Yumemado’s numerous hand-crafted wood products include windows and doors.


Japan is known to members of my generation by three iconic words, and they were not written by a poet: MADE IN JAPAN. When I was living in Saudi Arabia, we had a Filipino maid who got down on her knees and begged me to buy a vacuum cleaner made in Japan; she almost cried when I said I thought one made in China would do (I liked the cheaper prices). Of course, I took her advice, bought Japanese, and never looked back.

My recent trip into Japan’s lovely snow country started out with a trip to a shrine and ended with a soak, but the centerpiece of my tour of Yonezawa-city in northwestern Japan focused on wood-products and textile manufacturing. Three family-owned companies invited me in for day-long tours; in each, time-honored, hand-crafted skills and products were on display.

Yonezawa-city, now blanketed in over three-feet of snow, located at the heart of Yamagata prefecture, manifests a celebration of the past as it looks toward the future. Proprietors of local manufacturing firms are passionate to create and determined to preserve old ways in a new world.

Legacy and vision: these express and drive Yumemado’s famed timber works, as proudly explained by Chinatsu Takahashi, along with two eminent local textile enterprises, presented by its proprietors Gentaro Nitta’s Nitta Textile Arts and Michiko Yamakuchi of Yozando.

Takahashi guided her guests through the public display room as well through the warehouse where much of the manufacturing takes place. The timber works, not unlike the textile firms, care deeply about the use of local products. The wood product line consists mainly of doors and windows, including brass hardware pieces imported from Germany. Precision design and manufacturing are completed entirely in house. Although once importers of wood, chiefly from the U.S. and Canada, today the company aims to use at least 80-percent locally-sourced materials.

On our tour of the firm’s factory floor, one of the most impressive features we enjoyed was the virtual absence of wood dust. This remarkable feat is accomplished by the web of ceiling ducting that continuously vacuums the air. Young, locally-trained craft workers exercise their skilled duties free of air pollutants.  The spotless workshop is testimony to Yumemado’s dedication to worker safety and product perfection. The company’s formidable catalogue of construction projects suggests that Yumemado timber products have gained national recognition.


Nitta Textile Arts’ forward-thinking production model draws on the past, triumphantly.  “The past is not a burden but a window.” This theme can be found embodied in Nitta’s renowned silk kimono.  No polyester fabrics are used, no garish designs; this is not souvenir wear, but high-end, one of a kind, hand-crafted elegance made from locally spun silk, woven on wooden looms, by local experts. Not hand-painted Kyoto style kimono but silk masterpieces, painstakingly colored with locally-sourced dyes made from hand-selected safflowers, with colors ranging from the subtlest hues of pearl to the firm’s renowned shades of crimson.

It is not that there are Nitta’s traditions and Nitta’s safflower cultivation and the company’s silk dyeing techniques, as separate processes; rather the agricultural and artistic traditions merge to form an integrated whole, developed together over centuries and applied by the Nitta family in response to the land and the local climate, organically and harmoniously.

Conditions, Gentaro Nitta explains, change throughout the year, according to the four seasons. In sum, the human arts depend on and reflect the demands of the land and the challenges of the climate. The human arts, be they agricultural or artistic, are forced to adjust to nature. It is all, in the end, a matter of timing: the planting and harvesting of the safflowers set the pace for the technical necessities that follow, so the final results vary from year to year accordingly. This is what makes the Nitta family work unique.


The renowned designer, proprietress, and curator Michiko Yamakuchi greeted us and guided us on a whirlwind tour of her multi-plex facilities, including the quaint retail shop, a coffee-house art gallery, and petite cabin that houses her coffee been roasting ovens. In addition, we toured the extraordinary manufacturing site that includes the enormous Japanese-Italian weaving machines which bring Michiko’s designs to life, as well as the cavernous art gallery where the internationally recognized artist Hideo Yamakuchi’s art pieces are displayed, including photos of his gorgeous fire curtains for auditoriums.

Yamakuchi-san’s creativity is manifest in the intricacy of the unbroken patterns of her seasonal designs, be they purses, handbags, tablemats, or coasters; the patterns continue like the finest, perfectly-aligned wallpapers, seamless and unbroken, front and back, as in the case of one of the artist’s specialties, such as her Japanese furoshiki, the clasp less handbags which appear so often in Japanese woodblock prints. Colors and designs are abundant and change with the seasons; winter holiday products are currently on view. Items, too, are reversible: red on white on one side; white on red on the other, etc. The shop’s sturdy teddy bears come in seven colors. Most other products affirm the designer’s emphasis on a practical aesthetic that instills beauty in everyday objects, such as bags for iPhones and temple diaries, and by using moisture-resistant fabrics and creating designs that reduce leftover materials.