Setoware: Long Live Tradition

Setoware is so highly renowned in Japan that many people who use the word ‘setomono’ or ‘setoware‘ in conversation believe they’re actually saying, ‘ceramics’.  A testament to how pervasive setoware in Japan is – seto is simply synonymous with good, solid, ceramic ware.

One of the six ancient kilns of Japan, and the first kiln in Japan to produce ceramic ware with a glaze, Setoware, takes its name from the city of its founding.  A beautiful, transparent, high gloss still defines setoware to this day with its trademark yellow-green glaze.

Recently, Tortoise manager and buyer, Herbert Johnson visited Seto-shi (city of Seto) to bring pieces of setoware back to Tortoise. The 8th generation craftsman Mizuno Hanjiro currently heads Seto’s kiln, and he showed us how he continues to produce the traditional setoware that made it the standard of Japanese ceramics since feudal Japan.

Below are photos from Herbert’s journey as well as images of the setoware we are now carrying thanks to this visit.


The Seto kiln resides at the end of this long and green road up a hill.



The main Seto building lies at the end of the road.



The Seto kiln is a ‘noborigama’ or ‘climbing kiln’, named for the way they hug the steep mountainsides of rural Japan.  The incline gives ‘climbing kilns’ added efficiency. Wood thrown into the kiln’s first room at the bottom of the mountain creates heat that climbs up to the adjoining room (because heat rises), and so forth until it fills and rises up the entire kiln. The heat travels through each chamber, requiring less wood at each step. This kind of ingenuity has kept these ancient kilns running for hundreds of years.



Seto’s glazing room with glaze filled pots.IMG_1358_1024


Many pieces await glazing and firing.   IMG_1362_1024


The bowl on the left, once fired, will become a beautiful brown color while the bowl on the right will become a beautiful green.                                                             IMG_1377_1024

Each room in the ‘climbing kiln’ is large enough for a person to stand.IMG_2507_1024

From ancient Japan to modern Venice, CA, bowls, plates, and cups in a variety of sizes are now available at TGS. Come and see them alongside one of their elders: a vintage serving plate from 1800 .                                           thumb_IMG_5071_1024-2



Gentle Skill and Spirit: Behind the making of a Higo Mari (Mari Ball)

Threaded, handmade mari-balls are a favorite item for many TGS customers.

These photos sent to us from Kurashiki, Okayama, Japan (where our mari balls are made) not only show us the lengthy crafting process, but warmly expresses the gentle skill and spirit that goes into each carefully made, unique piece.


(Image 1: The core of the mari ball is rice chaff.  Rice chaff is the ‘husk’ surrounding the rice – the part of rice usually thrown away)


 (Image 2: After the rice chaff is wrapped tightly with fabric material, a base layer of yarn is wound tightly around the core)


(Image 3:  Every mari ball is made entirely by hand.  The group of women who make our mari balls are on average 60+ years old and always excited to send us their latest creations)


(Image 4: Mari balls draw your attention with their incredibly intricate designs.  The threads is cotton and dyed mainly with vegetable extracts.  Patterns are often symmetrical, geometric and based upon nature)


(Image 5: Mari balls, when they first began, were originally made for children.  Children would roll mari balls as play or kick them in a kickball type game.  Once the rubber ball was invented the mari ball transitioned into more of a decorative item.  For centuries, until now, the mari ball has been considered a highly valued and cherished gift — symbolizing deep friendship, loyalty and good luck wishes.  Since the balls are filled with the craftsman’s gentle spirit and skill, mari balls are believed to bestow happiness.  The brilliant color and threads are symbolic of well wishes for a brilliant (and happy) life)  



(Image 6: Around 300 yards of sewing thread is used for a hand-sized mari ball.  All of which is placed smoothly and consistently to ensure perfect roundness of the ball when it is finished)



If interested in purchasing, or seeing a mari ball in person, please visit our store in Venice, or order one over the phone by calling us at 310-314-8448.


