Japanese woodworking a remarkable chairmaker

Meet Takahiro Yoshino a remarkable chairmaker we met in Japan. What made him remarkable was that he is the first chirmaker  I have met (and I know a lot) who makes truly bespoke chairs that are tailored (I can’t think of a better word) to fit the user.

Now some may argue with this point. I know a lot of chairmakers that will make their standard design a few mm shorter, taller, deeper or shallower to fit a client but none that study posture, the human skeleton, and how it relates to a chair in as detailed a manner as Takahiro Yoshino.

He told us that in Japan they have for centuries studied the art or Zen of sitting. Correct posture when sitting cross legged on the floor. Chairs are new in Japan, they were introduced as a Western novelty in the early 20th C and it has only become the norm to sit in a chair in the last 40 years. This on the one hand means they have no history of chairmaking themselves to draw on but also allows them to look in a completely fresh objective way at seating. It was refreshing. The workshop was a pleasing mix of good solid production machinery and hand tools which are used particularly in the latter stages for the finished surface.

 Hand planing, Note the raking light to show imperfections. This is one of Takahiro Yoshino’s apprentices who had been there 5 years I think.

 Working the surface of a seat with gorgeous little curved planes.

 The finishing room where irushi laquer is applied, temperature and humidity control is important for the laquer to cure. Many layers are applied to build up a very beautiful surface finish.

 Some surfaces are hand planed and others finished with the chouna or adze, there was no sanding of further finishing and the textures from the tools were delightfully lively.

 These small kneeling chairs were supremely comfortable giving just the right lumbar support and encouraging excelent posture.

 In the home/showroom I also noticed  a pretty fan bird, different to the European ones and very fine.

 Much of Takahiro Yoshino’s work feels related to Nakashima’s. perhaps because that is the only Japanese style work I am well familiar with. They have a love of large wide boards from ancient trees and turn them into low tables as the centre piece of a room where everyone sits on the tatami mat floor.
This is the store of dry timber where clients can select their boards.

This is where it gets interesting for chairmakers. This chair is the fitting device. Clints take 3-4 hours for a fitting. Takahiro Yoshino first assesses the clients posture, takes some measurements and then adjusts this chair in numerous ways to get it close to where it should be. The client sits and reads, uses the computer, watches TV or whatever they do when sitting maybe for 2 hours. After this time a second assessment and adjustment is made and some more sitting and so on until it is as good as it can be. Then the measurements are all taken and turned into the final chair.

 Cormac getting lessons in the zen of sitting.

 A closer inspection of the dummy chair.

 Cormac being fitted.

There was very interesting discusion about how we all know the posture we should use and it is possible to design a chair for that perfect upright posture but inevitably many of us slouch after a time or have imperfect posture. Takahiro Yoshino feels it is possible to help the client achieve better posture through a very well designed chair. When we consider how many hours of our lives we spend sitting in chairs it is remarkable how little thought goes into them.

After the workshop visit we visited a restaurant where Takahiro Yoshino had produced all the furniture, over 300 chairs and gorgeous adzed tables. It was also a remarkable building which maintains a pleasant atmosphere without any air con or heating. On a good day there is a good view of Mt Fujibut we had dramatic clouds instead.

I have Takahiro Yoshino’s business card with his web address but not to hand so will add that to this blog post later.

6 Responses to Japanese woodworking a remarkable chairmaker

  1. Sean Hellman December 29, 2010 at 11:43 pm #

    Great post Robin, and a small tempting photo of a fan bird. Have you got any more photos, and info on it? I have seen a similar style to this in Finish fan bird makers, such as Joel Nokelainen and Viktor Hukka

  2. JRC December 30, 2010 at 3:03 am #

    That is indeed a great post. It never ocurred to me to make a bespoke chair, and that is just the right word. Made to measure. British tailors are world-famed for bespoke suits and shirts, and rightly so. Long ago there was an outfit in NY city that would make shirts to measure. They were no more expensive than a good-quality mass production shirt. How they did it I do not know. I patronized them, and wore every one of those shirts to rags. I moved away from NYC so I don't know if they still live. A bespoke chair — what a great idea! We all follow someone else's concept of what the dimensions of a chair should measure. Then we slavishly follow those dimensions. Pish! and also bosh. I am already turning over designs for an adjustable chair (the Fitting Chair, sort of like Harry Potter's Sorting Hat) in my head.

  3. Tico Vogt January 1, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    If I made chairs, that is exactly how i would want to go about it. I believe Sam Maloof , to some extent, customized his chairs.Great post. Robin, if i ever get to japan, your information will outline where I plan to visit.

  4. Robin Wood January 1, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    Sean I took that photo especially for you, only have one other photo, I'll email it.JRC, Tico, Takahiro Yoshino asks the question "why should someone buy a chair from me? It is possible to buy a strong well designed chair for a fraction of the price, what benefit can an individual maker offer?" Obviously there is the knowledge and connection to an individual maker who's lifestyle and ethos we may buy into. But more tangible is if we can make something that fits the individual better than anything available off the shelf.

  5. yuqi January 2, 2011 at 8:24 am #

    hi robin,thanks for posting about this chairmaker!! it's amazing what he does and i'm really interested in finding out more about him and his work. could you please give me his website address and how to contact him? i did a one year course in cabinet-making and furniture restoration in scotland last year, and am particularly interested in chairs … btw, when you were there, was he looking for more apprentices?:-)thanks so much in advance!!cheers,yuqi

  6. odor January 24, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

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