Inspired by the longstanding heritage of Japanese Edo-komon designs and by her love for the rugged Welsh landscape, Tokyo-born jewellery designer Yukiko Wilson creates delicate, beautifully textured and evocative pieces of enamel jewellery containing a plethora of ancient auspicious symbols.
She warmly welcomed us in her beautifully decorated and tranquil home and introduced us to her simpatico Welsh husband Chris. Yukiko was wearing a gorgeous traditional kimono in readiness for the tea ceremony she has kindly performed for us in their splendid garden. Witnessing for the first time this timeless and meaningful ceremony has put us in an inquisitively poetic mood and we quickly engaged in a mesmerising conversation, or rather, the conversation engaged us and held us captive in a beautiful harmony.
We conversed about her old studio near Mount Fuji and how the idea of Locca Enamel Jewellery was born, about her passion for photography and theatre and her knowledge of traditional enamelling techniques. She also invited us in her studio to show us some of her whimsical pieces of jewellery and shared with us her sources of inspirations and her dreams and ambitions over some delightful home made Japanese food she has cooked for us.
We left her home still daydreaming, there and elsewhere at the same time, as if forgetting reality for a few moments whilst carrying with us the inner fire of fragrant memories that always begin from silence.
How was Locca Enamel Jewellery born?
When I was still living in Tokyo, I saw a programme about incredible art of jewellery by a French artist, René Lalique (1860-1945). I was utterly mesmerized by the beauty of enamelling in his work then I thought I would like to try it myself. I started taking classes of enamelling and metalsmithing and soon after I took part in a group exhibition and decided to make enamel jewellery for other people. The name, Locca, literally meaning six-petal flower, is another name for snow in Japan, as a snowflake always has a hexagonal shape. My name, Yukiko, meaning ambition or aspiration in Chinese character, has the same sound for snow in Japanese. I was born in winter so I thought it would be a perfect name for my creative work. From the beginning, I wanted to apply traditional Japanese motifs on my design to introduce our interesting culture to people in the world. Besides this, I thought my own creations might help me to communicate with others better. In life, we constantly face things, which make us feel positive and sometimes not. I thought if my jewellery could bring even the slightest feeling of peace, courage, confidence, belief or liberty in someone’s life, then I thought that would be really wonderful. This is how Locca Enamel Jewellery was born.
What is your fondest childhood memory?
I was brought up in a house under a little unusual circumstance. My family shared the same house with our landlord. The husband, Keizo, was the sixth generation of a traditional Japanese rice cracker store. The house was very old and they had a massive garden in the middle of Tokyo including locally protected big persimmon trees, a cactus green house, an old pond and even a shrine with a stone Torii gate. Keizo was a serious gardener and had an iris field with hundreds of individual iris pots. He gave each one of them a name and every June many TV programs visited his garden to introduce his iris. There was also a large temple with ancient woodland just across from the house. Besides this environment, my father would take us for hiking in the countryside every month. So even though I was living in a big city, my fondest childhood memory was spending time in the nature.
Can you tell us more about your formative experience with the master artisan in Tokyo?
My master is a cloisonné enameller as well as a metalsmith. Her style has very distinctive characteristics I’d never seen anywhere else. Many of her works feature fauna and flora from her own imaginary fantasy world. I learned various fundamental techniques for enamelling, from creating original colours to studying the properties of the Japanese enamel glaze but besides all these craft skills, I learned how to build relationships with fellow artists and designers. She is a very sociable person and always hosted gatherings and encouraged us to communicate with other groups of people, to organize exhibitions and participate in competitions abroad. Her relationship with other artists in different fields was also very inspirational to me. I just thought the friendship between them through their creative works was fantastic and that is something I’d definitely love to have in my own life too.
Owning a studio in the vicinity of Mount Fuji may sound like a dream for many artists. Can you tell us how the relationship with this environment influenced and inspired you?
