Junko, Ryuji Mitani’s wife, always make sure all guests who stay over at the Mitani’s begin their day with a sumptuous breakfast, even if the night before ends really late. It is a joyous experience watching Junko preparing breakfast — the fresh fruit juice is like dew that lands on the vibrantly green vegetable leaves, flakes of salt fall like snow, while the olive oil flows like ink. Junko performs every step in a calm and confident manner; when she is almost done preparing the food, she moves to the other side of the living room to select matching tableware from the huge collection of Mitani’s works. For instance, salad is served in a black lacquer tray, pancake goes with a white lacquer plate, and, of course, a small mug with spout is used to serve maple syrup.
Junko first encountered Mitani’s works about ten years ago. “I was totally amazed by a deep wooden tray he made.” She later went to Mitani’s exhibition and bought a small wooden tray for herself. Her original intention was to place it on the table for collecting mugs, but a magazine article made her realise it can also be used as a salad bowl. Since then, she slowly started to discover different ways to use the bowl. A wooden tray designed by Ryuji Mitani can cost up to tens of thousand Japanese yen. Junko, like many other people, found Mitani’s works rather expensive. However, considering how people spend money on clothes that they can easily get bored of in two or three years, it makes more sense to spend money on a wooden tray that can last for tens of years. Articles of daily use are items that are to be seen everyday, so it is important to select practical items that can also bring a cheerful mood.
When Junko moved into Mitani’s home in Matsumoto three years ago, the place was filled with Mitani’s creations, so Junko had the natural opportunity to use and appreciate the of each item. Despite her passion for Mitani’s designs, Junko actually needed considerable time to put into words the distinguishing qualities of Mitani’s works. “It could be the balance between size and shape, or the type of wood used in his designs. They are surely not extravagant arts and crafts, but rather light in weight and sleek in appearance.” We discussed for quite some time without coming to a conclusion that explains what makes Mitani’s works exceptionally gentle and warm. Even though Mitani sketches each of his tableware designs, he still spends a long amount of time to physically touch and feel every inch of the prototype to make necessary adjustments. There are certain details that cannot be visually seen or verbally communicated, so literally touching and using is the only way to appreciate the essence of Mitani tableware.
Black lacquer round wooden tray
“I found it too big at the beginning. Also, in the past, I usually went for ceramic ware and rarely used black tableware. However, I later realised that food looks more delicious when served in black bowls due to the warm light reflection. I often use it to serve salad or pasta with sauce.”
White lacquer round wooden plate
“The white lacquerware series is my favourite. At first, I thought it might be tricky to use, but I soon realised it actually goes well with any type of food. The white colour is not as blunt as that on white pottery, so the contrast with the colour of food is more subtle and harmonic. The size is big enough to leave white space when plating, which makes it visually soothing. Further, white lacquerware gets whiter and whiter as it gets used, and it’s very interesting to observe the subtle change of colour. I often use it to serve pasta without sauce or breakfast pancakes.”
Black lacquer square plate and pancake knife
“The lacquer coating is simultaneously applied to the square plate and wiped off, so the colour is nicely spread and doesn’t feel too thick. I usually use it to place hold cooking ingredients, or to serve small items such as pickles, wagashi or even cake.
“After I moved in, we often had homemade pancake breakfast, which led Mitani to design this pancake knife. In the past, Mitani’s collection included wooden forks and plates, which we would use to eat pancakes. However, there was no pancake knife, so we had to use a metal knife, which gave off a discordant feeling. Further, metal knives generate a discomfort sound when struck on wooden plates, whereas wooden knives are much gentler.”
“It doesn’t feel awkward at all to have the butter box on the table. Grease from the butter helps to keep the wood nicely polished like new. I just realised I’ve never washed this butter box, but to my surprise, it doesn’t look dirty at all.”