Kyoto’s Ippodo Tea Returns to Tortoise!

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The most popular tea shop in Kyoto is visiting us again!

Tea experts from Ippodo will  teach several small group workshops both Saturday and Sunday, 11/12 and 11/13 for those who want to learn more about tea!

History of Ippodo

With a history going back nearly 3 centuries to the Edo period, Ippodo is a tea company richly steeped in Japanese tradition.

Its origin dates back to the year 1717, when founder Rihei Watanabe established a tea shop called OMIYA at Teramachi Nijo, just south of the Imperial Palace.  The shop’s reputation for providing high quality tea grew quickly, and patrons soon included members of the Imperial household.  In 1846, the shop was renamed IPPODO, which literally means “preserve one”.  The name was bestowed upon the shop by Prince Yamashina, who wanted the shop to forever preserve its tradition of providing high quality tea with a supreme taste.  To this day, Ippodo has strived to uphold the wishes of the Prince, and to adhere to the time-honored mission of providing a superlative tea with the trademark high-quality taste.

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Workshop at Tortoise on 11/12 & 11/13

This year Ippodo will divide their focus between the two days to cover many topics. Saturday will focus on the basics of Japanese tea and Sunday will have a more advanced focus specifically on matcha and go into the appreciation and making of matcha.

Saturday will run 3 (90 min length) sessions, and Sunday will have 2 (90 min length) sessions.

Saturday Class Times:
11:00 AM
1:30 PM
3:30 PM

Sunday Class Times:
12:30 PM
3:30 PM

Each class session is limited to 8 people, and the fee for Saturday is $35 and the fee for Sunday is $45. If interested please sign up for the class on our online store here!

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Newsletter November Issue Published

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Niime Arm Warmers and Scarves for Fall

Niime, named after the designer, specializes in a style of weaving and dying called Banshu-ori – a method that originated in Hyogo and is an ancient Japanese technique of making textiles where the dying,weaving and finishing is all done in one continuous production cycle.  Banshu-ori creates an extremely fine and delicate textile that is ideal for wearing because of it’s soft and gentle touch on the skin.

Niime cultivates her own cotton for her cotton weavings without any agricultural chemicals and all of her textiles are dyed without harmful chemicals. Niime is known for her colorful scarves (also sold at Tortoise) as they brighten and add character to the wearer, and now for this holiday season we are excited to carry her unique and cozy arm warmers.

Each arm warmers is approximately 14” long and the material is 95% wool and 5% cotton.  The colors and pattern do not repeat and we have a limited number available in stock.  Each arm warmer is $65.

Please contact us by phone (310-314-844) or email (, or visit us at the store if you are interested in purchasing.



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Newsletter Event Reminder published

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Newsletter October Issue Published

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Newsletter September issue published

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Newsletter August issue published



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Seto is Back at TGS!



Katakuchis are used in Japan to serve alcohol, sauces and dressing.  This is a collection of nesting katakuchis.




Seto was the first kiln in Japan to use glaze with their ceramic-ware.  For this reason, their signature glazes and painted design-work have become their kiln’s trademark and is easily recognizable to almost everyone in Japan.



An aerial view of the beautiful line-work on Seto bowls and plates.  The “umanome” design (small to large swirl designs drawn on the rim of plates) take at least 4-5 years to learn and master.  Each plate and bowl produced at Seto is hand painted with great care and with the most accurate precision.

To purchase any of our Seto items, please visit us Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm and Sunday 12 pm to 6 pm, or call us at 310-314-8448.

Prices of Seto pieces shown in newsletter and image below:

Clockwise from top left –

Green/Brown Tri-Color Plate     $154

Stripe Bowl      $78

Blue Stripe Katakuchi/Small Pitcher     $58

Orange Stripe Katakuchi/Small Pitcher       $58

Seto Yellow Cup      $48

Umanome Blue Plate       $134



Newsletter July Issue Published



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Kumamoto Relief Update! Food and Happiness for Earthquake Victims

Many thanks again to everyone who helped raise money for Kumamoto Earthquake Relief!

We have another update from Kyushu, but this time from the recipients of our donations.

They have sent us pictures showing us how the money we donated back in May is serving their community.

Please see below!