Traditional Crafts for a Modern Audience – KYOTO LIVE!

In many ways Takahiro Yagi and Tsuji Toru are the future of Japanese craftsmanship.

Kyoto live


(Left to Right: Takahiro Yagi and Toru Tsuji)

Takahiro Yagi is a 6th generation tea caddy maker.  Tsuji Toru is a 2nd generation copper wire weaver.  Both men spent years mastering their respective crafts, learning from their fathers and following strict traditions.

Their tools are time tested and handed down from older generations.  They follow techniques hundreds of years old.  But their focus now for the future is considerably different from their predecessors.

Yagi and Toru are bringing storied Japanese craftsmanship to the world, learning from other cultures along the way and – in a word – diversifying.

When Yagi and Toru first met 8 years ago, they were at different points in their careers.  Yagi was already well known, and Toru was a brand new face.  It took 3 years, but when they met again at a design show in Milan, they finally started talking.

“Craftsmen in Japan don’t have relationships with each other, even when they share the same craft.  A kimono maker in one area of Kyoto may never know other kimono makers in the same area.  The size of their business, their ways and aims may all be different, so it causes them to fight at times.  This [Yagi and Toru’s] relationship is unique.”

While abroad, both men realized they shared the same roots and passions for their craft, as well as a similar vision for the future – a future that led them beyond Japan, making their work accessible to the world.  Their vision went beyond just their businesses.  They wanted to support craftsmanship in Japan as a whole.

“We want to tell the truth about the ‘craftsmen world’.  Everybody believes that the craftsmen is dying, but actually it is growing every year.  If you do it the right way, you can make money and you can grow.  The first thing you have to do is – you have to make beautiful quality things.  But the second important thing is, you have to seep into a culture and talk about it the right way.” 

Hence, Kyoto Live.  Yagi and Toru are visiting Venice Beach from June 21st to June 24th to talk about their craft, discuss the nuances of being a traditional craftsmen in a modern world, and show people the future of tea caddies and copper utensils.  According to Yagi, the future of tea caddies include sleek copper trays, tall coffee pitchers and glowing metal caddies for candles with delicate flame extinguishers.  The future of copper utensils are woven baskets, wire grills for roasting nuts and making toast and shadow casting lamp shades.

It wasn’t an easy decision for these craftsmen to venture in new directions, but when they discussed their plans with other craftsmen from different parts of the world, they received advice that set them on their current path.

“I showed the canister to Olivier Krug (6th generation of the Krug champagne house) and explained that the key to our canisters was the airtight seal.  I asked if he thought it was okay to move away from the canister – to try something different.  And he told me, ‘Ask the 1st generation that question for your answer’.  He told me to think about the 1st generation — and what they made, who they made it for, and how much it cost for them to make.  Once I understood the root of what the 1st generation made, I would have an answer for my question.  And as my father told me later, if I ended up being wrong, let’s just go back to the caddy.”

Kyoto Live is a live talk and demonstration in the hopes that returning customers and people who are perhaps seeing their products for the first time, can be a part of the changing and growing future of their business.

Please come to Tortoise from June 21st to June 24th, from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm, to take advantage of this rare opportunity to engage with these craftsmen bringing tradition into the modern world.


Event Photos:

Toru’s copper wire nets and baskets: A person in London looked at this gingko toaster and said it would be perfect for nuts.  I want people to be free to use it their way.  This tempura net can be a fruit basket.  This grill for mochi is for toast.  In Japan we use it one way, but in other parts of the world, it can be use differently.

tsuji 8


Toru’s copper wire lampshades: I wanted to create a world wide product.  I’m always thinking to the future.  Traditional techniques are important, but I’m not looking at the past.

tsuji 6


Yagi’s copper candle holders:  Why do we have extinguishers?  Blowing out candles in Japan is not very nice.  Candles are typically used on butsudans (alters) and candles are blown out by hand.  This is a much more elegant way to extinguish a flame.

