My Ainu Experience

The process of developing the Ainu Collection that we launched at SoShiro during London Craft Week demonstrated to me, the need for people and communities to recognize each other’s strengths, skills, and heritage.

As we welcomed guests to our Marylebone gallery in the first week of October, my understanding and appreciation of the Ainu people grew furthermore. At that point, design truly became the backdrop for meaningful cultural conversations.

Sharing and educating through design is a beautiful way of introducing new and hidden cultures to contemporary design lovers around the world. This gentle approach offers something fresh and unique to satisfy their curiosity, and for the seasoned aesthete, expands their mind to new perspectives and possibilities in design.

It happens to me all the time. For example, a visit from Kochi Okada taught us about the film ‘Ainu Past and Present’, a version of which was produced and directed by her father Kazuo Okada.

That creating or owning a piece of design can help preserve centuries-old craft traditions and cultures lends our profession a deeper meaning. Be it the cabinets with hand-carved Ainu motifs which help keep the fish scale carving technique alive or the engraved wooden kimono at SoShiro by Toru Kaizawa which is adorned with a pattern designed by his grandmother Hagi Kaizawa, design can be cultural and personal all at once.

As we developed our Ainu collection for London Craft Week, we continued to explore Ainu patterns, embroidery, and poetry. And whilst the indigenous Japanese culture is far removed from my own, I learnt that our obvious differences aside, all we want, is to be understood, appreciated and acknowledged.

In light of all that we have gone through this year, from the global pandemic and organizing for climate change, to demanding equality irrespective of our gender or skin colour and on a personal level, the conversations my Ainu experience has afforded me, 2020 has shifted my perspective on the ritual of the upcoming festive season, especially those surrounding gifting.

If we make positivity a key deciding factor when investing in gifts for our loved ones, when we choose gifts that uplift communities that are striving to keep alive centuries old making traditions and when we share love through gifts that are ethically made, we can make a profound difference; our gifts can sow the seeds of curiosity, greater understanding and meaningful conversations that will be long cherished.