sankaku is an independent publication telling the stories of people, places, and products in Japan that are reimagining long-standing ways of making and living. Volume 01 is currently in the Recess Shop, check out the Q&A below exploring the publication's inception and how it came to be.
Shanik Tanna, co-founder
Leanne Macaspac, operations
Toshiyuki Sugai, managing director
David Wang, editor-in-chief
Polly Auyeung, designer & editor
Stanley Sun, editor-at-large
David: Me, Sugai-san, Polly and Stanley, we’re the original founders of this. I support Japanese manufacturers, traditional craftsmen, traditional industries, local industries, who design and craft products. Because I work with a lot of these kinds of companies, I always thought that there was an untold narrative about people who make things here, especially in English. I personally thought a lot of it focuses on the same kind of people or people that were super traditional or artisanal. If you live here, there's different kinds of narratives and people that you can kind of meet. So it was just an idea for us to showcase more untold stories.
Polly: In volume one, I was primarily working on our website, the editorial design, as well as contributing to editing the pieces as well.
Sugai-san: I did the video shooting and also communicated with Japanese people, grant applications—we need to do a lot of paperwork to get that grant. I'm very happy to expose the hidden side of Tokyo, and Japanese culture. People don't know that we are making something in the city side.
Stanley: My interests at the beginning of sankaku, on a personal level, comes from this interest in craft and sharing stories about that. My role is Editor at Large, haha. Last time I was at the Recess space. I was like, I don't really know what that means.
I know the magazine's really focused on making and living. I'm curious about how your own personal journey informed that.
David: My first job in Japan, I worked for a small furniture company. I was brought in to do the English emails, but because there were only two and a half craftsmen, I also had to help them do DIY sanding, packing. I wasn’t very good, but they needed anyone. That's when I really got my first exposure to make objects and seeing how people build stuff. I think in a world where everyone is going more and more digital, people devalue the kind of analog skills. There's a lot of technique, there's a lot of experience that these people have. And it was just simply that more people should get to know it. That's just like the underlying drive.
Polly: I studied architecture with Stanley, but I practice in software design, so I think there is that drawback to physical making, especially since a lot of my work is very precision oriented, screen oriented. The topics of volume one spoke a lot to me too because I think whenever we're outside of work, we always talk about like, wouldn't it be cool if we like had our own, I don't know, alpaca farm coffee shop slash bookstore and studio space and people always wonder like, how do we get there? What are the little steps we can take to, I don't know, build up a community or practice craft in a long term sustainable way? What I found interesting about a lot of these stories were that a lot of the folks we interviewed were in some ways mid-journey in their pursuits. It's really cool to see just what the work in progress is, what folks are like as they're trying to do their projects, maybe challenges or interesting things they encounter.
David: That's true. We didn't interview anyone that was like super, super established, right?
Polly: Yeah. So I think covering these kinds of stories, making something that could seem really far away or aspirational seem a bit more accessible for people, including myself, who wonder about like, how do I get started in this thing? And what's it like for someone who's just a little further ahead.
There's sort of a mention of the duality in the heritage and the modern day versions of manufacturing, of making and living. Why is that contrast so important to shine a light on?
Stanley: Traditional purists’ angle on heritage crafts is well known and already been told. The stories that we found more interesting were these people who maybe are trained in those crafts that are practicing in a more modern way or, collaborating in a way that plays with those traditions.
Sugai-san: Also, showing the opportunity to introduce our society through communication.
Stanley: A lot of people who are practicing traditional crafts have been forced to adapt to continue. So an example of that in the first volume is the story of the book Bindery that bound our book and how bookbinding is an old craft, but for them to stay relevant or competitive as a small company in Tokyo, they've had to take a more proactive role in seeking out special projects, as opposed to continuing on the way that the previous generations have done because of global competition. I think that's true for a lot of small factories that have a history of a heritage craft.
Shanik: Do you find that, because of those changes, the way it's being passed down to the next generation is changing a lot? Is it more business focused now versus the craft?