Kaikado 9


Yagi explaining the tea caddy and the evolution of its design: The key to our canister is the airtight seal.  As long as that is our focus, we cannot move away from the canister.  So we took the lid off the caddy and flipped the lid. Now we have a bowl.  Widen it, we make it into a tray.  Make it taller, and it is a pitcher.  

kaikado 8


Toru demonstrating the copper weaving technique it took him 6 years to master: Happiness is seeing with my eyes, feeling with my hands, feeling the ground underneath my feet.  Real life is made up of things we can feel.  I am interested in things that are real, which is why I want to go into the world to see with my own eyes and feel with my own hands.  I don’t want to see the world on a screen.  

tsuji 5


Toru’s handmade sesame seed toaster: The mesh is very fine on the sesame seed toaster.  Just place 20 cm away from a gas fire and shake.

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Yagi’s grandfather’s tools and canisters from WWII: To craftsmen, tools are our mirrors.  My grandfather lived during WWII and he was told to give up his tools and materials [to be used for weapons].  He gave up half and kept the rest.  He continued to make caddies in secret.  The front of his store was a pharmacy, but in the back of the house he made caddies.  He was eventually arrested.  My grandfather’s hammer is the hammer on the left.  This was the hammer I used when I was first learning how to make caddies.   When I eventually learned how to make caddies on my own, I bought myself the hammer on the right.  And that was the first time I realized the difference between the two.  The hammer on the left is my grandfather and it’s much smaller after years of use.  It motivates me to work harder with my own tools.

Kaikado 6


Toru’s copper and steel tofu scooper and ladle: We weave the chrysanthemum pattern because we want you to see the pattern that’s cast by its shadow.  One of our company’s main concept is to focus on small side kitchen tools.  They are just as important as main tools.  Like supporting characters in a play – if they are not as strong as the main character, then the total production is not good.  The tofu scooper will never be a main utensil – even in a Japanese kitchen.  But we want you to use this and get pleasure out of it – just as much as the tools you use all the time.  Our company’s second important concept is to create beautifully designed items with an emphasis on nature.  The bamboo handle on this ladle is able to absorb heat – and in fact many Japanese tools use wood for this reason.  In Japanese Shinto philosophy, there are many gods everywhere especially in nature.  The soul of the nature used lives on in the tools that we craft because these tools are meant to last a very long time.

tsuji 9


Yagi and Toru meet one on one with newcomers and returning patrons.

Event 2


For all Kaikado purchases during this event, you can receive a special gift from Yagi-san: an engraved tea scooper in a metal of your choosing.  Please stop by!


kaikado 10


Black S/N is Here!

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S/N is a multi-functional brass ware line designed by our store’s owner Taku Shinomoto.

It is produced in partnership with Nousaku Metal Works.

Nousaku was founded in 1609 by Toshinaga Maeda, lord of the Kaga Clan, Takaoka City (Toyama Prefecture).  In 1916 NOUSAKU began manufacturing Buddhist altar fittings, tea sets and flower vases. Despite the deceptively simple appearance of some of these items, the manufacturing process often requires multiple steps. Nousaku uses advanced casting techniques and has and refined finishing methods that can only be done by master craftsmen. Today Nousaku is run by the 4th generation Nousaku family.

If you are interested in S/N or other Nousaku pieces, please visit us at the store or call us with questions at 310-314-8448.




Newsletter June issue published



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Father’s Day is June 21st!

We really enjoyed this father’s day gift guide highlighting local shops in the Venice area.  Thank you Pardee for choosing us for the ‘Artsy’ Dad :)

Design in the Too-Much-Information Age


TGS owner,  Taku Shinomoto, recently gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal for his work as lead designer for Hasami Porcelain.  A portion of the interview can be found in the WSJ article posted here, but for those interested in the full WSJ interview, we are posting it below – in both Japanese and English.


