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Are these the Bugattis of brooms? 

Are these the Bugattis of brooms? 

The workbench in Azusa Fukushima’s studio in rural Ibaraki, north-east of Tokyo, is her own invention, proportioned exactly so that thread can be pulled taut against her own weight. Cotton – dyed with natural Japanese indigo, persimmon, or madder – is bound around stalks of dried sorghum grass. With each stitch, the bundle finds its shape: a classic “clam”, or hamaguri-gata, which echoes a spray of sorghum. The result is an object of natural and utilitarian beauty, appreciated by a growing community of makers and buyers from east London to LA.

The sorghum tabletop brush, £35, being made at Azusa Fukushima’s studio in rural Ibaraki, north-east of Tokyo
The sorghum tabletop brush, £35, being made at Azusa Fukushima’s studio in rural Ibaraki, north-east of Tokyo © Arthur Mingard

Azusa Fukushima large handbroom, £65, found land.com

Azusa Fukushima large handbroom, £65, foundland.com

Kake bushou broom, $120, nalatanalata.com

Kake bushou broom, $120, nalatanalata.com

Japanese broommaking can be traced back to the Edo era of 1603-1868, reaching its height around 1900. Ranging from handheld table sweeps to pocket-sized handbrushes and long-handled brooms, the traditional tools for making them are largely in the hands of older artisans, aged 70, 80, even 90; some have six decades in the craft, while others have taken it up upon retiring from farming. Fukushima fell under the spell after meeting master broommaker Sakai Toyoshirō at college. Five years on, she is one of a younger generation of artisans working to revive the craft. From the single field she rents in the fertile shadow of Mount Tsukuba, the entire process is her undertaking: seeds are sown as the snow melts, sorghum cut during the heat of the summer, and brooms woven throughout the darkening days until the return of spring. In the first year, an aphid outbreak followed by a cold summer yielded Fukushima enough sorghum for only five brooms. “Almost every day is a staring contest with the weather app,” she says. 

Japanese artisan palmbroom, £186, twopersimmons.com
Japanese artisan palmbroom, £186, twopersimmons.com

Short sorghum broom, £30, nativeandco.com

Short sorghum broom, £30, nativeandco.com

Washi paper Harimi dustpan, £40, foundland.com

Washi paper Harimi dustpan, £40, foundland.com

Greater luck – and a steadier production – has followed. Since 2019, Fukushima has sold through north London homeware emporium Foundland, following a visit from British owners Arthur Mingard and Sarah Khalaf. Half a dozen of Fukushima’s designs form part of Foundland’s Doing collection, which also features Harimi dustpans (£40), made from folded layers of washi paper. 

Sachiko Smith of Brighton-based retailer Two Persimmons began importing Japanese brushes out of personal necessity. “Good brooms are hard to find,” laments the Tokyo native. “I didn’t find them in the UK – I didn’t like the plastic bristles that collect material inside. And I didn’t want a plastic dustpan.” Even upmarket models from Germany’s Redecker she found lacking (“I wouldn’t call their ones with replaceable wooden heads brooms: they’re brushes with long sticks”). The alternative was to import her own, “first for friends and family, and then selling online”. Smith’s collection of artisanal sorghum brushes is by Shirokiya Denbei, a seventh-generation family broommaker still manufacturing in the heart of Tokyo. 

A selection of Japanese brushes and brooms from the Clean collection at Objects of Use
A selection of Japanese brushes and brooms from the Clean collection at Objects of Use © Louise Long
Shuro brush, £9, strawlondon.co.uk
Shuro brush, £9, strawlondon.co.uk

In LA, the growing market for Japanese homewares has led the longtime Venice institution Tortoise General Store to take up larger premises in Mar Vista. Its array of perfectly adapted, pocket-sized brushes for shoes and kitchen includes a doughnut-shaped, coconut-fibre brush ($16) and a Torlon Keyboard brush ($12), from Tokyo-based Kanaya Brush. And still more contemporary riffs are found through Nalata Nalata in New York. Highlights include Makoto Koizumi designs for Asahineko: a nestling brush and dustpan set ($100) made of hinoki cypress wood and horsehair, as well as a beguiling Y-shaped futon brush. For the co-founder of Nalata Nalata, Angélique Chmielewski, there is mindfulness to be found in the company of these age-old designs. “When I use them, they make me feel like time slows down.”

