Beautiful Story Behind Classiky

5 comments Nov 5, 2019

Classiky in a beautiful historical city Kurashiki city in Okamaya prefecture of Japan is one of those companies that makes you fall deeply in love with their beautiful designs.  They produce simple yet beautiful stationery, lines and kitchen and table wears.  Their products are handmade with traditional artisan techniques, and that is the charming point that makes them irresistible.

We have been carrying their beautiful products in our shop from the very beginning, and our love for Classiky has grown to the point where we actually wanted to meet the people behind these beautiful products and learn more about them.  So after about 4 hours door-to-door trip by air plane and local trains from Tokyo, we finally arrived in the lovely little city of Kurashiki to visit their only official store called Atiburanti and met the President of Classiky, Mr. Shinsuke Tanabe, for the interview.

(Beautiful street of Kurashiki)

(First thing you find in the shop is of course a washi paradise!)

As soon as we enter the shop, we found Mr. Tanabe waiting for us with a big smile.  He welcomed us to his beautiful little office filled with many art books.  We first expressed how much we love Classiky products and we were so grateful that we could have an opportunity to learn the story behind them.  Then we started our interview to him.  After few minutes talking to Mr. Tanabe, we really understood why Classiky products are so adorable.  It is his philosophy of taking care of the small details and love for handmade products by artists and artisans from all over Japan.  We are so excited to share the story behind Classiky here with you!

Mr. Tanabe, thank you very much for having us here today!  We are very excited to learn more about Classiky.  We would like to start our interview with a question of how you started Classiky.

Mr. Tanabe:
Well, I started Classiky about 40 years ago.  After finishing school, I was looking for something interesting to do for living, and then I came to know some American T-shirts with interesting designs printed with a printing technique called silk prints.  Because I was very young at that time, I easily thought, "Oh I could also do silk prints on T-shirts and sell them in Japan!"  That is how I started Classiky.  Haha.

Oh that is interesting!  What kind of prints did you make?

Mr. Tanabe:
At first, I printed some designs on T-shirts and tote bags and sold them to shops.  Because there was no Internet back then, all sales were by walk-in sales where I visited shops and companies one by one to see if they were interested in my products.  I had some part-time people helping me, but basically I was doing that all myself.  It was not easy at all at the beginning, but gradually my business had grown big enough to attend a small exhibition where buyers of shops come to look for products.

So your business became stable after attending exhibitions annually?

Mr. Tanabe:
Well, the things did not go as I wished.  What happened was that when I introduced new products at an exhibition, soon someone did the similar products.  This happened few times, and one day I got tired of it and stopped attending any exhibitions.  Since then we have not attended any exhibitions.  Instead, I created a catalog where I introduced the story of each products - how they were produced, how the idea was born, who designed them with which technique...

I love your catalog!  When I am checking the catalog to place an order, I normally end up just reading the catalog to the end without listing up what to order.  Hahaha.  Your catalog is like an art book.

Mr. Tanabe:
My intention of creating such catalog was to introduce our products and to reach out shops who would be interested in carrying our products, but what happened was that some bookstores got interested in our catalog as a book and sold our catalog in their bookstores.  And those people who found our catalog at bookstores contacted us to carry our products in their shops.

(On the top shelf, you see one of their beautiful catalogs.)

Now please tell us how you produce new products.

Mr. Tanabe:
Weather they were designed by me or by artists, I only sell products that I truly love.  The love is not only about the design of the product but also about the materials and technique used for the product.  When I find an artist that I love to work with, I contact him/her for collaboration and they offer us designs.  Sometime I found some artisan that I love to work with, I think of a product that can be produced by such artisan.  When I find some materials I love, I think of a product that can be produced using that material.

That is an interesting approach to produce a new product!  Is there any product that is most difficult to produce?

Mr. Tanabe:
Well, some of the techniques we love using for our products are difficult to produce "the same" product and they often come with some irregularities in the tint of color or some other details.  Some customers consider such irregularities as uniqueness of the product while the others consider these as defects.  I believe that such irregularities is the most fun part of handmade product, so the difficult part of producing such product is how to share our idea of a handmade product with customers.

For example, the Kata Kata plates are one of these difficult products.  I love the printing technique used for this piece of art, so it is important that these plates are produced by this technique even though they often come with irregularities.  The way of printing the images of those charming animals on the plates is done by a technique whose history goes back to Edo period (1603-1868).

The illustration is curved on a printing plate and then stamped on a thin washi paper with a special mixture of ink and glue.  Then the washi paper is placed on the ceramic plate and the image is transferred to the ceramic.  The plate is baked in the oven and varnished to fix the ink.  Because the plate is not flat, the washi paper cannot be placed evenly on the place which leaves some wrinkles on the plate.  You will probably find some uneven colors on the plate, too.  Even though some people may call these details "defect", for me these little irregularities are actually the details that makes the plate beautiful and perfect.