Yuuka Ogata, shown on the right sends us these photos:




Yuuka works for the City Government of Kumamoto.  Although she is also a victim of the earthquake, she volunteers her time outside of work organizing volunteers for the city’s evacuation sites.  Right after the earthquake, she came in contact with the couple shown in the picture below on the left.  This couple owned and operated a restaurant in the city called ‘Umakaya’, a Japanese home-cooking-style restaurant.  The earthquake forced them to close down their business.  Although their restaurant was inhabitable after the earthquake, they had a desire to donate their working kitchen tools to help their community.  They reached out to Yuuka and together they have donated their time and materials to cook meals at local evacuation sites.



With our donated funds, Yuuka and this husband and wife team, have fed 30 hot meals 3 times at 3 different evacuation sites in their city.

These photos from Yuuka were taken at the beginning of this month.  Many people still live in evacuation sites (since the earthquake occurred on April 16th) and these hot meals are an important service that sustains the health and spirit of those still living without homes.  Thank you Yuuka and her team of volunteers for all your hard work!




Miki Kawasaki shown on the right, sends us these photos:


Miki is a mother and together with Sonoda-san (shown on the left) who is also a mother, they are part of a special group of mothers working to make healthy school meals for the children of Kumamoto.

Sonoda-san is the leader of this group, and Miki volunteers for Sonoda-san despite having a full time job and raising 2 children.  They both try very hard to help others despite their busy lives.



Healthy and hearty soups have been a popular lunch menu item for children because all parts of the ingredients they source from local farmers are used and not wasted.  Because the group is operated by mothers, they choose their ingredients carefully with great attention to nutrition.




We hope you have a better understanding of the current situation in Kumamoto and how your donations are serving the community!

Thank you to all that helped from Tortoise and all our friends in Kyushu!

Newsletter June Issue Published



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Sachi’s Trip to Japan with a Report from Kumamoto!

Last month we raised over $7000 for Kumamoto Relief with long-time TGS member, Sachi Itabashi.  Sachi is back from Japan and below is a report on her time in Kumamoto City, along with an update on the donations.
Thank you for reading!



I went back to Kumamoto, Japan a few days after the market and returned last week.
The final donation amount turned out to be: 803,403 yen.

I tried to meet and talk to my friends and family as much as possible during my stay. By talking to friends and family in Kumamoto, I was able to collect more detailed information to help me understand what they needed and how we could use our donation in the most effective way.

The donations were distributed among 3 different recipients.
As you may remember from our previous blog posts one of the recipients is the Kyushu Rescue Dog Association.

During my research, I met Yuuka Ogata, a city councilor in Kumamoto. Ogata was also a victim of the Kumamoto earthquake, but has been trying to help others in the city at her own expense. With Ogata I visited Wakaba Elementary School, one of the evacuation sites in Kumamoto, where many earthquake victims are currently living, including families with young children. Since temporary housing sites are still under construction, and not guaranteed to every victim that needs to live in this type of housing, many earthquake victims and their families will continue to live in the school gym.

I saw plenty of common necessities at the site, including toys and books for children, which were donated from other cities.

The temporary residents at Wakaba Elementary School also receive bentos (packed food) from a few neighborhood stores, but not enough to distribute to all the people who live there.  I decided to give part of our donation to Ogata who is organizing daily hot cooked meals for the evacuees.

I also visited Mashiki-Machi – the epicenter of the earthquake and one of the most heavily damaged area where many of my friends lived.  I discovered a group started by Kyoko Sonoda that focuses on children’s school meals.  They provide home cooked hot meals to the schools in Mashiki and other affected areas since the facilities where school meals were prepared has been destroyed.  They use fresh and balanced ingredients to support the children’s health.

Ogata and Sonoda are trying to source their ingredients from local market and farmers who had to stop their business because of facility damages.
This way they also help local farmers and their businesses, and now our donations will go towards these farmers as well.

Below are a few photos I took during my visit in Kumamoto.

In general the residents have a very positive attitude.
The common message I received was:

“We are still alive.  As long as we are alive we will figure something out!”

On behalf of Tortoise, I sincerely thank everyone who participated in our Kumamoto Fundraiser.

We hope you will continue to keep Kumamoto and Kyushu in your hearts and minds!

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Thank you for your big support!!

We hosted a special market for Kumamoto this past weekend and it was a big success!

Thank you to the amazing vendors who donated products to the market — 100% of the money raised from the donated items will go to Kumamoto — and thank you TGS friends who came out this weekend to support our fundraiser!

Thank you also to the special chefs who stayed out all day in the sun to provide delicious food and entertainment.

Thank you most of all to TGS member, Sachi for organizing this event and for taking the donated funds back to Kumamoto.  We wish you the best on your journey home and wish Kyushu a speedy recovery!!