WSJ:  We’ve been hearing a lot from designers about the need for more tactile design – rougher finishes, sculpted rugs, less polished and gleaming surfaces – in response to the overabundance of tech screens in our lives. Can you comment on this?

近年のテクノロジーの進歩による日常生活における過剰なスクリーン(画面)上のやり取りの結果として、 デザイナーの多くからフィニッシュの粗さ、光沢や反射の少ない表面、形成されたラグ(?)など 触感を重視するデザインの必要性について聞かされる事が増えています。 この事についてコメントしていただけますか?


TS:  私も同感です。 テクノロジーが進化すればするほど、人々はその反動としてそのバランスを取るようにプリミティブな物に惹かれていくでしょう。僕が生まれた時代に人々が思い描いた全てがアップデートされたような未来は起こりませんでした。テクノロジーの進化は目覚ましいものですが、人自身の感覚はそのスピードと同じように進化する事は出来ませんでした。産業革命以後のアーツアンドクラフト運動、日本における民芸運動、現代はその時期と同じ事とを繰り返しています。特に食器に関しては驚くほど遠い昔から進化していません。製造工程の近代化や効率化はされているものの、基本的に土と火で作られている点は何千年前から変わっていませんし、それに代わる優れた素材の登場も有りませんでした。これから先、火と土から形成される焼き物はさらに注目されるでしょう。焼き物メーカーの人たちに私はこのように話しています。『アップルコンピューターが売り上げを伸ばせば伸ばす分だけ、あなたたちの業績も上がっていくでしょう』

I agree. As people react to evolving technology, they are becoming more attracted to primitive objects, to adjust the balance in a way. The future that was imagined by adults when I was born has not been completely updated in the current world. The evolution of technology is remarkable, but our human senses have not been able to keep up with the speed. Like the art and craft movement after the industrial revolution, the “mingei” movement in Japan in the 1920’s, we are repeating these movements in the present now. Tableware in particular has not evolved much since ancient times. Even though efficiency in the manufacturing process has somewhat improved, the use of soil and fire which are the two basic elements in pottery has not changed for several thousands of years, and there has not been any distinguished substitutes for those materials. Pottery made with soil and fire will likely attract more and more people in the future. I always speak to the pottery producers in Japan, “Your achievements will keep rising as long as Apple increases its revenue.”


WSJ:  We’re interested in the Hasami Porcelain you sell at the store.  Curious if you work with an old factory / heritage brand / in a special region / etc. to make the pieces.  How the process came about, etc.  How long you’ve been doing it.

店頭で売られているHasami Porcelainについて興味があります。製造過程で古い工場、歴史あるブランド、特別な地域などとは関わっていますか? どのような段階を経てこのデザインに至ったのでしょうか? どれぐらいの期間携わっていますか?

TS: 2010年からこのプロジェクトに関わっています。店の開業以来取引のある長崎県の波佐見という焼き物の産地から, 世界に通用する波佐見焼を作りたいという依頼からこのプロジェクトがスタートしました。波佐見は約400年の歴史がある焼き物の産地です。世界的に有名な有田の隣町なのですが、有田は高級な工芸品の焼き物産地として発展しました。その影で、波佐見は現代でいう使い捨ての器や使い捨ての酒ビン等を作ることで成り立ってきました。現代も安価で庶民的な焼き物の量産の産地です。その産地の磁器の量産性という特性を生かしつつ。画一的な質感と安物というイメージが有った磁器に土を混ぜることによって、磁器の丈夫さを保ちつつ、ユニークな質感や味を与えることができました。現代におけるスタンダードになれるような器を作ることを目指しました。和食にも洋食にもどの国の食事にも対応できるように形状や素材を考えています。デザインコンセプトに関してはカタログの説明文を参考にして下さい。


