Photo/IllutrationOne of the 60 kinds of Air Vase products (Provided by Fukunaga Print Co.)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Creating works of art from paper, a small company in western Tokyo, working with architects and designers, has found an enthusiastic market for its vases, animals and other complex objects.

Paper processing firm Fukunaga Print Co., in the capital’s Tachikawa, has been releasing a succession of hit products, using its technique to create special sheets of paper that turn into various objects with shape and volume.

The designs of Fukunaga Print’s paper-made products have resulted in not only many inquiries from museums and leading businesses in Japan but also growing sales in overseas markets.

One of Fukunaga Print’s unique items is the Air Vase, which consists of a sheet of paper featuring many reticulated cuts. When the edges are pulled up, the paper turns into a vessel.

The color and pattern of the special vase, priced at 540 to 1,620 yen ($4.87 to $14.60), including tax, look different, depending on from what angle one views the paper object.

The Air Vase was developed by Fukunaga Print as part of joint efforts with the Torafu Architects office, also in Tokyo, and has proved so popular that it has hit the shelves of shops in the National Art Center, Tokyo, as well as other renowned museums in Paris and New York.

A total of 300,000 sheets of the Air Vase have been sold since its release in 2010.

Fukunaga Print has been involved in various operations from printing on boxes and wrapping paper to their processing and assembling since the company’s establishment. But its earnings declined as the demand for paper dropped.

Akiyoshi Yamada, 56, president of Fukunaga Print, who once engaged in planning and sales promotion at an apparel maker, thus decided to utilize the “power of designing.”

In June 2006, Fukunaga Print tied up with a local design director and initiated a project to enable designers to freely create their works from paper based on Fukunaga Print’s technology.

The objective of the project is to develop products that take full advantage of the material’s unique attributes. The created paper-made articles are sold on a trial basis at an annual fair, and they are fully marketed when they prove popular there.

After the Air Vase went on display at an international interior accessory fair held in Tokyo in 2010, inquiries came in from the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, and wholesalers abroad, drawing public attention.

Currently 50 designers and others are working under the program.

One of the project members, Naoki Terada, a 51-year-old architect, designed 1/100 scale models of people and landscapes around them, each of which is available for 1,620 yen after tax, under the name of the Architectural Model Accessories Series.

“The project is interesting because I can make products that embody my concepts,” Terada said.

Some of the paper models have also been jointly developed with a major automaker and electronics manufacturer, and their total sales has reached 400,000 pieces since formal records were first kept in 2009.

About 200 kinds of paper items have been marketed after the program started. While 300 bookstores, designer product shops, museums and other facilities in Japan handle those products, they are sold at 200 stores overseas as well, according to Fukunaga Print.

“I want to pursue potentials of paper to continue releasing novel products,” Yamada said.