winter break in japan

I am on a late winter break and having a great time in my home town,
Kumamoto city! (South island of Japan)
There are so much great food and places to visit in Kumamoto-city!

Today I went to one of my favorite shop “Kikuchi” which sells not only Japanese crafts but also world wide folk crafts. The owner of “Kikuchi” told me about a gallery which is exhibiting the works of local ceramic works called “Fumoto” kiln.
I’ve been to the “Fumoto” kiln 2 years ago with the owner of our store, but never seen their exhibition so I went to go see their works.

I bought a vase and a beautiful “Suri-bachi” which mainly used for cooking such as grinding sesame seeds. The “Suri-bachi” I bought has a beautiful reddish/dark brown color made of their local soil and water.

We don’t have the same item in our store, but you will see other kinds of ceramic works from other Japanese prefectures. It is interesting to compare the differences of soil colors and finishes depending on where it’s from!

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Spring TENUGUI patterns!


We just received the Spring patterns for our TENUGUI cloths!
For those of you who have not discovered this great multipurpose cloth, here it the description of this long-seller item at our store…!

TENUGUI, a hand dyed cotton cloth, has always been an essential tool for the Japanese. not only was it used as a wiping tool such as a towel or a handkerchief, it was also used as a bandage or a head wear in the old days. Since it was possible to dye various graphic designs, kabuki actors printed their names and gave them out on their debut shows.

To let dry quicker in such a humid country like Japan, and for multipurpose use, the ends are UNFINISHED so it will fray after first few washes. After your first wash, do not pull but cut the strings, then it will stop. Today people have found even more ways to use it, from table napkin to tapestry for decorating their homes.

Size: 1′ x 3′
Price: $13 each

**Unfortunately we can not sell this item online, so please call in for availability : 310-314-8448

TGS BLOG – Now Open-

After five years of business – Tortoise has changed its store name to “Tortoise General Store (a.k.a TGS)” to differentiate our store with our second store “Tortoise” which is located just two blocks from where we are. So we decided to start our own blog! We will be introducing our new products, artists, and some information on events and places to go in Japan (I know many of you visit Japan!). Staff at TGS will take turns in writing our favorite things and places. Send in special requests for topics, comments, or questions!

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Lucky Fish!

In Japan, people eat red snapper fish for new year, at weddings, and other occasions to celebrate happiness.

The reason people started eating the red snapper for that occasion?
Because we call red snapper as “tai” in japanese.
We say “mede-tai” in japanese when we celebrate people, and this last word, “tai” is what we call red snapper in Japanese.

This lucky “tai” soap will bring you lots of happiness in your life!
Have them in your room, bathroom, and any other space where you want happy scent!


*Red: pomegranate scent
*Black: brown sugar scent
$34 each

Tohoku Trip

This was and still is one of my favorite trips that I went with store owner Keiko in October 2006! I thought I’d introduce it again in this blog for people who hadn’t read it, and for those who haven’t been to Tohoku region (Northern part of Honshu, the main island of Japan). There were such great craftsmanship and techniques which have produced numerous amazing products you have seen at our store.


note – our schedule was very tight! if you are planning your own trip, give yourself some extra days in each area!

DAY 1 – Sasano Ittobori @ Yamagata Prefecture

Our first stop was to see the great Sasano Ittobori, the wood carving that creates these beautiful eagles and owls from one block of wood. Most of these carvers have a full time job mainly as farmers. They find the time to carve these crafts when they are not too busy especially in the winter season when they can’t go out because of heavy snow. Picture on the right shows the carved eagles waiting to be painted for the final finish!

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DAY 2 AOMORI MUSEUM OF ART @ Aomori Prefecture

This contemporary art museum just opened in July 2006. The beautiful architecture were done by Jun Aoki, and local artist Yoshitomo Nara is just few of the artists featured at this museum.

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Day 2 cont. BUNACO @ Aomori prefecture

The coiled beech bowl is made of strips of beech wood which is coiled and is turned into this beautiful bowl shape. There is no mold or machine used in the process but somehow they all finish in exactly the same shape by this experienced craftsman! Can you see that he is using a yunomi (tea cup) to turn it into a bowl?

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Day 3 WAPPA @ Akita prefecture

Shunji Kurimori is the third generation craftsman of WAPPA (wrapped cedar) products, which uses bent cedar technique to create our beautiful sake cups and fruits bowls. With his  innovative designs and techniques, Kurimori received numerous “good design awards” in the past. You can tell from his face that he really enjoys his work!

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DAY 3 cont. Nyuto Onsen (natural spa) @ Akita prefecture

Believe me, this trip was very hectic, and we drove all the way, so we HAD to stop by this onsen! They ryokan we stayed at was called Magoroku Onsen, which had the view of the beautiful koyo, foliage. The minerals in the water are so thick, people visit from all over Japan to cure their illness. For us, we just needed to recharge and eat good food… :)

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DAY 4 Nanbu Tekki / Kamasada @ Iwate prefecture

Nobuho Miya is another third generation craftsman of the manufacture of great Nanbu Tekki, cast iron products. The picture on the right shows the sand casts for each iron pot! There were at least 200…!

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DAY 5 KURAKURA ceramics @ Kanagawa prefecture

After the seven hours drive back South, we arrived at Kamakura to meet Emi Shirakura, the pottery artist that creates our white flower pots KURAKURA. Her lifestyle and personality showed us where these pots gets the natural warm shapes. We discussed to exhibit her collection in the future, if she can overcome her fear of getting on the air plane…! All dishes on the right images are made by Emi, as well as her home cooking!

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DAY 5 YOSEGI wooden mosaic @ Kanagawa prefecture

Our last stop of the trip was at Katsuyoshi Kanazashi’s factory in Hakone, where he makes the wooden mosaic apple shaped containers. This mosaic technique was created because this area was able to get variety colored wood. The cut wood is combined together to make the colorful graphic, then Kanazashi curves them into a bowl shape!

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Here are some more pictures from our trip! We drove more than 2000km (1240 miles) in five days! We enjoyed a lot of meals throughout the trip. (If you like to eat, October is the season to go.) Macrobiotic food is now a trend, but Japanese meal have been macrobiotic since the beginning. Eating colorful local and seasonal food is the key to a healthy life!

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