CIPANGO is a niche social enterprise that matches architects, designers and other project professionals in the building, design and luxury industries with select artisans in Kyoto and other handcraft-rich regions. As a comprehensive platform, we facilitate end-to-end collaboration between global clients seeking to access artisanship for 21st-century solutions and traditional craft workshops with a proven record for generating custom-made materials out of their centuries-old techniques.
Signifying the riches across far-flung cultures, CIPANGO originates from Marco Polo’s appellation of Zipangu for Japan during the medieval swell in new trade routes. While the explorer depicted Japan as a legendary “land of gold,” CIPANGO’s contemporary concept acknowledges the creative assets in time-honored local industries. We foster growth in the application of heritage techniques to address today’s aesthetics and concerns in global building and design. Through the mutual support of homegrown makers and worldwide industries, CIPANGO is built on discovery and exchange that its historic name imbues.
For over two decades CIPANGO’s founder Naoya Gomi discovered diverse technologies invented by Japanese SMEs, which did not possess the capacity to grow their own markets internationally, and showcased them overseas. Gomi witnessed further how multinational corporations seized on this formerly “isolated” expertise. Upon resettling in his childhood home of Tokyo and observing the waning of artisans who had refined specialized techniques for centuries, Gomi explored ways of reviving their knowledge to enhance daily life. He identified that the distinct materials generated from their artisanship could continue to unify function and reliability with beauty and elegance by expanding their applications.
CIPANGO today sources an astonishing array of innovative materials for façades, fashion, furniture, gardening and landscape, as well as exterior and interior spacing, surfaces and accents. Beyond visual effect, we recognize the inherent haptic qualities and boundless appeal of variant texture as well as sounds and smells of natural materials, silk to copper. We understand, moreover, that our clients—and in turn their clients—respond to custom-made content.
At CIPANGO, we aim overall for enduring impact that will transform the mindsets and practices, not only of indigenous makers and global professionals, but also of younger generations to embrace sound and sustainable artisanship across cultures for new applications around the world.
Naoya Gomi created CIPANGO as the engine behind his desire to revitalize traditional artisans, their workshops and local economies by creating global access to their expertise. As a child coming of age in Japan’s bubble years, the quintessential cultural icon of the kimono, like other arts and crafts, held little relevance to him. But after decades with a multinational engineering firm abroad, Gomi returned to Japan’s post-bubble society to observe that even the celebrated domain of Japanese artisanship was falling prey to the vagaries of financial decline. Family workshops and craft studios struggled to keep their refined techniques sustainable.
Now Gomi had the capacity to appreciate kimono for its distinct composition of silk threads, embroidered patterns, textile dying—a series of intricate technologies orchestrated into a single product. Disappearing traditional industries, he realized, equated to the loss of distinct know-how that for centuries had delivered value by satisfying human desires for quality, functionality and durability as well as beauty and tactile pleasure. As the engineer grew conscious of these scarce techniques, he began to treat them as extant solutions to problems that transcend their established traditions.
Gomi, in fact, credits his years as an electrical engineer promoting rare Japanese technologies for his recognizing artisans as potential contributors in wider-reaching applications. If small IT innovators could land contracts with such giants as GE and HMB, why couldn’t artisans inform larger ventures? Handcraft, after all, is intimately connected to engineering in its manipulation of tools and technologies to create specialized processes—if only in more cultured contexts.
Through the countless custom-design possibilities in weaving, metalwork, paper and stenciling techniques composed of such sustainable or low-impact materials as silk, metal, bamboo and reclaimed timber, Gomi has opened an avenue for a market of creative exchange. Coupled with his international education, multilingual skills and people-to-people networks, Gomi moreover is taking his management and sales experience in securing international deals for small businesses. From sites in the UAE to Korea, Turkey, Singapore and beyond, Gomi understands in practice how growing markets can generate mutually beneficial outcomes for producers—on either side of the project. Through CIPANGO, Gomi negotiates the elegance and efficiency of handcrafted materials with the innovation and productivity of engineering from start to finish.