Words by David Kenji Chang
Photographs by Justin Chung

Keiko & Taku Shinomoto of Tortoise General Store

Venice, CA

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At home with Keiko and Taku in Venice, CA
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Collected objects
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Open setup as the living room connects to the dining room

Of all the striking characteristics of Hasami Porcelain that grab you when you first grab it–its satisfying weight, the clean precision of its geometry, the concentric possibilities of its modular design, that it only looks like it was carefully sculpted from maybe beach sand or perhaps high-grade cardboard - the one that is most striking is its texture. Hasami Porcelain is coarse. Like it is coated in ultra fine-grit sandpaper. It’s lightly disorienting. You check your fingers for dust that isn’t there. You imagine how it would feel actually using it on your dinner table or office desk. You might even reassess your understanding of what exactly constitutes “porcelain”, which is pretty much always milky white, semi-translucent, and, you know, smooth. It is Hasami Porcelain’s defining feature. And it happened by accident.
Hasami’s creative director and designer, Taku Shinomoto, who also runs Tortoise General Store in Venice Beach with his wife Keiko and speaks Japanese in a calm, baritone voice that approximates the craggy warmth of reclaimed barn wood, calls this roughness zara zara. When he sat down to design a line of Japan-made porcelain dinnerware in 2012, he wanted it to be modern and stackable with a timeless utility that would translate to any country or culture. Zara zara was decidedly not in the blueprint. But while poring over sample archives in Hasami-cho, the brand’s namesake town in Nagasaki that’s been a center of Japanese ceramic production for over 400 years, he just stumbled on it. Or maybe more accurately, it stumbled on him.

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A range of personal Hasami Porcelain in use.

“They showed me this sample cup. It was something they had made like 20 years before and never used again – and it was made from this material,” he recalls. Taku’s eyes, two sharply calibrated tools of design that just so happen to be sandwiched between his caterpillar eyebrows and scraggly, salt and pepper beard, light up. “I thought ‘I like this! This is what we have to make. There is no other choice.’” The material, he was told, was a proprietary blend of local clay and crushed stone from a nearby island. It had a singularly unique natural look. And it was smooth.
At least, the sample was. “The handling and development was very difficult. It would twist and bend when fired. We did all sorts of tests and tried to fix it. And since these are supposed to stack, if you warp it only slightly, it can’t stack,” he explains. “Eventually, to get it to make the right shape, they said it had to be this rough texture.” Taku laughs, looking down at a Hasami cup in his hand. “I said, ‘No! That is not acceptable. No one would buy this!’”
But in the end, he held fast to his aesthetic instincts. “They said nothing could be done about it, and I just thought, “well, I guess it can’t be helped.’ And I decided to just give it a shot.” The gamble paid off. Hasami Porcelain is sold in over 100 stores around the world, including, surprisingly, a variety of apparel shops. This, of course, is in no small part due to the subtle brilliance of Taku’s designs, which seem to have emerged from his mind fully formed at inception - nearly 90% of the current product range is the same as when Hasami launched seven years ago.
But it’s also succeeded because of its accidental texture - the original, natural color of Hasami continues to be its best seller globally, even after introducing glazed versions that add color and eliminate the zara zara. It’s become beloved. “The more you use it, eventually it starts to get a smooth texture,” he points out. “It’s like the fade in denim as it drops color and takes on its own character. Or like a t-shirt that is stiff, but gets softer and slowly starts to fit your body better and better as you wash and wear it. People have really enjoyed that process of it smoothing out. And that made me very happy.” ●

Photographed in 2019 – Venice, CA.

Tortoise General Shop
Hasami Porcelain