Ota Mokko – Japanese Parquetry in the Hills of Kanagawa
Parquetry is a type of handicraft that uses various woods assembled in a geometric mosaic with a distinctive effect and pattern. Early parquetry dates back to the 1680s in Europe, where it steadily gained recognition and respect from artisans across the continent.
Approximately two hundred years later the art of parquetry made its way across the globe and also became a thing in Japan. With its rich source of trees and varied woods Japan was well suited to the artform and it soon became a popular hobby among artists and craftsmen, specifically in and around the Hakone and Odawara regions of Kanagawa Prefecture.
To this day the region is known for its output of high-quality parquetry, with a handful of artists specializing in the craft at a very high level, who are respected around the world. One such man is Ken Ota, who has been practicing parquetry since the early 2000s, originally from Yamagata, he now works from his studio which is based in Kanagawa.
Mr Ota outside his studio in Kanagawa Prefecture
Mr Ota at work inside the studio
Mr Ota has had a keen in interest in handicrafts since childhood, and his desire to work as an artisan of sorts was finally realized when he enrolled in a vocational college in his hometown of Yamagata. It was here that he learnt the fundamentals of craftmanship and discovered that his passion lay in the field of Japanese Parquetry.
After graduating from school he decided to relocate to Kanagawa where he would learn about the art more in-depth and where he would eventually go on to open his own studio.
Mr Ota has made a decision to keep his studio simple, and basic, using traditional methids and tools only. This is to pay homage to the roots of parquetry in Japan.
Mr Ota at work in his studio
Instead of using paint, Japanese parquetry is made from a selection of woods that vary in rich colours, grains and tones. The woods are cut into fine rods, glued together and then sliced to reveal intricate patterns like the ones above.
After eight years working in Kanagawa at a bigger parquetry studio, Mr Ota decided to start his own, which he now runs with his wife. Ota Mokko studio has been up and running since 2012, and although it is small, it is considered one of the best parquetry studios in Japan today.
The studio is set inside an old factory in a small village in the mountains. The factory was a community lead initiative that produced soba and udon noodles for the local population for decades. The old factory has maintained a great feel and aesthetic of traditional Japan, adding an atmosphere which is very much suited to Mr Ota’s work. He says he is dedicated to keeping the feel of the old factory intact as a way of paying respect to those who came before him.
The surrounding area, which was once part of the historic Tokkaido Highway that connected Kyoto and Tokyo during feudal times is rich in historic buildings and traditional merchant houses. Mr Ota explains that he was keen to come to this area and help maintain the deep connection is has to traditional crafts and ways of living. His workspace and work techniques are very much true to their roots and fit in with the surrounding community well.
Mr Ota’s work space
His studio is set inside an old noodle factory which has maintained a feel from a bygone era
Parquetry has vast potential when it comes to design and colour, due to the wide range of trees and woods available during the process of making
Situated right next door to his studio is also a small shop where one can peruse his wide range of work and also purchase items. His handmade goods vary in range from small cups suitable for drinking sake from, to trays, buttons, storage boxes and even wooden pens.
A storage box by Ota Mokko
Sake cups by Ota Mokko
A cube-box with lid by Ota Mokko
Buttons by Ota Mokko
Mr Ota is relatively young still, and his mission in life is to help expand the reach of Japanese parquetry in a time where many young Japanese are turning their backs on traditional crafts. His work is both traditional in the truest sense, yet modern enough to appeal to those who are interested in more contemporary artforms. Althogh his studio and shop are somewhat off the beaten path, they are well worth a visit if you happen to be in the area, failing that his work can also be seen online here.
And for those who are in Kanagawa Prefecture, but cannot make it see the Ota Mokko shop in person, there is a nice little museum close to Hakone that details the history of parquetry in Japan and has a small selection of handmade goods on display. The Hatajuku Parquet Hall is located in the town of Hatajuku, which is a short drive from Hakone proper.
The Hatajuku Parquet Hall houses a small collection of handmade paquetry from the local area
The museum displays a range of parquetry goods
The museum has a small workspace that allows you to see where and how a parquetry craftsman would work