Sōja is a small town to the North of Okayama city, famous for cycling and beautiful shrines. As soon as you arrive at the local railway station, the laid back atmosphere of provincial and rural Japan is unmistakeable.
We were already three quarters of the way through our 2019 trip to Japan, having already stopped at Onomichi, Beppu, Okayama, Fukuoka (Hakata to be precise) and a couple of other interesting places on day trips. This second stop in Okayama was our last one before returning to Tokyo for the end of our journey.
At this point, we’ve been six times to Japan and surprisingly, six times to the Okayama area. We sometimes leave out Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka, but we’ve always spent at least one night in Okayama. We’d been to Japan twice already before starting Nomado Store and meeting The Superior Labor in 2015 (40 minutes by train from Okayama City) and have continued to build connections and develop habits (favourite places to eat, shops etc) in the area.
This time, we were there for business. We’d been looking for a new maker for our leather TN insert since High Meadows closed down. We spend a lot of time trawling social media and Japanese websites (and magazines) on the lookout for promising brands and had been keeping an eye on Nanala Design, a small Sōja-based brand, for a couple of years.
Nanala is a one-man show. Master Craftsman Yuri Kato (he teaches leather craft at Okayama based Chugoku Design College) produces beautifully made leather goods in his tiny workshop ten minutes from Sōja station. The brand name "nanala" is a Hawaiian word for sunflower. Kato-san incorporates the sunflower motif in most of his designs. The designs are clever twists on classic templates and integrate an element of fun (bright colours, cleverly combined leathers, original handmade conchos, etc.).
All of his creations are 100% handmade and hand decorated (leather stamping by hand is one of his specialities). Nanala Designs have a unique, instantly-recognisable style.
As a true Japanese craftsman, Kato-san is 100% focused on the quality of his products, however long it may take to craft them. We love this typically Japanese no-compromise attitude which seems to be so hard to find in the West. We spent an afternoon in his workshop, stamping leather, admiring his creations and discussing 2 collaboration projects, one of which was a new TN insert.
The new insert is designed for regular size Traveler’s Notebooks and nearly identical to the original one with a few improvements: less bulky, more refined finish, etc. Made from a beautiful Himeji-sourced Japanese vegetable-tanned leather, the new insert is a superb upgrade for any traveler’s notebook. The front of the insert is decorated by hand.
The second (and more challenging) project was to design a new notebook system with us. We’d been informally working on the concept since early 2018. Kato-san loves a (leather craft) challenge and immediately came up with a number of suggestions. I should point out by now that we still don’t speak Japanese and that Kato-san doesn’t speak English, this entire complex discussion took place using Google Translate on his smartphone!
Read our separate blog article to learn more about the exciting new Yubokumin notebook cover system.
Finally, we will be stocking an increasing number of beautiful Nanala Design products from their official collection, please check out our Nanala Design page to see which ones we have in stock. Kato-san can only produce a limited number of items per month and we have to apply a first-come-first-served principle, so please be patient, these gorgeous items are worth the wait! See our Nanala Design collection here.