Truck Furniture Showroom, Osaka, Japan

Interview with Tokuhiko Kise of Japanese Furniture Company TRUCK

About TRUCK Furniture

TRUCK was founded in Osaka, Japan by designers Tokuhiko Kise and Hiromi Karatsu back in 1997 and has gained many high profile admirers as the pair have grown the studio.

Their design ethos is to make furniture that they want for themselves, regardless of fashion or trend, with items taking on a simplistic but handcrafted style. The company takes great pride in using natural materials such as wood and leather, but they also mix in steel where it sees fit, overall creating furniture to be used for a long time.

Interview date: 8th of February, 2013

Introduction

An individual that we’ve got a decent amount of history with is Tokuhiko Kise, owner and founder of Japanese furniture company TRUCK Furniture. We originally met him in London a few years back and we’ve continued our connection through the site, selling a full selection of publications from the workshop in our shop.

As our interest has matured towards the handmade nature of design, mainly specialising in Japanese and Scandinavian crafts, it made sense to interview Tok and see what he had to say regarding his company and profession. As you can imagine, with such a premise on quality they’ve also taken this through to the building that houses their product and workshop. For 13 years they were based in Tamatsukuri, in Chuo Ward, Osaka. Then, in September 2009, they made a big move to a place they’d built (documented in their book TRUCK nest) in Asahi Ward, which brings together TRUCK, the AREA2 shop, the workshop, Atelier Shirokumasha and Bird. Bird is their cafe where customers can kick back and relax, drink coffee and eat some nice food.

We hope this gives you a small insight into their handmade furniture, and you also get an idea of what Tok’s lifestyle is like.

1. Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what do you do?

I’m Tokuhiko Kise. I run a furniture company in Osaka, Japan. It’s all designed by me and handmade by my staff in our workshop. It’s sold in our store which is just upstairs from the workshop.

2. What was the original concept behind TRUCK Furniture, also how did you become a woodworker in the first place?

I’ve never really thought of it in terms of a concept, but I suppose you could say it’s making the things that I want to use.

When I was 18 and had finished high school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. By chance I saw an article for a woodworking school in a magazine and decided to go along. I’d always liked making things and the idea of working with my hands appealed to me.

3. Just out of interest what is your typical daily routine, can you give us a basic run through from morning to evening?

I wake up at around six or seven o’clock. We have a lot of pets – seven cats and five dogs – so the first thing I do is look after them. Clean their toilets, feed them and change their water. I usually have breakfast with my wife Hiromi and my daughter Hina. Nothing fancy, just a cup of coffee and a slice of toast.

I don’t really have a work routine. My studio, workshop, store and our cafe, Bird, are all located at the same site as my house and I spend my day going back and forth between them all, drawing designs, looking over the furniture as it’s made, or checking on things at the store.

In the evening I swim for a kilometre, have dinner, sometimes at home, sometimes at Bird or another restaurant. I usually read before bed. There’s a massive stack of books on my side chest waiting to be read.

Inside the TRUCK showroom
Inside the TRUCK Furniture Showroom in Osaka, Japan. A place where you can see and test the furniture that’s made in the workshop behind.

4. We know it soon became apparent after starting TRUCK Furniture that Bird Coffee would be a nice compliment to the workshop/showroom. What was your thinking behind this and how do you think it adds to the overall customer experience?

My motivation was pretty simple. I just wanted to make a place for our customers to sit and rest. I also wanted a place where I could go to drink coffee or wine myself.

5. Do you ever gather information on your products from how customers use them? Such as the function of a piece of furniture, or a particular style of furniture?

I sometimes see our pieces of furniture in magazines and can read how people are using them. I’m glad to see that people who bought furniture from us use and live happily with them. I myself am one of the users, our strictest customer.

6. To us TRUCK feels quite personal, we often see imagery of your home, workshop, your many pets, and general everyday scenarios that you are involved in. Do you feel part of your success has been down to the fact that people can see how genuine the individuals behind TRUCK and Bird are, that your products have lots of love and integrity behind them?

