Previous: Sustainability

Revitalizing local communities

In the course of our work, we met several remarkable individuals we are now proud to call friends of Japan Curator.


Noriyasu Kikuchi is the 15th generation master of his family's cast iron foundry, a position he has held since the age of 23. With a storied family history reaching back to the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1574 - 1600), Noriyasu's ancestors were all well-respected artisans renowned for their iron-casting techniques, making everything from candle-holders for important shrines, weapons for feudal warlords to objects of everyday use for the Japanese Imperial Family. While the focus these days is on contemporary products relevant to modern times, Noriyasu continues to preserve the samurai roots, Zen essence and traditional craftsmanship that makes the Kikuchi brand unique.


There are many people out there who enjoy green tea, but it’s rare to meet someone who actually turned his passion into an award-winning career. Now one of the world’s foremost tea sommelier (or in the words of Kyoto locals, a “cha-melier”), Noriyasu Uejima also has a unique ability to discern the subtle differences in taste of green tea produced in different parts of Japan and cultivated in different ways. This natural talent led him to Japan’s oldest tea tasting contest Tochakai - and he became the only person to win this prestigious competition with the perfect marks.


Wasabi is often regarded as the most difficult plant in the world to grow – not only does it require nutrient-rich, running spring water (so rare are such locations that wasabi plantations used to be given to retired shoguns as gifts), it is also highly susceptible to damage by pests and diseases. Despite this, the remarkable Shigeo Iida has raised the bar by cultivating the highly sought after Mazuma-varietal wasabi without the use of fertilizers and pesticides. The sudden loss of his son and successor in 2018 only makes Shigeo all the more determined to preserve his family’s special cultivation method that has been handed down over 8 generations.


Not many people can make Noh look profound and enticing at the same time, but with just a few meticulously placed steps and slowly expanding gestures with a humble fan, Michishige Udaka manages to do that and more. Michishige was designated a “National Intangible Cultural Asset” in recognition of his accomplishments as a professional Noh actor and Noh mask carver but it is his dedication to preserving this ancient theatrical form for future generations that we admire most.


To Kitamura, crafting incense is like conducting an orchestra – the goal is to blend various distinct elements (in his case, different fragrances) into a perfect harmony that nourishes the mind and soul. With a title such as “Living National Treasure”, Kinzaburo’s fame precedes him, but it is his ability to convey the deeper meaning of this dying art that makes him truly one of a kind.


A highly regarded master craftsman who is equally adept at making knifes and shears, Hirakawa is the 5th generation master of Sasuke Blacksmith, a traditional forge with roots tracing back to the 16th century when Hirakawa’s ancestors were forging matchlock arquebuses for samurais during the Age of Warring States. Watching Hirakawa at work was an eye-opening and inspirational experience for us. We think you will agree.


Granted, it’s not often you spend a few hundred dollars on a melon, but if you ever had to do so, there is a good chance that your flawlessly spherical and evenly webbed fruit is cultivated in one of Yamashita’s greenhouses. In his quest to produce the perfect musk melon, Yamashita has been experimenting with different cultivation techniques since the age of 20. His dedication humbles us, and we are certainly not the only ones.