Kaikado, specializing in handmade tea caddies, welcomes its 140th anniversary this year. The company's business dates back to the Meiji Period, a time of cultural enlightenment, when its founder started producing tea caddies using tinplate imported from England. Kaikado’s store today is situated close to the Kamo River in Kyoto and lines up tea caddies in various sizes made of tinplate, copper and brass.
Just when Takahiro Yagi, the 6th leader of the company, had started up Go On with Masataka Hosoo and Toru Tsuji, he received a proposal from Thomas Lykke of Danish Design Studio OeO that “the cylindrical lids of the tea caddies could be used as an idea to create pitchers and trays.”
In the beginning, Yagi was not sure about expanding to other types of products, but Oliver Krug of Champagne Krug, who also happened to be the 6th generation leader of his company, said to Yagi, “When you are lost, consult with the founding leader.”
Using Krug’s words as a hint to move forward, Yagi decided to design water pitchers and trays based on the cylindrical design of the tea caddies, in the same way that the founding leader used imported tinplate to create something new.
“Whenever I think about creating a new product, I check to make sure that it is associated to the tea caddies symbolic to our brand in one way or another. Now, I’m attempting to design a tabletop using the techniques acquired from making tea caddies,” explained Yagi.
The company maintains its product quality by teaching its artisans that the finished product must be a tea caddy created by Kaikado, regardless of who made it. The beauty of the cylinder and how the lid fits the caddy is not measured, but the work of the trained artisans who have perfected the skill. Yagi himself learned the skill from his father using the hammer that was passed onto him from his grandfather. Yagi had to decipher the nuances of his father’s words in order to master the craft. “Perhaps I was able to understand the subtle distinctions because we are a family sharing the same roof for many years.”
Kaikado has continued to make the same tea caddies for well over a century, but Yagi is reanalyzing the company’s position. “I want to reconsider whether or not our tea caddies are what people are looking for today. If we take on an extremely big challenge, we might end up back to where we started, similar to the movements of a pendulum,” he said.
His sights are also set on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “In line with the Olympics, I think many people will be visiting Kyoto, the metropolis of western Japan. I want Kyoto to be prepared to welcome our guests and also communicate our roots and charms,” added Yagi.
In 2014, Kaikado’s collection of tea caddies became a part of the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The elegant and minimalistic beauty of the creations is borderless and praised, even in the UK which places importance on tea culture.