December 26, 2019

An Art Gallery you shouldn't miss in your stay in Tokyo: HULS

Ideas and stories lie at the beginning of every project. So what drove these project leaders to launch these projects in the first place?

In this series of articles we will be introducing the stories of projects and businesses that we think you should drop by during your visit to Japan that particularly captured the hearts of Helping Dragon.

Today, we'll be looking at HULS Gallery, who show off the beauty of traditional Japanese crafts in both Singapore and Tokyo.

This is a gallery that we would love to encourage people who are interested in things like art, tradition, design, and crafts to make a visit.

HULS Gallery Tokyo
  • Address: 2F, Akasaka Zen Building
  • 6-4-10 Akasaka, Minato Ward, Tokyo, 〒107-0052
  • Tel 03-6280-8387 / Fax 03-6280-8397
  • Open hours 10:00 – 18:00
  • Closed on Sundays and national holidays

HULS—The gallery showing off Japanese traditional crafts to the world

Japanese crafts are pieces of work that combine functionality and beauty to lend an artistic quality to everyday items.

Many of these are made by elaborate processes carried out by hand and have been fascinating Japanese people for centuries as highly important cultural items that have played a role in everyday life.

HULS Gallery carries work by "Risogama" who make Arita pottery and continue to collaborate with top chefs around the world and "Gato Mikio" who produce Yamanaka lacquerware and have won a German design award. 

However, there are many crafts businesses that are struggling due to problems such as the issue of fewer successors to traditional crafts in these modern times and the way in which people are turning more and more to Western products in this age of globalization.

Despite the fact that we can now easily obtain useful mass-produced products thanks to technological leaps and bounds, there are still craftsmen and women who produce one-of-a-kind items that require a ridiculous amount of time and effort to make.

Here, one businessman who was flying all over the world while working in the tech sector found that the craft industry had caught their eye.

That man was the Director of HULS Gallery, Yusuke Shibata.

Director: Yusuke Shibata

Shibata is based in both Tokyo and Singapore. An expert in the international expansion of Japanese crafts, he plans and produces in both the creative and business worlds.

Taking care of all the curation at the Japanese crafts gallery "HULS Gallery Tokyo" and "HULS Gallery Singapore," Shibata also edits the website "Kogei Standard" and is a brand producer for the crafts brand "Korai."

Delivering universal values to the world

Shibata has cherished a particular feeling since the gallery's founding.

"In this age of technological advancement, people's gazes have ended up shifting to things without physical form, but the things that have real value have never changed.

Pictures that took people years to paint in the past are still regarded as beautiful and there's no doubt that the people of the future will continue to be moved by the colour of dusk in the sky. I think that it's important that we don't turn away from this in the future."

Shibata's blog

HULS departed from traditional web design and after many twists and turns launched a unique kind of online media and two galleries to show the people of the world the cultural values and the beauty of Japanese crafts.

The name of the gallery "HULS" is a word made up of a combination of the words "Human Life" and "Social Life."

Based on the desire for HULS to provide something useful to people and society even in an age of advancing technology, the typeface design changes from a classical design to a modern design as the letters transition from H through to S.

The HULS logo

In addition to exhibiting and selling products specially selected from their unique perspective from craftsmen from all over Japan, HULS commercially sells to restaurants and hotels, publishes crafts catalogs for private buyers, and also holds regular pop up events all in an effort to promote traditional Japanese crafts.

They currently operate galleries in Singapore and Tokyo and are quickly expanding worldwide as illustrated by their periodically held special exhibitions at Milan Design Week.

Their own brand "Korai," shined as it earned the Best Buyer's Choice Award at the 2018 Interior Lifestyle Exhibition in Japan.

Examples of the Korai brand

The gallery's wares are also delivered to Michelin-starred restaurants within Singapore.

Shibata is ecstatic that the goods are being used to complement the fantastic dishes served in these eateries.

Food and serveware used in Michelin-starred restaurant

An “Only One” Gallery,  HULS

Why is that HULS have been able to become such a one-stop shop for everything, from uncovering gems from the most amazing of craftspeople to launching their own brand and selling products both in Japan and abroad?

This is probably down the roots of its founder.

Upon graduation from college, Shibata actually worked in design while continuing to pursue music on the side.

He retired from this industry to inherit an electronics trading firm that his father run, and while traveling around the world as a businessman, he discovered the ubiquity of the value that the world placed in crafts whenever he visited any potter.

When Shibata, who was surprised about how the craftspeople were able to generate such a ubiquitous value that transcended time, spoke to the craftspeople, who found the experience that he had traveling the world so fascinating in the return, an image began to form in his head of a project that would connect the rest of the world to these craftsmen.

A craftsperson at work: Image by KOGEI STANDARD

It was because he had been working as a web designer, a career afforded to him by technology, that Shibata was able to recognize the universal value placed in crafts and also because of his international experience and networking during his days as a businessman that allowed him to be able to help in the sales of their ideas to people overseas.

To Shibata, it was not personal success, but rather the fact that his company could help in connecting these value and the people that are associated brought him the most happiness. 

Operation of an online media that can tell the story of crafts

HULS also operates a bilingual Japanese and English information website called "Kogei Standard."

An online media run by HULS Gallery, KOGEI STANDARD

On this website, you can find out mainly all about the “Roots” and “Touch” of each craft, which also forms the concept of the HULS project.

"Roots" focuses on informing readers of the landscape and individual techniques of each area where a certain craft was born.

By knowing how the craftspeople and crafts themselves developed, it's possible to deepen your attachment and understanding of each craft.

Production area and kilns: Image by KOGEI STANDARD

Furthermore, whenever Shibata encounters excellent Japanese crafts, he seems to always be surprised by how pleasant their "Touch" is.

Good Japanese crafts all tend to have an excellent "Touch," from ceramics to textiles to lacquerware, and out of all of the crafts that he has come across, Shibata could spend days caressing this Kokura Stripe fabric with its characteristically high amount of warp-yarns.

Kokura Stripes is made up of a distinctively high number of warp-yarns

When all said and done, it’s a great idea to visit the gallery in person

In any case, the gallery's PR manager Tsutsumi, encourages people to come and visit the gallery.

Both galleries in Tokyo and Singapore have multilingual staff, so they can tell anyone who visits all about the handicrafts on display.

When I went to visit the gallery, I did truly feel that they really knew about the craftspeople.

The staff actually go and visit them to listen to their stories first hand and then go on to help Kogei Standard tell these stories too.

All of the staff happily chattered away about the traits of each craft.

If you visit and learn the roots of all these crafts and how they actually feel in your hands then there's no doubt in my mind that you will discover something that you will want to share with your friends and family too.

Additional information: You can also enjoy these crafts in Singapore

HULS Gallery is also open in Singapore. It's somewhere you can enjoy Japanese craftwork during your stay in this prominent global hub.

The gallery is located in the central Duxton Hill region of Singapore, so it's easy to fit into your schedule.
  • Address: 24 Duxton Hill, Singapore, 089607
  • Tel +65-6225-6331 / Fax +65-6225-6339.
  • Open hours 10:00 – 18:00.
  • Closed on Sundays and public holidays.

Please visit the gallery's website for more information.

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