We are happy to announce that we raised $6400 at the market and $900 in our store donation box and from our online store.   This would not have been possible without our Tortoise friends and supporters!




Sachi is flying back home next week for about 1 month.  We will update everyone again when Sachi returns to LA with how the funds were donated and the latest on Kumamoto.

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Newsletter May Issue Published



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An Update on Kumamoto Fundraiser

To Friends of Tortoise,  

I want to provide an update on the situation in Kumamoto, as well as an update on the decided recipients of our fundraiser.

As mentioned in my previous blog, my friends and family are safe. 

My parent’s house suffered damages, but the structure is no longer at risk of collapse and my family has returned to sleeping in their home.

After more than 2 weeks since the quake, gas lines remain disconnected for most residents of Kumamoto. Many people cook with table top gas stoves.  To my relief my mother is able to find the joy of simple cooking during this difficult time.

Water lines were returned to most areas last week and my sister no longer has to worry about her son’s diaper rashes anymore.  Great news!

Despite being turned back on, water lines are still not completely stable and randomly stop during the day and residents must stock up on as much water as possible while the water lines are connected.

Supermarkets in my parents’s neighborhood have started opening for business. Since the buildings are damaged, items for sale are lined up in front of the store.  Markets are selling mainly packed food, canned food, instant noodles, bottled drinks, and alcohol. Not much fresh food yet. Although my father is super happy to be able to drink beer!

My friends have mostly started going back to work.  Mainly to clean up the mess from the earthquake. Most preschools however are still closed due to weak water lines and facility damages, and my sister is taking her son to work.

Some of my friends who lost their homes are now living with relatives until the city is able to build temporary houses for earthquake victims.

Under such a devastating situation, people in Kumamoto are trying very hard to return to their normal life even while experiencing more than a 1,000 aftershocks since the 7.0 quake.  

Posted below are images contributed by my friend, Hirata – all taken after the quake.  He has photographed kids playing soccer at the park and enjoying beautiful spring flowers. I want to help bring back more smiles and joyful moment like this.





A list of decided recipients of donations:

We are planning to give of the donations to “Rescue Dog Association” in Kyushu.

Kyushu is the southern part of Japan and Kumamoto-prefecture is part of Kyushu.

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rescue dogs

The rescue dogs from this association have saved victims from collapsed buildings after the Kumamoto earthquakes. 

For the remainder of the donations, I am currently researching the situation by talking to local Kumamoto friends and their networks.  The city has received many donations from around the world, but are facing logistical issues, and dealing with an understanding amount of confusion and disorganization after the quake.

There are still 37,000 people living in the city facilities who definitely need more help. 

I am contacting people who are personally arranging food trucks to the neediest areas in Kumamoto prefecture, as well as individuals organizing support for mothers who need help to take care of their young children when they return to work. 

I plan on giving the collected donations to the organizations and individuals mentioned in this blog directly, but before I do, I will also make sure that they are still providing the necessary services when the time comes for me to return to Kumamoto.  Since the situation in Kumamoto is changing daily, and new groups and organizations are stepping in to assist the region, I will do my best to keep up to date on those changes, and offer our final donation in a way that will provide the greatest and most positive assistance for those most in need.  

It will be greatly appreciated if you could support our event. Please join our fundraising event May 14th and 15th.


Thank you for your thoughtful mind,


Newsletter April Issue Published



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Support Kumamoto, Japan!

Recently, we were shocked and saddened to learn about the large earthquake that hit Kyushu, the southern most region of Japan.  The epicenter of this earthquake and hardest hit city in the region is the city of Kumamoto, Japan.

Kumamoto is the hometown of long-time TGS member, Sachi Itabashi.  Many of you know Sachi – and visit our store to spend time with her contagiously cheerful personality and generous spirit.  We have a message from Sachi – about her hometown and what you can do to help Japan.

Thank you for reading.




(Photo above: Sachi on our patio.  Photo below:  Sachi’s grandmother’s 100 year old birthday gathering – all of her family members in this photo are being affected by this earthquake right now)


“A large earthquake has attacked Kumamoto-prefecture, a city in the southern part of Japan, on April 14th.

Kumamoto is where I grew up and also where my friends and family members live.

Fortunately, my friends and family are safe, but many of their homes have been seriously damaged, or even completely destroyed, by the M7.3 earthquake.

My parent’s home is still standing, but the structure is cracked, furniture is knocked down and broken, and items are scattered throughout the house.  It was very shocking to see in photographs from my parents.