Looking back, I think I didn’t see Mount Fuji as a mountain. I think I was totally in love with it. To me, the mountain was like a human - I simply admire its existence - just being there so quietly and majestically. It’s hard to explain in words but whenever I saw the mountain right in front of me, my heart started beating but at the same time I also felt so calm by the serene mountain. Within that environment, I think I had a good time being on my own to look at my life and to reflect my feelings or ideas in my own work and I think I deepened a strong sense that I should do what I really love from the bottom of my heart.
Your designs seem to be strongly influenced by the ancient Edo-komon patterns that are specific to kimono designs. Is this of a spiritual significance to you?
My family runs a handcrafted kimono business and I’ve been always familiar with the traditional designs. Edo was the former Tokyo and had a unique culture. Edo period (1603-1868) lasted more than two hundred and fifty years and is often described as the most peaceful era. However, the peace was controlled under various restrictions and even design was part of those restrictions. Based on the government’s idea, ordinary people shouldn’t enjoy any luxury in life. For example, common people were not allowed to use specific patterns and colours so they developed their own unique designs using simple motifs such as daily tools, plants or food. While the ancient capital Kyoto had many elegant noble designs, Edo created humorous unique motifs. Edo-komon was first used on formal dresses called Kamishimo, for samurai-lords. Each family had their own motif to denote their identity so the design was absolutely exclusive but later on Edo-komon came to include all types of traditional designs by Edo people. Not just Edo-komon but many other traditional patterns were made to express gratitude for the beauty of the seasons in Japan. Those designs are also auspicious symbols to ward off evil and wish for a good luck. I love the idea to connect with people from the past through the designs they cherished during their lives. As a Tokyo-born designer, I’d love to contribute to keep the Edo design tradition alive.
You moved to Wales in 2010. How was your aesthetic vision inspired by your Welsh surroundings?
To me, the Welsh landscape is the ultimate beauty. I might have not appreciated it so much if I was younger, but this magical land just speaks so directly to me - its rugged land, large sky, dramatic clouds, winds and rain. In a way, this landscape overlaps with the Japanese wabi-sabi feel. It reminds me of the importance of paring down. Less creates more space to focus on important things in your life. It’s like creating a poem. The Welsh landscape is a poem.
Do you think that travelling around the world made you rethink your Japanese heritage?
Yes, definitely. To be honest, I didn’t appreciate much of my own culture until I started travelling abroad. I vividly remember visiting the British Museum and seeing their Japan collection. I was so shocked to discover the intricate mesmerizing crafts as well as truly sophisticated Buddha statues. Afterwards, I took up some Japanese traditional culture classes including the tea ceremony.
What is your creative process?
It depends on the piece, but once I get the core idea I will write a little story about it. I love researching to learn historic or traditional facts to develop the story. Afterwards, I choose the materials then start sketching along with images of fashion style for the jewellery. Sometimes I make a simple clay model to study a 3D form to confirm the idea. In order to create an original piece of enamel jewellery, you need to calculate and plan a careful mechanical procedure especially when it requires complicated soldering. When the plan is fixed, I start to make a base metal body. For champlevé style, as there is a difference between the temperatures of soldering and firing in the kiln, a mould needs to be made to cast for metal. When the cast is ready, I start enamelling. I usually set a colour scheme for the design first and arrange some colour variations.
Out of all enamelling techniques, why did you choose Champlevé and Cloisonné styles?
First of all, the unique enamel I use is appropriate for those techniques. The reason I apply champlevé is that I can make an original master for a mould to cast, which enables me to offer my customers many colour options using the same design patterns. Cloisonné, when compared to champlevé, is a total one-of-a-kind piece as you cannot make a mould to repeat the design. The fascinating part of cloisonné to me is that you can shape letters by bending metal ribbons as design. One of my series is called “Talk to Your Shoe”, the idea is to have a relationship with any kind of things surrounding you. In that series, I hide words in the design. Another reason why I love cloisonné is that we still use ancient Japanese techniques and materials. For instance, we use orchid flower bulb powder as glue to set metal ribbons to shape designs onto the metal. Sea plant is also used as glue mixed in enamel glaze. For an authentic traditional style, we use charcoal to polish the surface after sanding various levels of stone polishing, and beeswax is used for a finishing touch for the work. I love the fact that these techniques and materials from the ancient times are shared even in this modern period.
