RICHARD SCHLAGMAN: Once you walk into Kiyotomo, you know instantly that it could only be by Kuramata. It's really him working at the height of his powers. It's his language through and through.
IKKO YOKOYAMA: Kuramata's furniture works are more known internationally with his Memphis [Group] work and other products. He designed over 350 interior works, but [just] a handful of them is left.
ARIC CHEN: Kuramata was a designer that really brought notions of form and formlessness, lightness, transparency, objects that had an absence and a presence, objects as keepers of memories and tellers of stories. He was one of the designers that brought these ideas into design globally, starting in the ‘60s through the ‘80s.
DORYUN CHONG: It was very clear from the beginning that Kiyotomo sushi bar is a one-of-a-kind, remaining architectural example that would really be that very important piece in the foundation of the M+ Collections.
IKKO YOKOYAMA: Kiyotomo is [Kuramata’s] late work, designed in 1988. It is quite different than other spaces, which are more dreamy; the Kiyotomo is more subdued. He's using stone and wood and more natural material in order to create a more theatrical dining experience.
IGARASHI HISAE: [Japanese] Kiyotomo only opened in the evenings; there was no lunch service. The streets around Kiyotomo were dimly lit. Its entrance was a narrow, dark channel, until you slid the door open. Kuramata was trying to contrast the darkness with the light.
MIHOYA TOMOHIKO: [Japanese] Kuramata always showed a Japanese identity. Also, he loved magic. He would create illusions that people called ‘Kuramata's magic’. For instance, with its size, the restroom door could almost hit people between the eyes. He was mischievous and always surprised people.
RICHARD SCHLAGMAN: The original owner had got himself into financial difficulties after the Japanese [economic] bubble burst, and the landlord repossessed the property. I kind of had an impulsive reaction to say that I wanted to take over these premises even though I had no idea at that point at all what I could possibly do with it. And I eventually came across M+.
IKKO YOKOYAMA: Ishimaru was a contractor who built the sushi bar in 1988. Ishimaru has built and realised many of Kuramata's interior spaces.
KATSUMATA SHINICHI: [Japanese] When I first saw the plans . . . I thought, this was something unusual, even for Kuramata. It’s difficult to put into words, but it felt like suddenly stepping into a kind of wa, or Japanese sense of harmony. There is an impression of soft floating—that's what characterises Kuramata's design for this bar. Then, [Ingo Maurer’s] YaYaHo lights swam across the space. I think this is a delicate balance.
ISOZAKI ARATA: Carpenters never had the experience for this kind of joint. Every time, he had to design by himself every detail. Very carefully, he did work to eliminate traditional types of joint systems, or combined systems.
SHIMAZAKI HIROYUKI: [Japanese] It's definitely like he's setting up a challenge for us. All the craftsmen here experience that pleasure when we can respond to those challenges, like: ‘I did it! This time at least .’
YAMASHITA KIZAE: [Japanese] One of the most difficult tasks is dismantling the counter. The counter was constructed by gluing and pressing the stone onto a long, metal sheet lining that runs along the length of the counter. We will have to remove the glue from the stone slowly and with great care. Otherwise, the stone will crack.
IKKO YOKOYAMA: Two and a half years ago, we identified this as the moment, because we are ready to open a museum, ready to install the Kiyotomo sushi bar.
KATSUMATA SHINICHI: [Japanese] The first time, we had the stone skirting boards, then we built the framework and attached the wood panelling. But this time, we built the foundation first, attached the panels, and then the stone came. The process was completely backwards. I think that was the most difficult part.
IKKO YOKOYAMA: There is another key person who made this project possible: Sara Moy. She was M+’s first conservator.
SARA A. MOY: Well, I began the project in 2014 when the sushi bar was acquired. I had worked intermittently on it until we were leading up to its installation. Conservation work is detective work. You're always investigating how something is made. And that's how you learn about that particular material or that—or what's happening. There's some sort of history behind it.
IKKO YOKOYAMA: For example, in the entrance, there's a blue coloured wall; we found these three layers of different blue [paint]. I think Kuramata, he didn't like the first blue. He has changed the design while he's installing, and this type of discovery very rarely happens.
SHIMAZAKI HIROYUKI: [Japanese] Until yesterday, we had those blue tarpaulin sheets laid out. But after removing them and seeing that a piece of art was standing on top of the museum floor, I was quite surprised to find there was something quite emotional about it. Well, it feels like it's completed.
KATSUMATA SHINICHI: [Japanese] When I installed the wall panels from the beginning to the end, I was able to keep exactly a two millimetre gap around them. I think this has to be some kind of miracle. Yes. It's like Kuramata himself came down from heaven [to support us].
SUHANYA RAFFEL: I think of the museum as a place of nourishing the soul, the mind, learning. If people take away the idea that everyday experience is also very special, we're offering avenues for people to consider their relationships with objects—everyday objects, everyday experiences—but also design and architecture experiences.
How did curators, conservators, and artisans relocate an entire sushi bar into a museum?
On some quiet evening in 1988, on a backstreet near Tokyo’s Shinbashi bar district, passers-by might have stumbled upon the lone lantern and austere steel facade of Kiyotomo sushi bar. Past the blue, curving wall of its entryway, they’d have found themselves in a welcoming interior space with warm cedar walls, cool granite countertops, and delicately crafted lights suspended from vaulted ceilings. They might have even caught the eye of a member of Tokyo’s elite design, architecture, and business scenes.
Built during the economic expansion in the 1980s, the sushi bar is today one of the last intact interiors conceived by Japanese designer Kuramata Shiro. Part of the vanguard of post-1960s Japanese design, Kuramata designed hundreds of furniture objects and interior spaces during his lifetime; this space stands out for its playful accents, subtle craftsmanship, and precise attention to detail.
These days, Kiyotomo no longer stands sentry on a dimly lit street; it has been carefully reconstructed on the gallery floor. At its new home in M+’s exhibition Things, Spaces, Interactions, the sushi bar is positioned within the flow of design history—near postmodern furniture designed by Kuramata and his contemporaries—prompting not only contemplation of the breadth of Kuramata’s oeuvre, but also deeper consideration of the system of networks and influences at work in contemporary design.
How did it get there? Following its acquisition by M+ in 2014, museum curators and conservators worked with artisans from Ishimaru Co. Ltd.—one of Kuramata’s long-time collaborators—to carefully dismantle and reinstall the sushi bar, piece by piece. In this video, they recall the challenges and surprises of shepherding an entire building from Tokyo to Hong Kong and reflect on the role of design in shaping everyday experiences.
- Produced by
Tang Ka Hei
- Sound Recordist
Cheung Chun Fai
- Camera Assistant
Wayne Man, Max Lai, Chua Wing Tung
- Transcript and Subtitles
Iyuno Media Group
- M+ Video Production
Elaine Wong, Chris Sullivan
- M+ Curatorial Research
Ikko Yokoyama, William Seung
- M+ Text Editing
Amy Leung, Gloria Furness
- Special Thanks
Isozaki Arata, Mia Fong, Shimazaki Hiroyuki, Igarashi Hisae, Yamashita Kizae, Kuramata Mieko, Sara A. Moy, Richard Schlagman, Katsumata Shinichi, Mihoya Tomohiko