CH Japan: Exploring Setouchi Crafts + Denim

From a vessel that represents a region's talents to a neighborhood of exemplary mills

Japan‘s Setouchi region—from the namesake town to the serene Seto Inland Sea—offers a concentration of high-quality crafts, denim and food. On our CH Japan guided excursion, we explored it from the pristine guntû floating ryokan to various day trips on foot. Nearly everything on guntû is from Setouchi, including furniture, ceramics, textiles, food and even the wood used on the ship. The rattan chairs in the tea room were inspired by a vintage design that’s no longer in production, but was very successfully recreated by retired artisans in Hiroshima. The elegance of the items, and their harmony together, epitomize the vision of guntû’s parent company, DISCOVERLINK.

One of our most memorable experiences on the Seto Inland Sea involved embarking on guntû’s chic tenders, small speed boats that can easily dock in small island marinas. A favorite stop was to the traditional Okamoto Soy Sauce factory, in the town of Shiromizu on the island of Osakikamijima. To learn the process behind the beloved condiment provided lasting insight and enjoyment. While most commercial soy sauce is fermented for six or eight weeks, theirs follows the traditional slow fermentation, ranging from one to three years, which creates much more sophisticated flavors. After our tour, we ate a picnic lunch prepared by the locals, with fresh caught fish and local vegetables prepared in island specialty style.

The denim industry also has a high concentration of mills in the area and Kojima, a neighborhood of Kurashiki, has its “Jeans Street” and features dozens of denim brands and their stores. One unique shop is Onomichi Denim Project, which mostly sells jeans that have been worn for a year by a local, creating truly one-of-a-kind pants that are imbued with the spirit of Setouchi.

Kaihara is one of the largest denim mills in the area and produces some of our favorite specialty denim. A visit to the mill is a great opportunity to see how various types of denim are fabricated and, if you’re fortunate enough to see their massive denim archive and reference library (as we were), it’s an experience in sensory and tactile overload.

Images by Josh Rubin