What is your role at Maruni?
Right now CEO of Maruni's subsidiary for International Sales Business. Basically, I'm in charge of all of the European market, but I'm also running the company! [Laughs] So I'm doing so many things!
We know Maruni has key dealers all over the world, so you must be incredibly busy. Have you any idea of how many thousand miles you travel each year?
I spend one-third of the year travelling outside of Japan! I love to travel, especially in the UK and North America. I speak English, so it's easy for me to stay in these places because there is no language barrier. I love Paris and Milan too.
What are the technical difficulties with the new Roundish chair?
Usually, when a manufacturer produces this kind of light plywood chair, two pieces of plywood are used for each side of the seat. These are then glued in the middle. Naoto Fukasawa saw this joining line as a sort of ‘noise’, an unnecessary detail. So we needed to wrap single sheets of ply into the 3-dimensional shape of the curved seat. To do this and get a smooth curve is not easy and required us to stretch the individual plies before wrapping them into the seat shape.
Another challenge was how to deal with the waste ply that this shape would create at the back of the seat. Naoto decided to make a hole at the back of the chair, from where the waste could easily be cut away.
How long was its development, from initial design to production in the factory?
It took us a whole two years.
Why is the Fugu chair called Fugu?
Fugu is a Japanese word that means ‘Blowfish’. The shape reminded Jasper of a blowfish [Laughs]. Honestly speaking, the Maruni factory is located in Hiroshima, which is one of the best places to have Fugu in Japan. Every winter Jasper and Naoto visit Hiroshima to see production at the factory, which is also the best season to eat Fugu, so we take the designers to a super good Fugu restaurant when they visit. Maybe this is why Jasper named it this! [Laughs]
Where does the oak come from?
We source all the wood from outside of Japan. This is because Japanese wood is not certified as sustainable. So we use certified oak and walnut from the United States, and Beech and Ash from Germany.
Naoto and Jasper seem to have a similar approach to their work, with quite timeless and minimal designs that resonate well with Maruni’s approach to manufacturing. Are the designers very alike?
Basically, their development process is similar, but their approach is different. Naoto’s approach is more academic. He has a specific logic in his mind, and all of the lines, angles, degrees, are always more specific. Jasper has this too, but it seems like the sense of something is more important for Jasper. Even though he has great academic knowledge about design, he is slightly more hands-on. He knows about the international market, too, which helps.
On the subject of Maruni’s international market, thousands of Hiroshima chairs were specified for a very special new office in California – Apple Park. Why do you think that Japanese design is very much at the forefront of furniture design now?
It is difficult to know why, and it doesn’t mean that Japanese products are doing well on the international market all the time. The most important thing for Naoto and Jasper is that the products are useful and practical. The design could be very beautiful, or the process could be very intricate, but if it’s not comfortable it doesn’t work.
When we pursue the ultimate practicality of a product, then with it will come the highest level of beauty. That’s why we’re always trying to make and pursue only the most useful designs.
Maruni celebrated its 90th anniversary in April of this year – congratulations! How has the company changed over the years, and what does the future hold?
Some people say Maruni is the first and sole international furniture manufacturer in Japan. Each year at the Salon de Mobile in Milan, we display in hall 16, which is definitely the best location on this huge exhibition site. There are no Japanese furniture brands that have displayed in that position in history, and it makes us proud. We would like to maintain this reputation as Japan’s best furniture maker and would like to improve our manufacturing techniques more and more.
Most importantly, we want to continue to represent Japanese craftsmanship and aesthetic sense. Japanese manufacturers are so neat, meticulous, sometimes stubborn, even [laughs]. But that’s the character of our country and our nationality. This characteristic is of value to people from outside of Japan. We would like to continue conveying this message to our customers through our products.
Many thanks to Koda Munetoshi for taking the time to talk to us. Maruni products are available online and in-store at our shop and showroom.