Each pattern used in your designs seems to bear a specific meaning. Are these patterns also a visual language through which you communicate with other people?
I respect the original meaning of the patterns but I think it’s not always necessary to know their exact meaning, even though of course, it would be much more interesting if you knew the story behind the design. Take Edo-komon for example, a lot of designs are quite simple like a geometric pattern. They are actually seen even in many other cultures too. What I wish is for my work to bring a lovely feeling to the person who wears it. The patterns have been cherished for centuries and often for some specific reasons or purposes, but I think you don’t need a reason to love something and it is the wearer’s freedom to choose how he or she likes the jewellery or how the person sees the design.
"I always think that loving the place where you live is one of the most important things and ideals in life."
Where do you source your materials from?
I brought enamel with me from Japan. This enamel is called Rittai-yu, which is harder as a substance and it requires higher temperature to fire than normal enamel glaze on market. This particular enamel was invented for enamelers to produce subtle original colours, especially opaque colours, more easily. Unfortunately there was only one company making this kind of enamel and they stopped manufacturing it about 10 years ago. The company asked us to place a final order before they completely stopped so I still have enough with me. As for the other materials, some are from the UK and some from Japan. I particularly care how I complete the presentation of my work. For most of my work, especially Edo-komon series, I place jewellery in a little hand-made wooden box, called Kiribako made from Paulownia wood. This is an ancient Japanese storage tradition, born out of the humid Japanese climate. The wood is resistant to moisture so in our climate it’s an ideal material to use to protect valuable items. I purchase Kiribako boxes whenever I go back to Japan. I also use Japanese washi paper to wrap a piece of jewellery, sometimes in an origami style. Washi was designated as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2014. We have a long tradition of folding, wrapping and knotting and there are many meanings in these cultures and I would like to express them as part of my work.
You have appropriated in your work age-old traditional techniques. How is this allowing you to express your artistic personality?
Nowadays, it’s just a snap to make a 3D-copied ring by machine. Computers can offer you much more precise straight lines and perfect circles if you want. I greatly appreciate modern technology and I enjoy it in my daily life but for my own enamel jewellery work, personally I would like to go for a more analog style. I think this is because I feel closer to the people in the past. I admire their dedication to develop the techniques from genuine pure heart out of curiosity and also the people who have passed on the tradition to this day. I, who live in the 21st century, work with the ancient techniques and create new pieces of work – this is a very romantic connection beyond time. While I use age-old techniques and traditional patterns and motifs, I also try to add some modern feel in the design especially for the finishing touch of metal surface or metal form.
In your Celtic Garden series you are fusing Japanese and Celtic motifs. Can you tell us more about this.
Since I moved to Wales from Tokyo, my relationship with nature has become closer with more practical level. As my husband, Chris, loves gardening and now I grow plants, fruit, and vegetables in our garden, my knowledge of the ecological facts about each plant, as well as the little wild birds, has improved a lot. Observing new flowers or fruit each season, I feel like celebrating the new life. This is how Celtic Garden series started. Japanese motifs, especially Edo-komon patterns, often combine together various designs so I thought that fusing traditional Japanese designs and nature inspired motifs would be unique to my identity, which could also become my originality. I’m also fascinated with lovely floral designs I come across in churches or paintings, especially around the 16th century portraits. I include these designs in the series too.
What is Seven Treasures and why is it so important to your work?