(Their beautiful Kata Kata ceramic plates)

How do you decide which technique to use?

Mr. Tanabe:
I choose the production process with the intention to revival traditional techniques that are dying today.  Today many traditional handmade techniques are dying because products can be produced faster by machines, but because I want to contribute to the conservation of those classical and traditional techniques, sometime I intentionally use such traditional techniques to produce our products.

I love your paper products especially these office stationery like invoice and receipt paper.  Can you share a story behind this paper series?

Mr. Tanabe:
Well, I actually designed them because regular ones were boring.  Hahaha.  These days, you can find more design options for such regular everyday use office stationery, but when I designed those series, most office stationery was limited in design choice.  There are people like me who want to have only things they truly love, and back then those regular office stationery was not something I wanted to use myself everyday.  So I designed them with simple and retro designs that gives warmth and friendliness.  Even though there are other regular much reasonable ones available in the market, that series is one of the longest seller products of Classiky, and especially many artists come back for these designs over and over for years.

What is your favorite Classiky product?

Mr. Tanabe:
Well, honestly many of my favorites are not the most popular ones.  Hahaha.  As business, I know we should design and sell something that will sell well, but since my motto is to sell only things "I love", not everything is something that are everyone's favorite or meets the trend.  For example, when washi tape was becoming very popular few years ago and everyone was producing washi tapes, I designed and produced a cloth tape.  Hahaha.  I am like a person who wants to do something different if everyone is doing the same.  I do love washi tape and use them a lot myself, but if I name my "favorite tape", it is my cloth tape.  The problem was that the cloth tape did not sell at all because everyone was looking for washi tape at that time.  Hahaha.

(These are his favorite cloth tape.  Unfortunately they are discontinued and no longer available)

As a last question, please tell us how this beautiful shop Atiburanti in Kurashiki started?

Mr. Tanabe:
Well, we started this Atiburanti shop as a gallery for all Classiky products we have.  We also have an exhibition space for the artists who do collaboration with us to display their art work so that visitors can see the story behind the artists, to know more about them.  Usually we have new exhibition every three weeks.

Thank you so much for your time and story about Classiky.  We really enjoyed learning about you, your philosophy and your beautiful products.

Mr. Tanabe:
Thank you very much for coming all the way to visit us.  I had a fun time, too.  Please come visit us again sometime.

It was such an amazing time to learn these beautiful stories behind Classiky.  If you have been to Japan, you probably know that it is difficult to find Classiky products in regular stationery shops.  So if you are looking for a place to see all of their beautiful collection, Atiburanti in Kurashiki city is the place you should visit.  This is a must visit place for Classiky fan, and also the neighbor area is so lovely with historical buildings and lots of nice shops and cafes.

We hope you enjoyed reading our interview to Mr. Tanabe and a little tour in the beautiful shop Atiburanti.  Please also check our Classiky collection HERE for their beautiful products.

Thank you very much for reading our interview.  We hope you know more about Classiky and love their beautiful products even more by reading this.

Have a nice day!
Ayako and Junko

Address: 2-23-10 Achi, Kurashiki, Okayama 710−0055, JAPAN
Open: 10:00 - 18:00
Closes: Monday (if a national holiday falls on a Monday, will be closed on the following day instead)


  • Alice July 11, 2023 at 9:42 pm

    Thank you for this delightful interview and post. I’m a huge fan of Classiky!

  • Debra Zyla November 7, 2019 at 5:47 pm

    Ah. I would have LOVED that fabric tape! Sigh…

    Thank you for the interview. 💜

  • Randi November 6, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    Dear A and J,

    Thank you for the wonderful interview and lovely photos! (But where is a photo of Mr. Tanabe?!)

    For 25 years I have loved Japanese embroidery and illustration. I have quite a collection of Japanese craft books, including many by fabric artist Kumiko Sudo. There is something so peaceful, enchanting, and whimsical about Japanese style.

    Lately I have discovered the stories of Haruki Murakami (I know I am “late to the game”!), so this style is especially meaningful to me now.

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this with us, and for providing a way for us to purchase Classiky items!

  • Elnora Chambers November 6, 2019 at 9:00 am

    Thank you very much for sharing this lovely interview. I’m planning a trip to Japan and hope I can visit your shop as well as Atiburanti.

  • Jamie November 5, 2019 at 11:17 pm

    I am always trying to find words for what it is that I love so much in Japan….and on our last visit (when I sadly was unable to visit your shop…but next time!) I stumbled across the phrase “wabi sabi”…and that is it…the appreciation of ALL things at ALL stages and in ALL their imperfection finding beauty….I find that “preached” a lot…in cute quotes and on tee-shirts, but only in Japan have I witnessed wabi sabi as an integral part of life…it is what makes your country so very special. A lovely interview, I so enjoyed reading it. Thank you for sharing!

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