Paper, Scissors, Stone: Contemporary Japanese Design Based on Centuries-Old Techniques



Japan’s modern-day design culture is inextricably linked with its unique history, based on a background of hands-on craftsmanship and traditional ritual.

Speaking of hands and of tradition…

“Paper, Scissors, Stone” — a game played by two or more people using their hands to describe a pair of scissors, a piece of paper or a stone — neatly introduces three fine examples of Japanese design.

1. Paper: The Siwa Paper Collection

siwa paper japanese

From bags, to hats, to slippers — renowned Japanese architect and industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa has collaborated with ONAO, an expert company in the art of Japanese paper-making, to create the Siwa paper collection. ONAO is located in Ichikawamisato, Yamanashi, and for a thousand years the company has perfected the production of ‘washi’ paper that is water and tear proof, as well as capable of carrying relatively heavy loads.

siwa paper slippers japanese

siwa paper ivy cap japaneseOANO has now developed Naoron, a mixture of wood pulp and polyolefin that is used to make Siwa paper products, designed by Fukasawa. The name incorporates the word ‘washi’ and also the Japanese word for ‘crinkle.’ Fukasawa realized the paper created a unique texture when crumpled, which he utilizes in his designs.

siwa paper tote bag japanese

Siwa products are redolent of leather. Crinkly, strong and supple, they are built to last. They represent the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi: imperfection, transience and asymmetry.

Scissors: The Banshu Hamono Collection

The Banshu Hamono Collection

The Banshu Hamono Collection 2

‘Zasso’ Horticultural Sickles

The Banshu Hamono Collection 3

Over a millennium ago, the Banshu area in the Hyogo prefecture of Japan was a big grain-growing region that spawned a blacksmithing industry making agricultural tools. In turn, it became a center for the creation of traditional Katana swords. Present-day Banshu Hamono craftsmen continue to enact the skills passed down through centuries of bladewear production.


Employing perfected and age-old techniques, the Banshu Hamono (edged tools) collective of expert craftsmen in Ono City still makes unique artifacts including scissors, razors and shears, following on from 250 years of the skilled creation of handmade bladewear in this area.

The Banshu Hamono Collection The Banshu Hamono Collection

The Okubo-200 and the Satsuki horticultural scissors are hand-made, curvaceous, ergonomic and beautiful in their own right. They are ideally designed to trim bonsai or to precision-cut any plants, with comfortable handles that fit into the palm of the hand. Their production requires a high level of expertise and there are only a few qualified craftsmen, like the renowned Osama Mizuike, who creates precision-made edge tools, fit for many purposes.

Stone: The Japanese Rock Garden

The Japanese Rock Garden

Serving as an aid to meditation, the Rock or ‘Zen’ Garden dates from the Muromachi period of Japan, in Zen Buddhist temples at Kyoto. An arrangement of stones in a walled area, often with pruned trees, bushes, raked sand, or shingle and water features, it is a miniaturized landscape that represents the elemental nature of life.

scissor paper stone

You may wonder what “Scissors, Paper, Stone” has to do with art, design, or even Japan. Well, in 2005 the director of Maspro Denkoh electronics corporation in Tokyo was choosing whether to auction its $20 million collection of Picasso’s and Van Gogh’s with the aid of Sotheby’s or Christie’s auction houses. He announced a game of “Paper, Scissors, Stone” would seal the deal, and Christie’s won by choosing scissors first, based on the advice of Alice and Fiona, the two daughters of their director of Impressionist and Modern Art.

Why? As stone is deemed to be stronger, and therefore the obvious choice, one would instinctively seek to beat one’s opponent by choosing paper, which beats stone. So, if you pick scissors, you beat paper. Just go ask Alice.

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