Enamel is called Shippo in Japanese. Shippo literally means Seven Treasures. According to the ancient Buddhist scriptures, the Buddhist land was made of seven treasures: gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, agate, coral and red pearl. Because of this, and with its colourful characteristics, enamel is said to be called Shippo, Seven Treasures. One of the popular Edo-komon patterns uses repeated interlocking circles and is regarded as a lucky motif, representing eternity. This design is called Shippo-tsunagi; tsunagi means connection, and for this reason this particular motif is special to me.
Do you also do commissioned work and if so how do you draw the line between your own aesthetic taste and the expectations of a client?
At the moment I don’t do much commissioned work, except for changing colour variations in my champlevé work, however, when I’m asked, I always arrange some design patterns based on the request including my own taste for a suggestion.
Do you keep a log with your sketches and designs?
This is what I should work on. I’d like to make an archive and a proper portfolio. I have old sketchbooks, notebooks and design cards though.
What other disciplines are you involved with or interested in?
I started my blog on the New Year’s Day in 2013 right after Chris gave me an SLR camera as a Christmas present. The blog is called The Fourth Cat in Japanese, which is my nick name given by Chris. At that time we had three Maine Coon cats, we had another one last year, but I remain the fourth one in our family. The blog had been written in both Japanese and English until the end of last year. The English title is Tales of Wales and the blog articles are about little bits and pieces in our daily life. The contents were very random and also a new post came less and less frequently. I always wanted my blog to have a more specific meaning and share stories and photos more often. So from the beginning of this year, instead of writing in two languages, I decided to post a new article only in Japanese according to the ancient Japanese calendar called 72 seasons. We have very distinctive four seasons in Japan and a year is divided further into twenty-four seasons, called Niju-shi sekki. Still to this modern period, we have many traditional customs and events according to the Niju-shi sekki calendar. While Niju-shi sekki is a copy of the classical Chinese calendar, the 72 Seasons calendar originates in Japan, marking little changes every five days in Japanese seasons. So now my blog has a more seasonal element, comparing Japanese and British seasons. I also try to make Japanese traditional Wagashi sweets each month reflecting the season. In the future, I’d like to add more tea ceremony related articles and back the posts in two languages again.
What made you choose Cardiff? What do you love about living here?
My husband Chris is Welsh from a town called Llanelli in West Wales. When I met him, he’d already moved to Cardiff and I joined his life in this city. I’ve been enjoying the life here so much. Firstly, I love the people living here – so charming, friendly, pure and very kind. Compared to Tokyo, the life is much quieter and you can enjoy a more relaxed life but at the same time the city offers you many interesting events and activities as well. A couple of our local friends have started to organize a Welsh music event, called Y Parlwr every month (@yparlwr on Facebook). Chris and I have taken part in the events as staff members. Y Parlwr offers an absolutely lovely space with wonderful acoustics. Another thing I love about the city is its café culture. There are many lovely cafes and you can enjoy coffee in a relaxed atmosphere. If these cafes were in Tokyo, they would always be fully packed and you would need to struggle to find a seat for yourself.
What are some of your favourite places in Cardiff and why?
One of my favourite art forms is a theatre. Although I haven’t had much chance to see plays, we try to see operas and ballets at the Welsh Millennium Centre regularly. I love the atmosphere and the exciting special vibe that the theatre creates. I absolutely love the beautiful architecture but I also wish I could have seen the design by Zaha Hadid, who was initially the architect for the design of the building. Another thing we’ve recently been into is visiting a woodland called Wenallt in the northern part of Cardiff. During the weekdays you rarely see any people in the forest and you can experience a peaceful quiet walk only listening to mesmerising birds’ songs.
Last year you organised a Japanese tea ceremony in Cardiff. What did you find exciting about this event and how was it received by the locals?
