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b. benten is the online shop for high quality handmade ceramics and houseware items from Japan rooted in tradition for everyday use. Our mission is to introduce Japan's master artisans to the world by offering their limited work and covering fascinating stories of craftsmanship.

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Up Your Coffee Game

Maya Nakamura

I just returned from India.  It. was. mind. blowing.  I highly recommend anyone to go check out India if you consider yourself brave and adventurous.  You will get to roam around Ashrams and temples in barefoot, rediscovering the meaning of silence.   It is such a Julia Roberts moment of Eat Pray and Love.  

While I was thoroughly enjoying my spiritual moments in India, my traveling partner was on a mission to find Starbucks towards the end of the trip.   Even though Starbucks exist In South India, it is mainly for tourists and the locals enjoy their filter coffee and masala chai, which I'd much prefer.  Starbucks.  please.   I think she needed a taste of civilization. 

masala chai spices

masala chai spices

Coffee lovers are everywhere in the world, and they always seem to have their favorite beans, equipment/accessories, and brewing methods.  Some say McDonald's got great coffee.  Some swear by the coffee picked out of animal's poop (I believe it is called civet or Kopi Luwak).  No judgement.  We all have preference, yes?

But what I have noticed is that people are much more serious about their coffee these days.    

People here in Japan take their coffee very very serious..  Not to mention Hario and Kalita, people are not kidding around with their coffee equipment.  

So I thought I would introduce my favorite coffee items today.  

Coffee scoop by Mitsuhiro Konishi  $60  

Coffee scoop by Mitsuhiro Konishi  $60
 

Ceramic Coffee Pot + Dripper Set by Takeshi Omura (MADE TO ORDER)

Ceramic Coffee Pot + Dripper Set by Takeshi Omura
(MADE TO ORDER)

Metal coffee dripper by Dai Inagaki  $200 (MADE TO ORDER)

Metal coffee dripper by Dai Inagaki  $200
(MADE TO ORDER)

I am not much of a coffee coffee person actually, yet I am drawn to these beautiful coffee items.  

So how strong is YOUR coffee brewing game? 

  

Summer Special

Maya Nakamura

It's August.  It is hot.  It is humid.  Mosquitoes everywhere.  Summer in Japan can be a real pain.  It always makes me wonder how in the world people in the old days survived this heat without air conditioning.  

In fact, everyone in Japan seems to live for summer.  There are certain sound, scent and taste that remind you of summer, and makes you feel nostalgic.  

First off, everyone's favorite summer event is hands down, Matsuri, the local festivals packed with food stalls and festival games.  They are normally sponsored by shrines and temples, revelers amid a lively atmosphere of Japanese drums and flutes and the seductive smell of grilled corn basted with a soy sauce glaze.  This scent always gets me like movie theater popcorn.   

Dancing and stunning fireworks are part of the festivals, too.  

Besides Matsuri, it is quite common for everyone in urban area to take a trip to their grandparents or relatives in the countryside.  It lets everyone forget the hustle and bustle of city life.  

At night after taking a bath at onsen (hotspring), you look up to the stars with the soothing sound of wind chime and the scent of mosquito repellent coil, and you are fanning yourself in Yukata...   this is when I love Japanese summer.    

As the years pass, even the obnoxiously loud sound of cicada and the scent of repelling incense smoke all become nostalgic like Miyazaki films. 

b. benten has selected the following 5 essential summer items to celebrate the Japanese summer.  All available at our online shop:

1.  Hand fan "UCHIWA" and "SENSU" 

A traditional fan is used to create a breeze to keep cool in hot weather.  Uchiwa is a non-folding fan with a handle and Sensu is the folding version.  Both are made of Japanese paper or cloth fixed to the handle and spines normally made of bamboo (sometimes sandalwood).

 

2.  Wind chime "FURIN"

One of the best summer symbols in Japan.   It is traditionally hung from the eaves of a house during the summer.  Most are made of glass and when the wind blows, a gentle chime will ring and the sound you hear in the humid summer brings you coolness.  

3. Mosquito coil  (repelling incense)  

A mosquito repelling incense, typically made from a dried paste of pyrethrum powder. It is usually shaped into a spiral.  It used to be a must-have item in every household before the repellent sprays and electric versions were invented.  Learn more about mosquito coil >> click here

4. Beer and Edamame

There is nothing better than thirst-quenching cold beer on hot summer evenings, and one of the best snacks to go with beer is edamame.  Edamame has become popular appetizer all over the world through out the year, but some people don't know is the fresh edamame is only available during the summer, and it tastes so much better than the frozen ones.   

bamboo basket

bamboo basket

How about enjoying a hot summer day Japanese style, by drinking a glass of beer and feeling the cooling breeze from your hand-held fan, while listening to the sound of your wind chime? 

 

 Hope everyone is having a fun and safe summer!

Urushi the Magical Sap

Maya Nakamura

The deep, glow of lacquerware is a Japanese handicraft form that has mesmerized the world for a long time. 

No other application style can match the deep hues and smoothness of Japanese lacquer “Urushi”. 

via takashitomii.com

via takashitomii.com

So what exactly is Urushi?

Urushi is the sap of the lacquer tree, which contains a resin that polymerizes and becomes a plastic-like durable substance when it is exposed to moisture and air.  The Japanese recognized the durability and shiny beauty of urushi and began using it to coat wood, pottery, baskets and bone objects back in circa 7000BC. (no for real.) 

urushi trees via reijunkan.com

urushi trees via reijunkan.com

Urushi tree takes about a decade to grow and once matured you can extract the sap only little by little (every 4-5 days) so that you don’t hurt the tree.  You can only get about 200ml of liquid urushi from a single tree.   

The substance is poisonous to the touch until it dries, the creation of lacquerware has long been practiced only by skilled dedicated artisans.

Wajima artisan via  coinaca  

Wajima artisan via coinaca 

Every aspect of how the Urushi is treated reflects what kind of color will come out; from where the sap's taken, the time, the weather and how skilled the workman is. When the sap is thick and rich the color of Urushi becomes more vivid. If the quality is opposite then the color will instead be more transparent.

tetsuo gido via  teamahimatrip

tetsuo gido via teamahimatrip

Liquid urushi can be applied to just about any surface: wood, metal, cloth, ceramics, etc.. When it solidifies, it becomes a very hard coating that waterproofs and protects the coated object from the effects of mold, mildew and other forms of weathering. It also provides protection against caustic substances such as acids.  The color will blend over and over again for many years and the color will mature in beauty.

Only direct and prolonged exposure to sunlight will cause urushi to deteriorate. Urushi's hardness and durability make it an excellent protective coating for any object that will be used continually over a long period of time. The product reaches its best quality when used for some years after it was painted.

antique trays by Kinokumo

antique trays by Kinokumo

Urushi techniques are widely used to elegantly decorate furniture, iPhone cases, eyewear frames now, but urushi bowls or plates are an essential part of Japanese haute cuisine forms.  

Today, urushi continues to be used in its traditional forms and in modern, new ways.  and the lacquerware still stands as one of the most distinctive forms of Japanese beauty. 

 

If you can handle the strange piano background music, please check out this video and see how urushi lacquerware is beautifully made in action.   


Here are some urushi items available at b. benten: