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2020… The Year of the Rat

This is the first in a series of guest blogs from our lovely tenants; Ryoko from wagumi gives her take on 2020, her hopes for 2021 and tells us some interesting Japanese history.

Among hopefully many happy events, 2021 will include the tenth anniversary of wagumi in the Oxo Tower.  If we can get there having navigated the obstacles of 2020, then I think it will feel sweeter still.

When wagumi began it was essentially as a showroom for the crafts of Japan’s regions.  In the years that followed we have tweaked and improved what we do, but retain the original idea of finding ways to support sustainable development in Japan.

In some ways this itself was a concept born from a time of crisis.  Around thirty years ago now, the bubble economy of Japan burst, meaning that the labour market closed, especially for young people, and many questioned the materialism we had lived with before.  This was a background to a new movement to craft in Japan, and a vision of the regions that would map a sustainable future with local businesses rather that ever more concreting of nature, and population drain to the big cities.

The decorative arts as a means of social progress in Japan, in fact have a rich history, which is periodically rediscovered.  We found craft again in 1990s and 2000s, and I sometimes reflected if the same thing would happen in the UK when for example I experienced the 2008 crash while running my own small fashion business.  I also reflected if it could again be a positive source of progress in Japan when I helped on a social enterprise project in the affected regions after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  There was a hope of something different, and I carried this when I joined wagumi in 2014.

There are high ambitions behind our work and the idea of doing something positive – although I have to admit 2020 has been a year dominated by more prosaic concerns, and the challenge of staying afloat.

While not generally superstitious, I have never been fond of the zodiac Year of the Rat.  Corresponding with of our local network of makers in Japan, some had themed offerings related to what would be the rat year of 2020, and I had difficulty finding their charm. (Other recent rats include 2008, and the height of the Japanese banking crisis, in 1996).  In the end the Year of the Rat was as unsatisfactory as we could have imagined.  But with resilience, we are still here.  And I am much more positive about 2021’s Year of the Ox.

This December we will have two somewhat delayed collections. One is from the county of Ehime, which faces the inland sea in Japan, as is known its local tradition in porcelain, in paper, and interestingly, for great towels.

The other is part of our long term partnership with Kasama.  This is the closest ceramic region to Tokyo, and is full of people who set out to reinvigorate the creative tradition there following the 1990s economic crash.  There are constant ceramic discoveries, some of which we will have on display, and available in time for Christmas.

I also this year decided to take up on some of the Year of the Ox related items, and have determined bull representations from Shin Kogei, a traditional maker in the county of Gifu.  I am eager to approach the new year in this spirit.

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