I was truly honoured to host the Japanese tea ceremony in Cardiff. I was excited about it for some different reasons. Firstly, it’s one of our proud traditions, which is very unique to Japan. I felt I could contribute to our country a little by introducing its culture to the people in Wales. I felt an ultimate joy while demonstrating the ceremony. In the authentic tea ceremony, you fully use your five senses and it’s a very special experience. Each movement of the ceremony is cleverly calculated and very logical and formal, however, through this formality you still experience a relaxing and calm feeling. I think it’s a magical element of the tea ceremony. I started the tea ceremony following my late grandmother’s recommendation. I was very close to her so I think she would’ve been pleased with my hosting the events. Japanese cultures have been westernised and less and less people have the chance to wear a kimono nowadays. Wearing kimono is one of the ways to keep the tradition alive and it’s very meaningful to our family. We had wonderful feedback from the audience and many people seemed to have found it very soothing as well as very different and interesting.
How important is it for you to be part of the local community of creatives?
I always think that loving the place where you live is one of the most important things and ideals in life. So being part of the local community of creatives is an essential part of my work. Under the economically and politically difficult circumstances, we cannot always depend on the government or local council to support us. In order to continue our activities and attract wider audience, we need to find a way together to offer our creations to local people and beyond. Living in the same area and being local means that people already have an affinity to share, so the local community is a great platform to tighten the relationship and promote activities and events to make local life more enchanting. I believe that the more you get involved in those activities, the more you discover how so much fun and exciting the local life is.
Looking at your imagery we sense that you have a special relationship to photography. What role does photography play in your life?
I remember the very first moment I became interested in photography. When I was in my mid twenties I lived in London studying interior design. One day I found a piece of post card at a little local shop. It was a black and white photograph titled “Boy Holding Puppy” by the Hungarian photographer André Kertész (1894-1985). I was totally captivated by his work. That photograph was something you felt like looking at forever. Since then the relationship between photography and me has started. To me photography is to capture the moment you want to remember and cherish over and over again. I would like to share the moment I really love and I would also hope my photography plays a similar role for other people just as I get inspired by others’. And to me photography is not only a relationship with people but also a connection with the world beyond the objects I see through a viewfinder.
You seem to have a keen interest in cooking and food photography. Where do you find the inspiration for the dishes and how do you pick your homeware?
A lot of the dishes in my photos are actually cooked or baked by Chris. By taking photographs I show him my gratitude for his cooking. He is basically a vegetarian, not strict at all, but the ingredients are quite limited so we like to use lots of herbs and spices and try exotic recipes with a little twist. I think we’re largely inspired by Nigel Slater’s cooking. We used to watch British TV food programmes regularly but we currently get inspiration mainly from cooking books. Speaking of homeware, we have some selection of ceramics, lacquer ware or bamboo crafts from Japan. Whenever we go back there, we visit antique markets or vintage shops. One of my uncles enjoys pottery as a hobby so I’ve stolen some of his works and brought them with me here. When my husband was working at a museum gallery, he often purchased ceramics from local artists. We occasionally go to antique markets here in the UK too. There is also a little collection from France where we take part in the Interceltique Festival in Lorient, Brittany every summer to organize a Welsh artist’s exhibition. A lot of glassware is from Rhoni, my Welsh mum. She left us many lovely items.
What is your favourite dish? Can you share with us your favourite recipe?
It is hard to pick one but considering sharing a recipe plus welcoming a lovely warm season (hopefully!), I would like to introduce cardamom flavoured Indian frozen milk dessert called Kulfi. This is a very simple, lovely and healthy dessert we often make.
whole milk : 1000ml
ground almond : 2 tbsp
rice powder : 1 tbsp
sugar : 5 tbsp
ground cardamom : 1/2 tsp
rum : 2 tbsp
1. Put the ground almonds and rice flour in a cup. 2. Heat the milk in a pan over a low heat and bring to the boil. Then lower the heat and keep stirring for a while and pour some of the warmed milk into the cup to make a thin paste, then put it back into the pan along with the sugar. 3. Simmer the milk gently until the milk reduces by approximately half, stirring occasionally. 4. Turn off the heat and put the cardamom and rum into the pan and mix well. 5. Cool the mixture completely then pour it into individual cups to serve. 6. Place the cups into the freezer for about 6 hours or until it's frozen.
