Japanese Version

Joy to the world from Japan by Amy Katoh

Steve here: I have invited Amy Katoh, author and proprietor of Tokyo's beloved Blue and White shop, to share with us today.

Akio Hirata Hats #6 REV

The spiraling steps of the atrium help the audience view the hats from all angles.

Four thousand white flying saucers are taking off in the soaring space of the great atrium of the iconic Spiral Building, designed by Fumihiko Maki, on Tokyo’s ritzy Aoyama Dori. They move with the air currents and some are capped with ethereal forms. On second glance, they aren’t space ships at all, they are hats. The white forms are all hats as well: simple shaped, one form, beauty-in-repetition, white, wide rimmed bowlers. They are the most imaginative and joyful hats that have ever topped any head. Made of the white paper material called smash, used for health masks that are the mark of spring in Tokyo, protecting against allergies and colds, the hats have the beauty that comes from the endlessly repeated form. They are the remarkable culmination of 50 plus years of the hat making life of Akio Hirata, trained and certified as a Maitre of millinery in France and for years making hats for clients who had the flair to wear them.

Akio Hirata Hats #1 REV

Natural materials, graceful shapes and superb workmanship combine with a joy of life that informs all of Hirata-san’s hats.

The delight in the hats is palpable in each creation. The daring and humorous archival collection of Hirata-san’s works is enough to inspire any incipient hat maker, but to see them in such numbers and to see the brilliant installation conceived of by Oki Sato, of nendo, a creative space designer, is breath stopping. The space was measured and a mock-up 1/30th the size was built to recreate the space in miniature and calculate the number of hats and how and where they would hang. 100 volunteers spent countless hours stringing the hats on clear plastic fishing line and then attaching them to a grid work net hoop suspended from the ceiling. The effect is daring and inspiring. To think that one person could have created so many hats by hand! That the materials used are so pure and delicate and genuine, and that they have just the jaunt and style and grace that most people would die to wear, though most would lack the courage. The exhibit is largely filled with young people looking up with wonder at the sight. They seem to be finding something here that they are looking for – a meaning to life? A way to follow ones bliss?

Akio Hirata Hats #5 REV

Hats for sale are stacked on whimsical piles of the white splash hats for people to try on and take home with them if they find the perfect one. Hopefully they will bring home some of the unquenchable zest and vibrancy and humor that Akio Hirata has infused into each and every hat he has so lovingly created. This is an exhibit of his lifetime of passion for making hats. It should be shown around the world so all can see that Japan may be down, but it will never lose its creative flair and lyrical way with making things with natural materials and the magic touch of two inspired hands.

Author Amy Katoh is proprietor of Tokyo’s iconic Blue and White Shop. Blue and White is like a salon for established and budding artists, craftspeople and collectors, as well as for newcomers to Japan who are trying to find their way through one of the world’s largest and most exciting cities. It has created a much needed international forum for a generation of creative people to share their work.

4 thoughts on “Joy to the world from Japan by Amy Katoh

  1. Dianne Vapnek

    this exhibit looks exhilerating. Thanks to Amy for bringing it to our attention and for her very fine description about its impact on the viewers.

  2. Amy Katoh

    thank YOU Dianne. Glad for your comment. Now writing on a wonderful Issey Miyake exhibit on the Hidden Power of Tohoku in clothing on through tomorrow at 21_21 Design Site in Tokyo Midtown. Hope to get it to Japan Living Arts soon.

  3. diane durston

    Amy, Thank you for once again opening our eyes to the remarkable inventiveness of the Japanese. This artist and this extraordinary installation reinvent Japanese design concepts that go back a thousand years, proving once again that the spirit behind them has not been lost. You always teach me new ways of seeing. Thank you, thank you!

  4. Louise Glickman

    Back in my holly-go-lightly Sixties in NYC, slave to fashion design and retailing, I discovered hats and have never stopped. I have quite a collection of color, shapes and sizes… material culture, if you will. This exhibit (and your vivid reportage) makes my heart sing. Actually, my grandmother came to New Orleans from Alsace in 1878 and became a sought after milliner. Thanks for quickening my pulse with grand reminiscence. The artist has provided wonderment and whimsy. Thanks for opening my eyes.

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