Nestling brush and dustpan set, $100, nalatanalata.com

Nestling brush and dustpan set, $100, nalatanalata.com

Shuro handbroom, £12, scp.co.uk

Shuro handbroom, £12, scp.co.uk

Kanaya keyboard brush, $12, tortoisegeneralstore.com

Kanaya keyboard brush, $12, tortoisegeneralstore.com

Tawashi round brush, $16, tortoisegeneralstore.com

Tawashi round brush, $16, tortoisegeneralstore.com

East London retailer Straw’s relationship with Japanese brushes began in October 2020, yet Straw’s chosen product is not a sorghum but a shuro brush (£9), made from the palm fibres of Trachycarpus fortunei. Distinct from sorghum’s tougher, carpet-scrubbing fibres, the finer, elastic bark fronds of shuro, as well as its water resistance and plant oils, make it primed for tending natural floors and fragile objects. Shuro brooms are also a hit with the brand Nawaki, loyal proponent of Japanese gardening tools; the Oxford store Objects of Use (its umbrella-handled Tosaka broom is £105); and Smith’s Two Persimmons. The unique design she stocks hails from the mountains of Ehime, western Japan – the work of Nakamura Koji. “They are the Lamborghinis of brooms!” says Smith.

Whether a standard bushou or a long-handled chohou, a broom is never simply a broom in Japan. As for their popularity abroad, the rise of home-working has been one major encouragement: household chores have arguably never seemed more central to our sense of wellbeing and purpose. But for most non-Japanese customers, these are often pieces “you can just hang on the wall”, says Smith. Chris Yoshiro Green, owner of west London Japanese homeware shop Native & Co, recalls being approached for a large order of shuro brooms for the launch of the White City TV Centre showroom, in 2017. “Presumably, they weren’t for upkeep purposes,” Green jokes. “I don’t see them using them on a regular basis.”

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HTSI editor’s letter: things that make us “Happy”

HTSI editor’s letter: things that make us “Happy”

HTSI editor Jo Ellison
HTSI editor Jo Ellison © Marili Andre

I write this when much analysis is being offered about what qualities define the British character, as well as the values to which we should aspire. When thinking of the British we want quirk and personality. Eccentricity is a characteristic that still permeates the national culture, as demonstrated by Queen Elizabeth’s obsession with her corgis (surely more endearing than her rigid service to the Crown?). It is found also in Rod Stewart’s commitment to his model railway, Morris dancing or those people who insist on feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

The library and dining room at Prue Leith’s Gloucestershire home . . .
The library and dining room at Prue Leith’s Gloucestershire home . . . © Jake Curtis

and the TV snug, with a Japanese tapestry on the wall
and the TV snug, with a Japanese tapestry on the wall © Jake Curtis

It’s a word that could be applied equally to Prue Leith, the restaurateur, novelist and cookbook writer, now in her 80s, who has found global fame as a judge on The Great British Bake Off, the TV competition in which amateur cooks show off their “show-stopping” baking skills. Bake Off is as peculiarly and essentially British as breakfast tea and crumpets (which often feature on the menu), and Leith’s school-marmish candour and florid dress sense have endeared her to generations who treasure her brand of optimism and fun. The Gloucestershire house that she shares with her second husband John Playfair is similarly upbeat, full of quirky details and things she has “jollied up”. Mark C O’Flaherty gets the grand tour in this week’s issue, while Jake Curtis takes the shots. The consequential “Pruesplosion”, as they have dubbed it, is highly individual, but as an expression of a certain kind of mindset, it perfectly encapsulates British eccentric taste.

Model Edie Campbell wears her new capsule collaboration with Sunspel
Model Edie Campbell wears her new capsule collaboration with Sunspel © Charlie Gates

Tweeds and twinsets are another hallmark of British society, although the model Edie Campbell’s new collaboration with Sunspel owes a greater debt to Roald Dahl’s Matilda than it does to country life. Her moodboard was inspired by that novel’s villainous Mr Wormwood, although the finished garment – an elegant trouser suit in houndstooth wool – is infinitely more chic. We get an exclusive look at her first collection for the brand in this issue and talk to the 32-year-old about her take on British style.

Pharrell Williams in New York
Pharrell Williams in New York © Jesse Gouveia

Optimism and some small eccentricities also characterise the stylings of Pharrell Williams, the singer, songwriter and producer who is this week’s cover star. Among his myriad business interests, including a skincare range and fashion label, Williams’s latest venture is an ecommerce resale site, Joopiter, which he will launch this month with a sale of his personal archive. One of the most prominent cultural figures of the past two decades, Williams has made his clothing, jewellery and sneakers an instrumental component of his art. His decision to divest himself of several lock-ups of possessions has been both a space-saving exercise (the man has four children to house alongside his sneakers) as well as an opportunity to do a psychological cleanse. Find out more about why he’s doing a Marie Kondo in our exclusive interview by India Ross, and have a browse through some of his most iconic looks.

The Iguana X100 amphibious boat, from €320,000
The Iguana X100 amphibious boat, from €320,000

As for the most eccentric item in this week’s issue, I offer you the amphibious boat. A 3.5-tonne piece of machinery that measures around 10m, the Iguana X100 looks like a motorboat but handles like a tank. Rory FH Smith takes it out for a test drive (or is that sail?) to find out what the fuss is all about.

@jellison22

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