David: I think it really depends on what the industry is. I think for these smaller companies, like the book binder and actually most of the small machi-kōbas (small city factories) that we interviewed, the interesting thing is, it's family run—it's second, third, maybe even fourth generation. And a lot of the time they start on the manufacturing floor. I think it might be something that's a quirk of Japanese corporate culture or something, you start from the bottom—you get to know everything about the company. And so when you become the manager, at least you know what you're talking about. So I think maybe the challenge for them is it’s using the skills and figuring out how they can expand. A lot of the time people will be mixing with other people from industries and then that's when they're like, okay, maybe I can try this.
Polly: In some of the folks we interviewed, there's an aspect of the newer generation who takes over the company looking for ways to innovate in the business in various aspects. Sort of like, as David mentioned, applying their craft to new media, new types of projects that maybe the previous generation hadn't considered. There was also a new kind of relationship between folks in management, thinking of the crafters as creators as well, rather than like someone who maybe executes on the vision. Maybe a more collaborative aspect in the design phase altogether as well.
Specifically about creative vision, what were you looking for? What were your guiding principles?
David: We didn't really actually set out to make a book and it was more just like articles.
To be honest, this volume didn't start off with ‘here, this is the theme and we're just gonna go at it’. It was more like, ‘oh, these people are doing interesting things’. There are underlying similarities and trends. It was kind of hard to actually figure out like, what is this book about?
Stanley: I think we started out with a piece by piece approach first. Each interview that we edited, it was like, ‘okay, what's the story here?’ Just on its own sort of independent basis. And then I think later on, once we had a few, we started to question and synthesize, what's the sort of thread that ties them together? It wasn't clear at the beginning. It was loose at the beginning and then it became clear once we had more pieces sort of fleshed out.
Shanik: That’s cool. Sort of like the story came through experimentation in a way.
Polly: Yeah. Maybe it's like through doing the earlier pieces, we could start reflecting on what we just covered and start to identify themes that were coming out, and I think applying them to the editing lens that we used on feature pieces.
David: Yeah, the one common thing is we wanted to just challenge readers’ perceptions, whether it's of tradition, whether it's of the city of Tokyo, whether it's of factories, whether it's a craftsman, whether it's of like ways of living. And I think that's why it took a long time.
Stanley: Yeah. In a way it would've been easier to do profiles of people on the basis of the craft or something. And I think in a way, all of the pieces, the question that we'd throw around, came down to, why? How did these people get here? How do they end up doing this? Why are they driven to do it?
David: Yeah. I think in our role as an independent publication, independent media, we should be telling stories that aren't told in the mainstream or else there's no point for our existence.
Any advice to others to start that creative project that they got in the back of their mind?
David: don't do it. Haha, I’m kidding, no, no, no, no.
Polly: Yeah, it might be very typical for me to worry about all the details upfront to try to get the best possible thing out when maybe in reality it's more helpful to just start on something, or like, anything. It's okay if we just put something out there, learn from it. Apply those learnings to the next piece and just improve bit by bit. And even now we're still learning lots.
Stanley: Go for it. Trust the process. And be rigorous.
David: Stanley's three commandments right here. The aspect of play and joy is very, very important. I think you have to look at it and making sure you're getting something out of it. Whether it's inspiration, whether it’s creative fuel—that has to be there, I think, for the project. Making sure that you are having fun while doing it. It’s not client work, it's something that you are doing because you want to do it. The other thing is, getting into a group of like-minded people. I think having good community, good people, you're just gonna make good things happen, right? So yeah. Play and people, I think are my two words.
So, what does Sankaku mean?
Sugai-san: It’s hard to describe it.
David: Sugai-san came up with the name. First of all, it means triangle. And it was kind of the relationship between producers, like people who make things—
Polly: Oh! 3 C’s! Crafters-slash-creators, Community, and Curators, and the relationship between all 3 of them.
David: There’s another meaning in Japanese, to basically participate or be part of. So through us we hope to be a window into a different society for people to glimpse in or join in.
sankaku Volume 01: Tokyo is a collection of stories featuring creative projects that bring new life to traditional craft, bridge the gap between urban and rural, and show us how to build community.