03 February 2023

Interview with an Artist: Kaichiro Yamada - Designer of Hutlery

A Collaborative Venture

Tsubame Shinko Industrial is a metal cutlery manufacturer in Tsubame City, Niigata Prefecture. Their refined and elegant cutlery rest brand, Hutlery–a portmanteau that combines the Japanese word for leaf ("ha") and cutlery, was created in collaboration with designer Kaichiro Yamada.

Kaichiro has designed everything from catalogs and products to exhibition halls and corporate brand logos. He is also the design director of SAYO–a brand that brings three Japanese manufacturers together to create chopstick rests made with a range of materials and techniques.

Discover the inspiration behind Kaichiro's beautiful designs and the process of making Hutlery products. 


  • Inspired by Nature
  • Trial and Error
  • Taking Action
  • Kaichiro's Vision
  • Hutlery "Tsubame Stainless Steel Small Items"

Inspired by Nature

While working on projects at SAYO, Kaichiro found difficulty in balancing the shapes and designs of different chopstick rests onto one table. It was this dilemma that caused him to look towards nature when designing for Hutlery.

"I collected leaves and branches from my garden, nearby shrines, and parks. It's been a habit of mine to collect leaves and shells, and I always wondered if I could use them for something. I collected and tested thousands of leaves, searching for shapes and sizes suitable for chopstick rests."

After some experimentation, Kaichiro and Tsubame Shinko Industrial succeeded in creating a realistic replica of a camellia leaf out of stainless steel. 

"The camellia leaf chopstick rest became very popular, which kick-started the production of ginkgo, maple, bamboo, persimmon, and heart leaf chopstick rests."

Trial and Error

The beautiful Hutlery cutlery and chopstick rests are very thin and delicate. Kaichiro shares the difficulties in achieving intricate designs and etchings on metal.

"I would make drawings and models, and show the actual leaves to Tsubame Shinko Industrial for them to produce. Their engraver creates a prototype, but this does not always turn out as I envisioned. This is a normal part of the process, as no matter who I work with, nothing comes out the way I want it to from the beginning."

Working with stainless steel can be especially difficult as plaster molds cannot be used like they are when making ceramics. Hutlery's products are created using paper-thin and light pieces of metal. Kaichiro and Tsubame Shinko Industrial have to get creative when it comes to the designs.

"A challenge is faithfully recreating the natural curvature of the leaves and its fine veins. These are realized to the best of the engraver's ability. We repeatedly have prototypes sent to us, write down the needed modifications, make new models, and resend them to the engraver."

Finished products are glossy and papery–making them easily stackable. The surface is processed to have a smooth feel, and leaf ribs are authentically realized through the engravings, adding to the pleasing texture. These beautiful works are a result of Kaichiro and Tsubame Shinko Industrial's diligence.

Taking Action

Kaichiro takes special care to visit areas where his designs are produced to gain a good understanding of the materials and techniques used. He prioritizes talking to local craftsmen to ensure his designs are realized efficiently.

"Important processes such as forging take place at Tsubame Shinko Industrial's own factory, but engraving and polishing are often done elsewhere. When I visit Tsubame, I go to several factories in the area to better understand the production process."

"It's not only me who's in charge of the product's design. The team's graphic designer, copywriter, and public relations manager accompany me to deepen our understanding of the process and share information."

"Talking to the manufacturers, we learn more about production methods and its ins and outs. This enables us to understand what goes into making a product, which naturally leads to evolution in our designs."

When asked about his approach in times where there are significant differences between the original design and the finished product, Kaichiro replies positively,

"There will always be some differences. Sometimes they are better than the original design, and sometimes they are worse. This is why the production process is so interesting, and the differences offer opportunities to create innovative products."

Kaichiro's Vision

Kaichiro is passionate about his designs and all the work that goes into making them. He has released products both in Japan and internationally, ranging from furniture to tableware.

"My objective is to design products that will provide a vibrant life for thinkers, creators, communicators, sellers, and users. I would like to design such products regardless of the category."

The Hutlery collection is a fine example of Kaichiro's vision and wishes for his products. Since its founding, it has expanded to more than just cutlery and chopstick rests–producing amuse bouche spoons and small plates.

Characteristics of the Hutlery collection are that it has a refined luster and softness that invites a natural warmth. Not only is it multipurpose, but it also adds a touch of sophistication and beauty to the home. 

"Tsubame Stainless Steel Small Items"

The Hutlery series of stainless steel small items are made by Tsubame Shinko, a company located in Tsubame-Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture, an area located in the center of Niigata Prefecture that is known for its production of cutlery, metalwork and western tableware. This area boasts more than 90 percent of the domestic production of metal tableware.

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