The Place of Discovery Rin Crossing

menu

Passions of Artisans We ask Rin crossing participant manufacturers about their wishes regarding manufacturing.

Home > Passions of Artisans #074 Kotodo Takahashi Corporation

  • Like

#074 Kotodo Takahashi Corporation TIN CANISTERS (Tokyo)2018/07/27

Traditional tea canisters designed for the Japanese way of life, born from precision craftsmanship and innovative design


Tea canisters made for Japan’s humid climate seal tightly to protect their precious contents

“Here, look inside,” she says. “No rust, right? I think this canister was made back in the late 1920s. Since tin is a metal, it will rust if it’s not stored right. But if it’s kept properly, it will stay rust-free like this forever. To the point that you can use it for some really interesting things.” Midori Asakura has been in charge of tin canister planning and sales at Kotodo Takahashi for years, and she describes the incredible features of these traditional Japanese products.


 

Tea canisters are made using traditional methods from the 1920s. Their exteriors are finished by experienced Maki-e craftsman who applied Maki-e to Urushi lacquer.

Kotodo Takahashi started making tin canisters around 1910. At the time, the Japanese were fascinated by the airtight seals on imported canned goods, and began making tea canisters out of tin with the same properties. Successful tin product factories started popping up all over the Sumida area of Tokyo, primarily making cans to store tea and toasted seaweed.
“It’s the airtight seal that makes tin canisters such a great product,” Asakura tells us. “They’re perfect for storing delicate products like tealeaves or toasted seaweed, which quickly degrade when exposed to humidity. They’re an innovation born of necessity in Japan due to our humid climate. Our clients who manufacture toasted seaweed tell us that they can put their products in our tin canisters and they’ll stay fresh for an entire year. That’s how tight the seals are.”
The tin canisters that the company produces today aren’t just for storing tea and seaweed, however—they’ve expanded to suit a wide range of modern applications. Customers use them to store dry goods like pasta, flour, or spices, and even give sets of them as gifts. Interestingly, the canisters have such great deodorizing and shock-absorbing qualities that they’re even used to preserve pharmaceuticals for export.
The canisters also come with a diverse array of exterior design variations as well, since a variety of different materials can be adhered to the base metal. Some are wrapped in dyed Japanese paper, while others are painted, wrapped in Sakura (Japanese Cherry) bark, or engraved. Any material that can be attached to a curved surface is fair game, making the creative possibilities nearly endless. The simpler silver tin canisters have tended to be popular with younger buyers recently. A few years ago, the company was an active participant in overseas exhibitions as well, particularly in Germany and the US. As the orders from abroad poured in, Japanese trading companies sought to negotiate with the company as well.


 

Asakura says that Japanese young people prefer simpler canisters, while German buyers are attracted to traditional Japanese designs.


Expert artisan hands achieve a level of precision that nears a perfect seal

Getting a tin canister to create an airtight seal means ensuring that the base, the inner lid, and the outer lid are balanced so that they fit together with near perfection. Quality is measured by whether the lid glides smoothly and naturally onto the base with the weight of a fixed amount of pressure, and doesn’t come off if the canister is turned upside-down. The skills required to create this level of precision require the hands of a talented and experienced craftsperson.

■Click here to see the natural closure of the lid


 

The inner and outer lids should seal naturally under their own weight. This airtight construction is what protects the contents of the canister.

Asakura explains that the company has automated a portion of its manufacturing process, which allows it to produce canisters with a level of safety that would be impossible with manual work alone. The cut edges on the base and lids remained rough back when the canisters were made by hand, but now they’re curved inward to prevent people from injuring themselves on the sharp edges. This also creates a flush border between the base and the outer lid that allows Kotodo Takahashi to create unique, stunning designs where the patterns on Japanese paper fit together seamlessly. And while some of the process has been mechanized, she assures us that the majority of the work is still carefully done by hand.
All mass-produced canisters made using fully automated production have to use a process that curls the edge of the canister to the outside, resulting in a height difference where the base and outer lid meet. The fact that Kotodo Takahashi canisters are made to be completely flush serves as proof that they’re still made by hand.

 

Tin plates are cut to match the shape of each canister, and then formed using an electric welding process. The base is pushed out using a press, with a level difference of a few tenths of a millimeter created on the portion where the outer lid will attach.

A press is used to crimp the handle on the inner lid. It’s an analog machine where pressure is applied using a foot pedal called a “kick”.

 

The canister joining process, where bases are matched to inner and outer lids

 

Paint is also applied manually by experienced artisans. On the right is the vapor furnace that the company has been using for decades.

Japanese paper is also applied by hand. Any material that can be applied to a curved surface can be used, making for endless decorative possibilities

Tiny dimples are pressed into the outer lid so that the pattern instantly aligns perfectly with the base.

Canisters prepared for export are imposed with a “C” design (for “canister”), the symbol of the Kotodo brand.


Active participation in trade shows gives rise to new products with all the charm of traditional tin canisters

“Nearly 100% of our buyers are wholesalers,” Asakura tells us. “So we’ve actively participated in gift shows, product expos, and other trade shows already. With the spread of mass-produced PET bottles and other plastic containers, the industry is full of competition. There was a time when sales fell so low that we considered getting out of the canister-making business altogether. But about fifteen years ago we went to a cross-industry exchange event in Katsushika, where members of other industries saw the potential in our handmade tin canisters. Since then, we’ve been going to as many different events as we can to get the word out about the charm of traditional tea canister styles.” After giving us this history, she says that the company started branching out overseas a few years ago as a way to break free of the countless crises that the company has endured over the years.

 

The new Iwaikan canisters from NIPPON QUALITY (2017) and the Yoshikan canisters which come with fortune-telling. Kotodo canisters have gone beyond their original function as simple storage containers and now make lovely gift sets.

Asakura told us that there was another reason that they were so eager to participate in the trade shows. Tin canisters can of course come in a variety of shapes, but their exteriors can also be made into all kinds of styles and applications with different materials and processing techniques. In short, they provide a blank canvas for endless design potential. Because the trade shows bring in a diverse lineup of commercial materials makers as well, they were a chance for her company to discover possibilities that they hadn’t yet thought of.
“The new products we released this year with the sheets of Akoya pearl had actually been in the making for three years in partnership with a manufacturer that our president met at a trade show,” Asakura says. “We registered with Rin crossing this year. We can’t wait to display the red Rin crossing symbol when we participate in the Fall 2018 NIPPON QUALITY Gift Show so that even more people can discover the amazing features of our tin canisters.”

A new product scheduled for release at the Fall 2018 NIPPON QUALITY Gift Show. These canisters are coated with sheets of natural Akoya pearl.

Kotodo Takahashi has just begun its activities as a member of Rin crossing, but Asakura says that the hardheaded, down-to-earth advice they’ve gotten from their advisors with extensive buying experience has been of tremendous value to her team. The company has high hopes for future developments—which of course will include new products as well as an impassioned foray into new sales channels and markets.

#074 Kotodo Takahashi Corporation [Tokyo]

To Top