Yes, I think so. With us, what you see is what you get. If you look at our store and look at our house you’ll see they look pretty much the same. We actually use the stuff we make every day. And pictures of us and our dogs, that’s actually what our lives look like. It’s not an image, it’s just us, and I think people can see that.

Bird Coffee Kitchen
The atmosphere inside Bird Coffee, situated next door to the TRUCK showroom and beside the workshop where customers can eat, drink and relax.

7. Although you own two small companies in terms of physical size, they are appreciated across the globe by a great number of creatives. How did you make this transition and do you ever reflect on the idea of your work being enjoyed in other countries far away from Osaka?

Actually we didn’t do anything deliberate to push TRUCK furniture overseas. I guess some people came to our shop or saw our furniture in Japanese magazines and the word slowly spread. Just like in Japan, we haven’t done any advertising but I’m more than happy to talk to people from magazines and websites about what we do so we’ve gradually gotten a bit of exposure overseas. Of course, I’m very happy about it. It’s always great to find out that people like the things you make.

8. We’ve never visited Osaka ourselves, although one day we hope we have the opportunity to do so, but in the meantime could you describe to us a little about the place, particularly the elements you enjoy most?

I like the people in Osaka. We’re usually quite jokey when we talk, more than other areas in Japan, I think.

Tok on the lathe Tok's personal working area
Tokuhiko Kise in his workshop on the lathe. This is where they turn the wood and shape the different parts of the furniture, using Gouges and other implements.

9. I remember when we first met you in England you said about your wife being an illustrator, have you always surrounded yourself with creative individuals and if so how does this help you in your work with TRUCK?

My wife and I both grew up in pretty ordinary families, both our fathers ran their own small businesses. It’s not like our parents were artists or anything like that. It’s not so much that I try to surround myself with “creative” people. I like people who are passionate about things, whether that’s furniture, food or motorcycles, it doesn’t matter.

10. Apart from your collection of cars and motorbikes, what other interests do you have outside of your work?

There are too many to list, music, books, movies, surfing, swimming, bicycles, camping, guitar, piano, eating, drinking, trees, travel, oil painting, carpentry … There’s just so much.

Tok's Back Garden
Tokuhiko Kise’s back garden, closely situated to the showroom, restaurant and workshop. Notice the foliage which was placed when they built the building.

11. How does travel inform your design? You must have returned from England with full camera, we stopped many times to photograph textures, shapes and architecture, is this something you typically do on your travels?

Like the monkey George, I’m always curious. The things I see abroad get filed away in my head. Sometimes I’ll see something that inspires or is reflected in something I make but there’s really no process behind it.

12. How do you continue to develop and grow a project that you have been working on for such a long time, do you ever have to challenge your approach to designing furniture in any way?

No, I’ve always used the same approach when designing furniture: think of something I’d like to use, make a design, make a prototype, and keep making changes until it’s right. And we’ve used the same approach for our shops, the restaurant, and our books. It probably sounds a bit boring, but that’s what we’ve always done and I can’t really see it changing.

Truck Furniture Storage Cabinet with Draws TRUCK Furniture Stool

13. What would you say are the biggest lessons you have learned whilst working as an independent? For example, if you could go back in time what would you change or do differently?

I don’t know. I can’t really say I look back and think “I should have done this” or “I shouldn’t have done that”. I do wonder, though, how things would be if I had spent some time living in another country when I was a lot younger. But I wouldn’t say it’s too late to do that now.

14. In between all of your projects you’ve built your own house, something I aspire to do myself one day. For those that have a similar goal in mind what would your advice be, and what did you learn in the process of building this yourself?

Be prepared for it to take a lot longer than you expect, also read as much as you can to learn about different materials and construction techniques. The approach we took was the same as what I apply to making furniture, I decided what I wanted and kept refining until I got there.

15. What can we expect to see from TRUCK Furniture in the future?

No big surprises. No big expansions or anything like that. I’m not really sure when it will come out, but I’m working on a lot of new products for our next catalog. That’s the main thing I’m concentrating on right now.

Inside the TRUCK Studio with Tok and Fellow Worker TRUCK Furniture Signage