YMD - Takaoka

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The metal industry was established in the district of Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture during the Keicho Period (1595-1615). Takenaka Works Co., Ltd. is the largest metalworks in Takaoka, a city whose population is about 170,000 and has the greatest output on the Japan Sea Coast, even compared to industries based in much larger cities.

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History / Challenge

Stepping through the double glass doors [of Takenaka], I was greeted by a crowd of superb statuary. In this sleek showroom, which was spacious but felt like a gift shop at Christmas, full of vases, clocks and stationery goods, I abandoned the image I had constructed of local industry--of small, tiring companies growing smaller, mature employees growing older, and priceless technologies relinquished to disuse. Mounting the wide staircase to the second floor, I heard the hum of young voices; about twenty uniformed men and women were busy at word processors in a sizable space that suggested a company that could be measured on a Tokyo scale.

If the office murmured with anonymous efficiency, the sitting room shouted out a single name: Tokizo Takenawa. Atop one low book cabinet, a startling gold bust painted with bold Kabuki markings seemed to be constantly challenging itself to a more extreme expression. Volumes of art history were shelved as if in a private library, with care and an eye to ease of selection. Takenaka sat calmly, somewhat statue-like himself, across the polished table in a low black leather chair.

I marveled at the company's prosperity, and the (somehow disturbing) subordination of tradition to modernity, and he swiftly pointed out that there is a difference between 'jiba sangyo' (local industry) and 'dento kogei' (traditional industrial arts). Bronze (which accounts for 50% of his company's output) is both. Aluminum, with which he is not involved, is simply a local industry--and not remarkable in the fact that it is doing very well. Today, only 5% of Takaoka's output is still bronze, but orders come from all over Japan, and 90% of the bronze produced in this country comes from Takaoka, a testimony of the outstanding technology of the area's craftsmen.

Although collaboration isn't uncommon at Takenaka (there are 60 people in its circle of designers, sculptors and craftsmen, and eight in-house designers), the relatively long time it took to go from design to prototype suggests that Igarashi and Y.M.D. managed to challenge even a giant like Takenaka to even more exacting requirements, and turn out a heretofore untried combination of metals technologies. In the 90 days of attempts and adjustments, the reproduction team did its best to create the piece Igarashi first envisioned, testing a variety of metals. Eventually they settled on iron pipe coated with pitch. Seemingly balanced atop are a sphere, a cube, or a pyramid, all of tin bar.

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Creating and affixing this geometry proved the critical step in the prototype production. Because Igarashi was so taken with the elegance of bronze, the production team tried putting the same alloy that is used in bronze statuary through two wax-based casting processes devised precisely for recreating detailed and complex shapes: 'lost wax', developed in the U.S. after World War II, and 'rogata', a traditional Japanese technique that has been used for more than a thousand years. .. .. Unfortunately, although reproducing the sphere posed no problem, the squared bars of the other geometry were simply too severe for wax; some distortion was inevitable. Explains Hideo Tomita, head of Takenaka's sales department, "Now we employ the rubber-cast method on tin, which has its own difficulties. Tin is soft, which is both a plus and a minus." Soldered together and onto the base pipe, these ornaments must be sanded extremely carefully, and of the three the globe is the most forgiving, since any irregularities in the straight lines of the others are easily visible. The pieces are finished with a frosted oil paint called "lacquer".

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Where are they now?

These flower vases were purchased by the Guggenheim Museum in the New York design store when a new wing was designed by Gwathmey and Siegel in 1992.