Matsukan Chopsticks
Nendo Tuesday 11 Feb 2014

For four centuries, the town of Obama in Fukui Prefecture, Japan, has manufactured lacquered chopsticks. Obama's lacquered chopsticks have been recognised as the hardest and most beautiful of Japanese lacquer chopsticks since the seventeenth century, when they became known as ‘Wakasa-nuri'. Nendo have designed new chopsticks in collaboration with Hashikura Matsukan, a manufacturer who continue Obama's traditional manufacturing techniques today. These are contemporary designs with innovative twists on style, material and function.

For the hanataba design, Nendo decided that while round chopsticks are slippery to use, overly square-cornered ones aren't as comfortable to hold. They explored ways of increasing the surface area of chopsticks in the hand, as a way of improving holding comfort, and discovered the natural form of the pleated cross-section. When viewed as a cross-section, the chopsticks look like flowers, so a bunch of chopsticks kept together into a cup turns into a ‘bouquet'.

The jikaoki chopsticks are created by carefully carved away the chopsticks' tips to fine points, so that they float above the tabletop when the chopsticks are laid down for cleanliness, even without chopstick rests. For the sukima design, Nendo decided to create a pattern in the space between the chopsticks. They decided on four patterns: hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades. The two chopsticks are carved into different shapes for all patterns but the diamonds, but it's possible to use one of the diamond chopsticks as the top chopstick with a spade, or the bottom chopstick with a heart, for a total of four different patterns from the four different chopstick pairs. The carving made the chopsticks so thin that they weren't strong enough with wood alone, so they embedded a carved aluminium core in the wood to solve the problem.

Nendo put a gap on one of the four sides of their square shaped chopsticks, and embedded a magnet, so that two would snap together in one piece when flipped and fitted to each other; this is the kamiai design. The magnets are placed towards the outside of each chopstick, so that they don't come together accidentally while someone is using them to eat. For the udukuri design they used the udukuri process, carving the wood surface away with a metal brush to leave the hard wood grain and then lacquering and polishing again to bring this out as a pattern. Unlike patterns drawn by hand, this combination of processes allows patterns from nature to appear organically.

Finally, while chopsticks ordinarily come in pairs, the rassen chopsticks are a single unit. They're separated into two for eating, then rejoined into one form when not in use.