＊Rum is optional. This is to prevent the mixture from getting too hard. ＊Mix the milk mixture well two hours after first putting it in the freezer and maybe twice or more again later for a good texture to make sure there are no ice crystals in it. ＊Move the Kulfi from the freezer to fridge half an hour before serving. ＊You can reduce the amount of sugar and instead, pour some honey over it when serving but reducing sugar will give the mixture a harder texture. ＊Icing sugar would help the texture to get softer for the dessert when it’s frozen.
"One of my ultimate dreams is to collaborate with other creators and host exhibitions and workshops overseas..."
There is a certain Scandinavian vibe throughout your imagery. Is this intentional? Are you inspired by the Nordic lifestyle?
To be honest, I’ve never thought about it. But I always love atmospheric Scandinavian dramas’ visual art and in recent years, Chris selected some Scandinavian cooking books for me so those might have unintentionally affected my photography. Last Christmas Chris gave me a book about Hygge - I didn’t know at all that it’s been actually quite a big topic in recent years in the UK. I’m always aware of the power of the sun and how much it affects our feelings so I’d been wondering how Scandinavian people cope with the dark winter and I thought there must have been unique wisdom to apply for their life there. There seem to be many ways to understand Hygge, but I personally take it as a simple way of living and focus on the fundamental elements in life. To me it seems to be a little similar to Zen, where you practice to live simply with deep understanding of how you live your own life.
Have you always been into jewellery? Are you wearing your own designs?
My younger sister is an antique jewellery collector so I think I was influenced a lot by her. One of the wonderful characteristics in enamel jewellery is that you can actually wear a traditional craft directly on your body and it becomes part of yourself. Interesting fact is that apart from rings or bracelets, other jewellery like necklaces or earrings are not actually seen by the person wearing them. They are also worn to be seen by other people, which means that jewellery can also be a type of communication. I always wear my jewellery partly as a charm or amulet.
Do you have an interest in literature? What book can we find on your bedside table?
I used to read much more before and I tend to read the same authors’ books repeatedly. My lifetime favourites are Soseki Natsume, a novelist from the 19th century and Ryotaro Shiba, who is known mostly for his historical novels but was also a travelling and cultural essayist. Besides Japanese writers, I have a collection of William Somerset Maugham’s works. I love his humorous world and the writing style.
Are you a fan of Japanese cinema? If so, who is your favourite director?
Unfortunately, I still haven’t matured a strong interest in Japanese films yet. But I would love to watch all Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) and Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963)’s films some time. Just like books, I watch a lot less films these days, however I’ve always been a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s films.
What are your current projects?
At the moment, I've been concentrating on my wedding collection including simple band rings. Many of my customers are male so I will expand men’s collection too. I’m also planning to redesign most of the Edo-komon series and create more cloisonné rings. My official website should be ready in the near future.
What are your personal ambitions and dreams?
I have a clear vision to connect all my current activities. One of my ultimate dreams is to collaborate with other creators and host exhibitions and workshops overseas with them on a regular basis. My husband and I also have a dream to open a café gallery in Japan in the future. We’d like to introduce many artists’ works from around the world, offering some food or sweets we’ve been developing. We want the gallery unique to our origin combining Japanese and Welsh/British tastes. We would also like to host many events including the Japanese tea ceremony. We would love the café gallery to become a space for people to experience full of lovely inspiration.
We are Irina and Silviu and we do everything together.
Our story begun in Transylvania while studying Philosophy at the University and we have been inseparable ever since. From translating philosophy books to changing diapers, creating collages together and documenting our reality through photography our togetherness became a lifestyle.
For the past 8 years we have called Wales home, the land of hiraeth and Celtic legends, of rugged coastlines and dramatic Brecon Beacons.
If you feel a connection with our aesthetics and vision we would love to hear from you.