Teruhiro Yanagihara Studio

Teruhiro Yanagihara Studio (TYS) is an inter-disciplinary collective, based in Kobe (Japan) and Arles (France). Japanese designer Teruhiro Yanagihara founded the studio in 2002. Dedicated to borderless design, it seamlessly integrates creative spheres, from products, interiors, textiles and graphic design to art direction and brand identity. Emotional narratives and experimental innovation are balanced with meticulous material research and a timeless modern aesthetic – whether crafting a tea cup, a scent or a restaurant

Conversations with Teruhiro Yanagihara Studio


Teruhiro Yanagihara Studio

"We hope Danto’s tiles will be used in buildings for the next 100 years or so. And maybe someone in the future will find them and discover they were made by Danto and feel moved by them. "

The setting is Awajishima. Picture an island steeped in nature and mythology, surrounded by the calm flow of the Seto Inland Sea. It is here, according to legend, that Japan originally took shape as the first land created.

Now, it’s the birthplace of Alternative Artefacts Danto (A.a. Danto). The new brand is brought to life by Danto, a tile maker whose 19th century roots are entwined with the island’s Minpei-yaki ceramics tradition.

Its name offers a clue into its essence: the new brand aims to excavate the layers of its past and create a fresh new meaning for tiles as it steps into the future. Creative director Teruhiro Yanagihara shares his vision for A.a. Danto.

Interview and text by Kanae Hasegawa

Danto tiles exist in many spaces in Japan, even if people might not know this?


Danto, the parent company of A.a. Danto, was the first Japanese manufacturer to mass produce hard ceramic tiles in 1885. Since then, Danto's tiles have become part of the everyday landscape. Their tiles are used in many buildings across Japan. The company has a production system capable of making tiles on an enormous scale. At Danto, research and development are integrated into the daily routine, which has led to numerous innovations in tile materials. Their varied production experiences mean they can make tiles to meet any requirement. When you think of tiles, you often think of finishing materials for bathrooms, but Danto tiles have also been widely used in public spaces.

What are Danto's strengths?


Danto has two factories on Awajishima, each producing different types of tiles. The Fukura plant creates decorative tiles made up of thin layers of clay, a bit like mille feuille. The finishing touch is to partially peel off the top layers, either by blasting or machine jetting clay or glaze onto the surface. This results in an organic crystalline pattern resembling natural marble or stone.

The spraying is carried out by machines which are closely controlled to create the most minute differences in patterns. Despite the precision and control of the technology, the fine-grained clay and glaze sprayed from the nozzle naturally produce an uneven handmade feel.

The other plant at Ama specialises in the production of the actual tile bases. Here, soils excavated from mountains in different regions of Japan are blended in a unique way, to produce tiles in a variety of colours derived from the various soils without the need for glazing.

What’s the impact of this soil innovation?


Soil preparation is one of Danto’s most important features. By blending these soils from different regions, it opens up countless possibilities in terms of colours and textures, directly from the raw material itself.

It’s a bit like a bar of chocolate. Chocolate-makers blend cocoa beans from different regions to create unique flavours, before pouring them into tablet moulds for mass production. Danto makes tiles in a similar way, by blending the raw materials. By consciously controlling the soil selection from different regions to create different blends, Danto can create a stable material suitable for industrial products. The company has the technical capacity to make homogenous tiles from blended soil, using a manufacturing system capable of mass production.

How did this unique soil blending technique come to life?


It’s been cultivated throughout Danto's history. It started around 1900, when the founder felt limited by the quality of Awajishima’s soil. So he turned his attention to sourcing soil from other regions and began blending them to make different clays. Since the beginning, Danto has always had a flexible approach in terms of making. It doesn’t feel confined to using only Awajishima’s materials, but is open to exploring beyond the island. Due to the colour variations of soil from different regions, many different palettes can be created without the use of glaze. This means only one firing is required – which keeps fuel costs down and is reflected in the price of the final product.

What inspired the name Alternative Artefacts Danto?


Danto is a manufacturer with a history of 140 years. Our studio is located in a building in Kobe, originally built in 1938. A few years ago, when we were renovating it, we discovered that the tiles used in the interior were made by Danto. I was deeply moved to discover this. It wasn’t initially clear from the surfaces – only after removing the tiles and looking at the backs. It made me feel like an archaeologist excavating a site. This led to the name Alternative Artefacts. It refers to a new archaeology – the feeling of digging up the history of Danto’s tile innovations while also acquiring knowledge to make tiles for the future. We hope Danto’s tiles will be used in buildings for the next 100 years or so. And maybe someone in the future will find them and discover they were made by Danto and feel moved by them. I think of “Alternative Artefacts” as an adjective and won’t mind if this part disappears in the future..

From an archaeological perspective, tiles can be viewed as containing history, like fossils. Tapping into the idea of learning from the past to innovate in the future, how is Danto's tile production likely to evolve?


Two new collections are being created. A standard collection called Tiles; and a limited edition series, made in collaboration with different creatives, called Editions. It is theoretically possible for A.a. Danto to create ceramic clay in an infinite spectrum of colours. But the emphasis is instead on organising the existing archive of tiles without being too experimental, as these are intended for architectural spaces. At Teruhiro Yanagihara Studio, we are creating tiles that are not decorated but instead reveal a full expression of the raw material itself. Once these tiles gain traction, Danto’s production line will be able to operate at full capacity. We want other designers to understand the richness of the variations of the base material and then focus on designing decorated tiles.

What kind of initiatives do you expect from your first collaborator, India Mahdavi?


We ask our collaborators to design with a view to introducing these products into their own architectural and interior projects. The standard Tiles collection is an organised archive of Danto’s existing techniques, while the Editions pieces will be more experimental. We expect India and the other designers to research Danto itself as well as utilising these pieces in their own projects – and above all, design with an open-minded approach. I hope that architects and designers from all over the world will become interested in A.a. Danto and come to Japan to visit the factories on Awajishima.

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