From left: Colors of Oriami origami squares vary with the metals and alloys used; seen here (from top) are red brass, stainless steel, and copper. The other images show a variety of Kanaori meshes; their textures evoke fine fabrics. Colors shift with the light, and the sheen has an attractive metallic brilliance.

At the Cutting Edge
―Made-in-Japan innovations 2

A new fusion of Japan’s great craft skills with the country’s renowned manufacturing technologies is creating products of stunning innovation.  See how familiar materials are being transformed by technical know-how, meticulous attention to detail, ingenuity, and passion. As the novel products gain fans, they are opening up new business opportunities for some long-established companies and giving fresh meaning to “made in Japan.”
As supple as cloth or paper

Could they be bolts of cloth? Or sheets of paper? Only when you pick one up do the unexpected coolness to the touch and light weight make you realize you’re holding wire mesh. A common material with myriad uses, from screen doors and kitchen strainers to industrial and pharmaceutical filters, wire mesh is now also a thing of beauty.

Amid ever-increasing mechanization, what counts at the final stage of production in the Ishikawa Wire Netting workshop is the keen human eye and fingertips with a good sense of touch.

For almost a century Ishikawa Wire Netting Co., Ltd., has been an industry leader producing a wide range of wire mesh in Arakawa, one of Tokyo’s shitamachi neighborhoods. Weaving mesh products, some from wire finer than a human hair, takes considerable technical prowess at every stage. Fine mesh requires precision cutting to avoid unraveling along the edge. And unlike soft materials, metal mesh is hard to cut straight because blades are prone to deviate from the desired line.

The techniques of Japanese wire-mesh manufacturers and the quality of their products are unparalleled in the world. However, in recent years, as less expensive imports have penetrated the market, Ishikawa Wire Netting has—alongside its mainstay mass-produced goods—developed two novel side lines that make full use of finely honed Japanese skills in weaving wire. The company’s Kanaori line has the feel of fine hand-woven textiles, with textures resembling silk moire or herringbone twill. The durable Oriami line is attracting origami crafters. Both products have recently received patents.

At once functional and stylish, the Kanaori meshes are characterized by varied combinations of metals. Using relatively hard stainless steel for the warp and other metals such as copper and brass for the weft achieves a wide range of elasticity and pliancy. By weaving colored stainless-steel wires, patterns like the tricolored stripes, above, appear. The possibilities are endless. Permeable by air and light, the Kanaori is proving popular for use in interiors and displays.

The Oriami mesh started with an idea from an origami-loving employee. As supple as cloth but sturdier than paper, it is a metal origami sheet. When presented in Italy, it drew praise from origami crafters there who loved the lightness and durability of the mesh. The Oriami is also ideal for shaping fashion accessories and artificial flowers.

Oriami is available for purchase at outlets such as Tokyu Hands, Yodobashi Camera, and Yahoo!Japan Shopping. Prices start at ¥1,000 (package of three sheets; price excludes consumption tax).

The Ishikawa factory owns a wooden handloom, something of a rarity today, which it uses to test prototypes with different mesh sizes and wire thicknesses to meet the specifications of nonstandard orders down to the last detail. The pride and techniques developed over the years have enabled the company to break new ground in wire-mesh manufacturing. “We offer both the Kanaori and Oriami series simply as raw materials to spark creativity, and feedback from customers inspires us to make further advances. It’s very gratifying,” smiles president Yukio Ishikawa. The company’s unique expertise is expanding the horizons of Japanese craftsmanship and manufacturing.

This article is an excerpt from a Kateigaho International Japan Edition 2018 Spring/Summer feature.


2021 Spring / Summer

Inside Japan’s West