I have been involved with this project since 2010. I was asked to come up with a line of pottery for Hasami in the Nagasaki prefecture, a pottery region and local manufacturer that our store has been working with since our opening.  The project was all about creating something that could work globally.  Hasami has 400 years of history making pottery.  Arita, which is widely known for its ceramics worldwide is actually the village right next to Hasami, but Arita has developed a reputation as a higher-end, craft oriented pottery region. In contrast, factories in Hasami have been supporting themselves by manufacturing low cost, disposable tableware and sake bottles, and even today they still provide reasonable pottery in large quantities for daily use. I was able to achieve a unique texture or “taste” with Hasami products by combining Hasami’s ability to manufacture porcelain in large quantities and mixing soil with porcelain which was thought to be cheap. I aimed to develop a line that could be the modern standard for containers. The shape and material are designed to cope with Japanese, Western, and global cuisine. Please refer to the “CONCEPT” section of Hasami Porcelains website for the design concept:


WSJ: Part of our thesis is that Japanese design is particularly effective at conveying this sensibility.  We’re interested in people working with heritage brands and creating new product using their know-how, facilities, techniques, materials, etc.  Can you speak to this revival of (young) designers working with these brands?


TS: 良い傾向にあると思います。日本人特有の一過性の流行りのようになっている点は懸念があるのは事実ですが。物事は停滞してしまうことが一番のマイナス要因ではないでしょうか。伝統的な技術や産地がさまざまなデザインや新しいアイデアに取り組むことは、結果として良い案件悪い案件と有るかもしれませんが、技術や産地の活性につながると考えます。


I think it is good, although I do need to admit that I am a bit concerned that this movement has become a transitory trend, which is peculiar for Japanese people. The most negative element is to stagnate. Traditional technicians and regions working with various designs and new ideas will ultimately result in activating those techniques and the entire region, and of course there could be good and bad projects along the way.



WSJ: What are the benefits of feeling / touching / holding these products?  Do these natural materials and textures convey a special message that is lacking in cold metal / glass / plastic that we normally do? Does Japan do this better than anyone and, if so, how is it achieved materiality, technique, etc.


TS: どのような利点が有るかは明確にはわかりませんが、1の質問の回答のような事だと思います。僕は陶磁器に限らず、木やガラス、鉄、アルミニウム、ましてやプラスチックにもメッセージを感じます。それは素材からによるものではなく、均一では無い質感や時代を経ることによって生まれる質感があるものに対してなのだと思います。時間経過によってみすぼらしくなってしまうような物ではなく時間経過が味わいや個性になるものを作りたいし扱っていきたいと考えて日本人の価値観の根幹には神道の考えか方が宗教としてではなく生き方として染みついているように感じます。子供の頃から万物に神(魂)が宿っていることを教えられてきた気がします。もちろん神道の授業の時間など存在しません。私自身それが神道であることにも気づいていないと思うのです。モノづくりにもその存在が大きく影響を与えているのだと思います。素材、工具、全てもものに神(魂)を感じながら作り出されたもには、それが宿っているのだと思います。


Although I can’t clearly identify the benefits, I think it would be something similar to the answers for question #1. I personally feel messages in wood, glass, steel, aluminum, and even plastic. That is because the messages are not coming from the material itself, but from elapsed time and the unevenness of the texture. I am always trying to create and sell something that would not look shabby over time, but has an aging process that would become part of its own uniqueness and add more taste to it. I also feel that the root of the Japanese people’s sense of values are deeply dyed by the way of thinking from the Shinto shrine, as a way of living – not just religious lectures. We have been raised to believe that all things are sacred, and god (a soul) dwells inside everything. Of course, there are no Shinto classes or anything like that in school. Maybe even I do not completely recognize that that is Shinto. But the existence of that concept has a great impact on Japanese crafts. Material, tools, everything that has been made by feeling the god (soul) in the object contains that element.

Newsletter May issue published

Published on May 15, 2015.

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Kaneko Rice Planting Starts! Update from our TGS member

Last month we announced TGS member Sahori Kaneko’s return home to Aichi-ken, Japan to grow her family’s rice business. 

