RIVERET crafts bamboo into eco-friendly tableware
Many wood and other natural products made in Japan, such as small sake cups, tend to have a very Japanese look and feel. And because they are seldom dishwasher safe, they can be a hassle to clean. Takamichi Okuda had an idea to change that.
He wanted to use his company’s bamboo business to create stylish, natural products for everyday use. He also wanted them to be sustainable and aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including responsible production and consumption.
“We wanted to make something more stylish that would appeal to Westerners,” said Okuda, who is CEO of Nakayoshi Shoji Co., Ltd. The company’s main business is making wooden tableware and disposable bamboo chopsticks for convenience stores and restaurants. “We also wanted to achieve sustainability, and to try to make it possible for people to easily use natural products.”
The result is RIVERET tableware, a collection of 60 carefully crafted bamboo products ranging from drinking vessels to plates. They have a simple, understated beauty typical of Japan but come in shapes familiar to Americans and Europeans, such as Bourgogne goblets, Champagne flutes, and martini vessels.
East Meets West
The brand, launched in 2013, takes its name from the word for a small river and is meant to echo the graceful curves of a mountain stream and the natural environment of a forest. The products are durable, eco-friendly, and dishwasher safe thanks to a special waterproof coating technology developed in-house.
RIVERET is the brainchild of Okuda, who recently inherited the family business from his mother. Originally, he had no interest in the chopsticks business. After college, he joined Omron Corporation, the factory automation and electronics company.
But as his mother’s company grew and she got older, he was asked to return. He said he would do so on one condition: that he could start a new brand of more artistic bamboo products. He also thought it would be smart to diversify the company’s business.
Granted his wish, Okuda asked his three in-house designers to come up with various stylish products—mostly drinking vessels.
All RIVERET products are made of moso bamboo, the fattest species, grown on a mountain in southeastern China owned by the company since 1993. No pesticides or chemical fertilizers are used.
Bamboo, Okuda said, is an ideal material for tableware. It’s durable, sustainable, lightweight, and has an attractive natural hue. It is technically a grass—not a tree—so it grows much faster than wood, taking only three to five years to reach maturity compared with 10 to 30 years.
It is also twice as strong as wood. Nakayoshi Shoji’s high-tech lathes can carve bamboo down to a thickness of 2 millimeters at the lip of a cup, and it won’t chip as easily as wood. And if you drop a cup made of bamboo, it won’t break like glass.
Replanting is not needed because moso bamboo propagates itself through its underground rhizomes, or root systems. This means it can be continuously and efficiently renewed with minimal land use. And it doesn’t contribute to deforestation, a major cause of environmental problems and global warming.
As for the chopsticks business, Okuda agrees that it’s best not to use disposable utensils but admits that it is sometimes unavoidable for mass-market foods. In such cases, bamboo is a much better choice of material than wood because it is more sustainable, he said.
The company is trying to be green in other ways, too. The Saitama plant is due to switch to solar power in August.
To make the products, the bamboo, which is hollow inside, is cut into strips and glued together into blocks using a safe adhesive and method that they developed. These blocks are then put into lathes at the company’s Chinese factories and carved into various shapes according to detailed specifications.
Okuda brought technological know-how that he gained at Omron to his new project. From the start, he wanted to industrialize the production process to make it more efficient without undermining the products’ artistic look and feel. “By hand, you can only make three items a day, so we needed to industrialize,” he said.
Half of the carving is done by computer-guided machines and half by hand, using special molds, Okuda said. Cylindrical drinking vessels are spun on a rotating lathe while the plates are carved by machines that cut into the bamboo from above. “The Chinese expertise of those who were trained at our company is impressive,” he said. “We have workers who have been doing this for us for years now. They’re very good at making these shapes.”
The carved cups and dishes are then shipped to the company’s factory in Saitama Prefecture for the final steps: coating, polishing, packaging, and shipping.
Japanese workers spray each item six times with Lohas coat, a special coating technology developed at the company that uses green tea to suppress E. coli and other bacteria and makes the products waterproof. It is compatible with Japan’s Food Sanitation Act. The bamboo itself also contains properties that make it bacteria resistant, Okuda said.
Enhance and Expand
All RIVERET designs are made in-house, and some containers are shaped to enhance the drinking experience. For example, the beer vessel, with its slightly concave contour, maintains a foam cap for longer. This delays the oxidization of the beer and enhances its flavor.
So far the company has been focused on the Japanese market, where the café au lait cups are bestsellers. But it has started to expand overseas, selling its products online in Switzerland and at a shop in Brooklyn, New York. Okuda envisions opening RIVERET stores in Paris and New York. “We want to be one of the natural brands in overseas markets,” he said.
In Japan, the products can be bought at riveret.jp or other online stores, or at various shops and department stores listed on the website. The company even has a children’s line called agney, with pint-sized plates, cups, and a car-shaped bento box.
Most items come in a light and slightly darker hue—often with an accented two-tone color scheme—and are delivered in attractive boxes. The products make handsome gifts and can be personalized with a laser-engraved name or initials.
Stylish, durable, and eco-friendly, RIVERET’s tableware makes a handsome—and conscientious—addition to anyone’s home.
Offer on Connect
RIVERET is giving 60 members of the Connect community one natural bamboo baby spoon each! Click here to place your order.