not let this traditional art vanish. Come to think of it, I had liked DIY and making things since I was a child. I thought why not live my life as an artisan,” Orii said.

Unique Coloring Technique Developed Out of the Traditional Box

Unfortunately, the economy deteriorated just after he returned home. The number of orders for vases and figurines, which had sold well, drastically dropped, and the company plunged into a serious deficit. He drank and drank almost a whole year after he returned as he thought he might have made the wrong choice. While he saw no bright future in his business, he also doubted the way the coloring work had been practiced.

 

For instance, Ohaguro is a traditional coloring technique that applies a solution, created by immersing iron scraps in Japanese sake or vinegar, to the metal surface and baking the metal. A variety of colors, ranging from red to brown and black, can be created by subtly adjusting the process in terms of the number of applications or the concentration of the solution. A highly refined skill is thus required.

“This coloring business totally depends on orders from wholesalers of Takaoka Copperware products because it is the finishing process of the product. I wanted to be the main creator of products. I wanted to make myself known by offering highly original products. To do that, I realized I had to learn related skills, including casting and polishing, used in other processes of copperware making. So I took courses at a training school in Takaoka to learn those skills.”

At the same time, he whole-heartedly focused on developing a new technique that makes it possible to color a thin copper plate.

In traditional copper coloring, they use a variety of techniques that really astonish those who see them, such as boiling a metal together with grated white radish or heating a metal covered with salted rice-bran paste until it reddens. They use chemical reactions and express a variety of colors as a result of corrosion or rusting.

In order to create beautiful colors, metals have to be heated to high temperatures. Because of this heating process, it had been difficult to apply colors to copper plates less than 1 mm in thickness as they bend in such heat. “I wondered if I could develop a new technique of coloring using lower temperatures.” Orii believed he could develop new products using original ideas if he could create a new and unprecedented coloring technique applicable to thinner copper plates.

“I bent over backward day in and day out doing various experiments to create the new technique. I tried various combinations that were sheer heresy in the eyes of traditional skilled craftsmen. I was still a green artisan, and perhaps that allowed me to think outside the box.”

After two years of trial and error, he finally succeeded in creating Orii’s original “peacock green” on a copper plate. It was a beautiful artistic marble pattern made of red and blue simultaneously created on a single plate.

“The color was a mere accident, but the moment I saw it, I realized ‘This is it!’ This is the only color we can make. With this success, I can make anything confidently. It took me another year to create the same coloring stably, though.”

 

time and space — a square wall-hung clock A wall-hung clock with its copper face colored in a mottled pattern It is Orii’s original HANMON color series featuring the unique colors created by thermal treatment of copper and chemicals, one of the traditional coloring skills of Takaoka Copperware.

 

One of Orii’s craft series “tone”, whose charm enhances with time,is the first of its kind created jointly with an external designer. Making the most of various attractive colors, including blue, green, silver, black and brown, Orii provides a variety of copperware products, including simple lampshades and dishes that help make your lifestyle richer.

The HANMON color series, created by Orii’s new coloring technique, feature tens of color variations to please the customers. Also easy to fabricate, the original technique opened up a new horizon in new fields, including craft, interior decoration, and wall materials in the construction field.

Product Development by Full Use of Public Support

Koji Orii had an opportunity to display his works in ICFF, New York, when he participated in the Takaoka ippin Select, an event held at a select shop called Rin, operated by the Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation, in 2011. The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) saw his works and decided to provide support to Momentum Factory Orii.

The copper and brass coloring technique he created was chosen as a project to be supported by the Toyama Prefectural Fund for Local Resources Project in 2010 and recognized by the national government as a Local Industrial Resources Utilization Project in 2011.

“We have made capital investments to be able to create our original products by utilizing public support and subsidies. We have also received various pieces of advice and participated in large-scale exhibitions, including the Tokyo International Gift Show, the international trade fair Interior Lifestyle, and an event called ‘rooms.’ I expect Rin crossing to hold exhibitions inside and outside of Japan in a way that helps participating companies exhibit their unique characteristics.”

Momentum Factory Orii Co., Ltd.

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