Many of the water lines going to houses have stopped, and food has become scarce at many locations.

In fear of large aftershocks, many people, including my parents, sister and her two-year-old son are sleeping in cars or spending days at large city facilities.

People living outside of Kumamoto are trying to help by bringing food, water, and blankets, but it is still not enough.

Living outside of Japan, it is hard to understand the situation without images.  Since the earthquake hit, my family and friends have been sending me images to show me what they are seeing everyday.

Where we used to spend time after school (taken by friend):
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My childhood friend’s house where I used to hang out (taken by friend):
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My friend’s neighborhood – it was very difficult for her to take this photo (taken by my friend)ryoko1

Our historic Kumamoto castle sitting in the city center, and is natural for everyone to see it while walking through downtown (image from bloomberg):
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Aso mountain where we used to go on most weekends to enjoy their local dishes and magnificent view (photo from national post):aso mountain

Historical Aso shrine (photo from yahoo):
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One of my favorite place to visit when I go back to Kumamoto, the international mingei (folk art) museum has also been affected.

However my family and friends have all been saying:
”We are fine! As long as we are alive, we can rebuild our town. No one can destroy nor take our memories!”

The people of Kumamoto believe in being a happy, cheerful and fun people.  It is part of our city pride. So, it is extra devastating to see this destroyed town when we are actually a town that is very happy:

Please support these strong minded people and our hometown rebuild.
I believe rebuilding their symbols will help them bring back their smiles sooner.

We will have a fundraising event on the TGS patio May 14th and 15th.
100% of proceeds will be donated to help Kumamoto.
I will go to Japan in late May and will bring all the donations directly to city of Kumamoto.

Please support us to help my hometown!

*A special thanks to my friends who have contributed the photos of their homes and neighbors during the difficult time.


Craftswoman behind Black Barc and 340: An Interview with Mizuki Tsurutaka


What is Black Barc and 340?  How did they both come about?

Black Barc is a jewelry brand started in 2010 in Los Angeles.  340 is a brass home goods and accessory brand started in 2014 in Los Angeles.


How did you become a craftsman?  What is it like to be a Japanese craftsman in LA?

I learned jewelry making by working with a fine jeweler in Los Angeles. To be a Japanese craftsman in LA is very inspiring and fun. I used to take Japanese crafts and traditional techniques for granted when I lived there, since they were all around me, and now that I am seeing things from outside of Japan I feel that they are very unique.

What is your studio life like?  How do you balance the two brands? 

My studio life is very simple. I wake up in the morning and get a cup of coffee and go to my studio and start making things.  I usually go home by 8pm.   I balance the two brands by dividing the day.


What is your design philosophy and what inspires your craft?

My design philosophy is composed and inspired by long loved universal techniques and designs – as well as finding new ways of developing and passing on techniques to future generations. I hope that the products I make by pursuing this philosophy will produce products that can be used by all people, regardless of nationality, race, gender, and age — making their everyday lives more satisfying.


Newsletter March Issue Published



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Kunisaki Seven Keeps Tradition Alive for its 7 Farmers

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Kunisaki Peninsula’s Usa region was designated as one of Japan’s Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) for their regional production of shittoui in 2014 — a material that for hundreds of years has been used for high quality tatami mats dating back to Japan’s Edo period (18th c).

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Shittoui is time consuming to produce for the simple fact that each blade of grass must be planted and harvested by hand – without the use of any machines.

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When the grass is harvested, the reeds are gathered and bundled for the next stage of production.  A cross section of the reed viewed from above reveals a unique triangular shape.  Typically, grass reeds have a circular shape.  Shittoui’s unique triangular shape creates another unique challenge for farmers as it cannot be fed through a machine weaver.  Each reed must be hand woven strand by strand.  In the last few decades, a majority of Japan’s tatami mats have been produced with synthetic fiber and by machines. However shittoui tatami mats are 100% hand grown, 100% hand woven, and completely natural.

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The number of farmers that still produce shittoui today are just 7.  Hence the name of its modern line ‘Kunisaki Seven’.  To give you an idea of the intense labor behind each piece, we learned that each of the seven farms can only weave up to 2 tatami mats per day.


Each piece is unique and comes with a handwritten tag with the weaver’s name.  Truly, a “farm to store” product!


If  interested in seeing our line of Kunisaki Seven pieces for the home, please visit us Monday through Saturday, 10 – 6 or Sunday 12 – 6, or call us with any questions: 310-314-8448.


Coaster $32

Trivet $62

Placemat $46

Bottle Holder $80