We are excited to learn that planting is underway and here is the photo evidence! Sahori is the one who is planting – gambare!  Thank you everyone who came to last month’s special rice tasting event in honor of Kaneko rice.  We will hopefully blog more updates in the future!

Sahori Rice 3 Sahori Rice 2 Sahori Rice 1

Hal’s Is on the Move!



Message from our owner:

Hal’s is the oldest restaurant on AK and Taku and I really enjoyed the atmosphere which you can see any generation and race there, not like a hip restaurant. Our visitors and artists from Japan have enjoyed their food and feeling there as well. It is sad to lose a good place where we have good memories and we just said good bye to a 15yr old neighbor restaurant, AXE in the end of last year. Well, let’s hope they can reopen still in Venice near us!! — Keiko Shinomoto

Newsletter April published

Published on Apr. 12, 2015.

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Kaneko Rice Tasting on April 25th, 11am -5pm!

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We are hosting a special event on Saturday, April 25th in honor of Sahori Kaneko and her family’s 300 year old rice fields in Aichi prefecture!

Sahori, merchandiser for TGS since 2013, is returning to her hometown of Aichi to join her family’s rice tradition and expand it into a small business.

The rice harvested on the Kaneko farm is called mineasahi – a rice that can only be grown in Aichi, and compared to other rice varieties, is sweeter (‘amami’) and with a superior texture and consistency (‘nebari’).

“Kaneko rice is delicious because we grow our rice with water from the nearby mountains (‘yama mizu’).  Other rice fields will use water from the city, or from rivers, and we take our water from a very pure source.”

Sahori, whose background is in interior design and her sister, who works as an aroma therapist in Japan, intend on creating a business that will focus on wellness as much as rice.  Their future plans involve a cafe with a menu using Kaneko rice as well as a spa where people can enjoy the surrounding natural beauty while receiving treatments.

At this Kaneko rice event we will be tasting both white and brown rice balls in soy sauce and miso flavors and giving away samples while supplies last.  The miso will also be from Aichi – a richer and deeper tasting miso than other you may have tried in the past!

“Living in America the last two years helped me see the beauty of Japan in a way I hadn’t before.  I am taking what I learned at Tortoise to create something sophisticated and modern with rice, and to show people the value of agriculture.  Not only people visiting Aichi prefecture, but for the people living in our own community as well.” 

Please come see us April 25th for this very special pop-up event, and to say goodbye to Sahori!


Aichi frog enjoying the rice field:

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The surrounding mountains are the main water source for all Kaneko Rice fields:

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Rice planting season starts on May 1st.  Sahori will return home on April 30th, and start planting the very next day with her family.  Gambare!

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Tortoise General Store is Flying with Delta!

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We had a customer from Australia the other day visit our store and tell us they saw TGS on his flight to Los Angeles!  Delta Sky has featured the Tortoise General Store in their ‘LA Stories’ Issue as 1 of the 5 things you should try while in Venice and we are happy to represent Venice and LA to our friends from around the world!  We have customers from many countries and cities visiting us every day and we are grateful to have our store featured in this well curated and informative issue.  Thank you to our new guest from Australia for telling us about this issue.  We hope you see lots of Los Angeles during your first trip here!

Please read the full issue here!

Newsletter March published

Published on Mar 6, 2015.

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Newsletter February published

Published on Feb 11, 2015.

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Newsletter January published

Published on Jan 14, 2015.

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Newsletter December Vol.2 published

Published on Dec.17, 2014.

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Newsletter December published

Published on Dec.05, 2014.

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Business Hours During December 2014

We are now officially open on Mondays during December!
Store hours :
11:30 – 19:00 (Mon through Sat)
11:30 – 18:30 (Sun)

* Closed on December 25th

* Closed earlier on December 31st

We have lots of great gift ideas, please visit us!


Newsletter November Issue

Published on Nov.04, 2014.

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