Through a series of tailored, one-on-one sessions we are learning all about Karimoku Cat. Its heritage, products and manufacturing process. We find it fascinating, so we want to share these stories and snippets with you.
This is the story of your cat tree.
About Karimoku Cat
Karimoku is the biggest wood furniture company in Japan
Where It All Began
Karimoku Cat has a rich history dating back to 1940's Japan. It all began as a small woodworking shop in the Aichi Prefecture. Locals had labelled the shop 'Karimoku'. A name taken from their town, Kariya and mokuzai, the Japanese word for wood.
Kariya, Aichi in 1940
The company started supplying timber to its neighbour, Toyota and through this work Karimoku's woodworking techniques and technology developed. By the 50's they had progressed to making textile spinning machines and sewing machine tables.
Karimoku is a third generation family run business
Mid Century Style
Karimoku's next projects were even more creative - piano keyboards and stereo consoles. These projects required terrific accuracy and craftsmanship, and they also required style.
The company's distinctly Japanese style was showcased and it happened to share important attributes with the mid century modern movement, like simplicity and space. This was the burgeoning style in America's post-war architecture and design. It makes sense that Karimoku's first export was a 1960's chair to the United States.
Karimoku was carving a future in the furniture space, and in the 60's it launched its own furniture line locally in Japan. This was the defining moment for the company and the style and values it had then, remain today.
This leads us in to what the company values. High-tech, high-touch describes their way of making wood furniture. On the factory floor you will find the latest, greatest high-tech equipment for cutting wood. From there craftspeople take over the process and all furniture finishes, such as painting are completed by hand. This closeness with the wood is where they feel and find any defects.
A Karimoku Craftsman © 2021 Tomooki Kengaku
Karimoku employs many young people from the community. They value their young workforce as the future of the company and as the people they design products for. Many work in the company's own wood mill. Which also has been preparing oak for export since the 90's.
High-tech, high-touch © 2021 Tomooki Kengaku
Protecting the Forest
Karimoku imports a variety of wood from all over the world. In particular, walnut wood from the United States and beech wood from Europe. 99% of their oak wood is sourced locally from Hokkaido.
Karimoku want to protect this forest, so they plant and control the use of the trees there. They are creating new ways, with wood and product design to make furniture from small trees, previously deemed unsuitable for anything but paper.
They also ensure there is no illegal logging.
Karimoku can trace wood back to the very person who felled the tree
Another way Karimoku is protecting the forest is in its use of the rubber tree.
The rubber tree is farmed for its milky white sap called latex. After 30 years this milk runs out and the tree is seen to have no benefit. There is a 'fluff' around the tree that makes it unsuitable wood for furniture. When this happens, in Asia the tree is typically burned.
Karimoku have used technology to overcome this and now use the rubber tree in their furniture. The tree does not go to waste!
They also recycle their wood offcuts. In collaboration with Shiseido, Karimoku scrap wood is reused in the packaging for skincare brand Baum. This recently won an iF Design award. Baum in turn is actively involved in forest conservation and the planting of oak trees.
The use of natural resources is not taken lightly by Karimoku. They honour the tree by giving it a long second life.
Brands & Collaborations
Karimoku has 3 brands; Karimoku Cat, Karimoku60 and Karimoku New Standard (KNS).
Our favourite Karimoku brand of course, Karimoku Cat is also a collaboration, with cat furniture specialist RINN. You can see Karimoku's signature style in this range; different tints of oak, modular design for easy repair, and its compact design for small homes. The Karimoku Cat Tree won an iF Design Award.
Karimoku60 was launched in 2000. The brand celebrates 60's furniture and features many of Karimoku's original 60's designs, like the 'K Chair'.
This chair has never been out of production. Its timeless design and durability has ensured its popularity through the ages. Originally designed for export, each part is replaceable. Longevity is so important to the company, and as such furniture items are modular, height adjustable, reconfigurable and easy to maintain. No built-in obsolescence!KNS
KNS (short for 'Karimoku New Standard') is sold in Australia through Stylecraft and the furniture centres around 2 concepts - making furniture with small, thinned-out trees, and overseas designers.
Traditionally in Japan, small trees were only used for paper making. For the KNS brand however, Karimoku designs with small trees in mind. This point of difference is helping to revitalise Japan's Forestry industry.
The use of overseas designers, and not their own in-house ones is deliberate. Karimoku's designers know the capabilities of production. Whereas overseas designers don't have this inside knowledge. Meaning they design without limits. It's very clever.
Karimoku collaborates with other industries too. They handmake all wood parts for this stunning Roland digital piano, available in four finishes.
Karimoku also teamed up with Medicom twice to create a limited edition handcrafted wood toy, Be@rbrick. This luxury toy showcases the many skills of Karimoku who used various woodworking techniques (marquetry, carving etc.), shades and colours of wood to form patterns.
For anyone unfamiliar with the Bearbrick Toy, it is less toy and more a collectible figurine of art and expression.
Bearbricks have fetched hundreds of thousands of dollars
The Be@rbrick below is two feet tall and took Karimoku artisans months to make. They used a special carving technique known as Yosegi-zukuri. It retails at over $12,000 AUD.
In our next session we learnt all about Karimoku's painting process. Please see Part Two of this blog series.