Timing is everything in business and in life. For entrepreneurs Tina Koyama and Hana Tsukamoto, their near-simultaneous arrivals in Kyoto in 2019 and a convergence of factors led them to create the mission-driven POJ Studio lifestyle platform and e-commerce store. With more time to expand their vision during the pandemic, the duo is now launching an even more ambitious and holistic agenda.
POJ (“Pieces of Japan”) Studio’s brick-and-mortar shop opened in September 2022 under a shared roof with Kissa Kishin cafe and Maana Kiyomizu, a boutique hospitality venue composed of three guest suites set to open later this fall. This deeply intentional compound reflects Koyama and Tsukamoto’s dedication to promoting and supporting traditional artisans and heritage crafts through an updated lens. Given Japan’s reopening in October, it’s the ideal time for this team to welcome visitors into this one-of-a-kind experience.
Here’s a look inside this creative compound in Japan
Koyama, who was born and raised in Switzerland with a mother from Japan who worked with Japanese goods and imports, felt a certain call to action before creating POJ Studio. She recalls visiting “craftspeople who were struggling. I was shocked by the state of the crafts industry,” she says of her visits to Japan. Despite the robust interest she noticed in Japan when she lived in Silicon Valley and worked in the tech industry, many Japanese makers would tell her, “‘this is the last generation.'” As she made the acquaintance of masters in various mediums after she and her husband moved to Kyoto, Koyama felt increasingly compelled to do something about this oft-articulated state of affairs.
A mutual friend introduced her to Tsukamoto, who had come back to Kyoto to care for her ill mother after living in the USA since age 12 and establishing a career as an art director in New York City. Discovering their shared passion for merging Japanese heritage preservation with a contemporary sensibility quickly coalesced into a business. The two founded POJ Studio in 2020 with the goal of connecting craftspeople and makers with an expanded international audience. POJ Studio’s website and Instagram feed highlight stories of artisans whose own creativity shines through and the craftspeople who continue skills and methods that have been honed over centuries. That said, “we have ideas of how to tweak everything,” Koyama says about how they respectfully work with their partners when a slightly different technique or subtle aesthetic adjustment might help expand the appeal of certain goods.
Before co-founding POJ Studio, Tsukamoto was already on a path to revitalising an important aspect of local architectural heritage in Kyoto: the wood-frame, narrow housing type known as machiya. “I read this article about these old townhouses in Japan, which I had no idea about,” Tsukamoto recalls. “They were destroying them, and I thought, ‘Okay, this is what I’m gonna do.'” So, with another friend who has a background in hospitality design, she founded Maana Homes in 2018, a small-scale project that rehabilitates machiya townhouses for short-term stays. (Tsukamoto settled in Kyoto the following year after regularly going back and forth between the USA and Japan.)
While Koyama is technically not involved in Maana Homes, there’s an organic connection between the ventures. Soon-to-open Maana Kiyomizu and POJ Studio are immediate neighbours within the machiya restored by architects Shigenori Uoya and Takeshi Ikei that’s located in a low-key residential neighbourhood still convenient to major Kyoto attractions. Many POJ Studio products are integrated into Maana Homes properties, and elements of the suites are shoppable. “We just had to stand out from the crowd,” Tsukamoto explains. “I don’t like doing anything that’s ordinary, and I’m working with people who are so inspiring.” The POJ shop itself showcases other simpatico brands and makers, such as Aria Kyoto and Karimoku Case Study. Kissa Kishin is under separate ownership but like all the components here, the spirit of collaboration is strong among these all-female-owned and operated enterprises.
Koyama and Tsukamoto have a dedicated space to host rotating exhibitions of artisans and local talent, as well as hands-on workshops. Repair is a core pillar of POJ Studio, so DIY kintugi kits (to touch up and repair crafts) are sold on the website. They offer these repair classes in-person, too. “We are a consumer goods brand, but it’s most important to us that these handcrafted goods are going to be used for a long time, and we want to make repairs very accessible,” Koyama says.
Maana Kiyomizu will soon join Maana Kyoto and Maana Kamo as being available for stays starting in November, when the first guests will be welcomed into the new, quietly minimalist, impeccably appointed suites. Design-loving travellers are well-advised to immerse themselves in this particularly unique destination and its many stories.
This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com
Main and Feature Image Credit: Courtesy of POJ Studio