Island Voices: Rie Yamanishi: Revealing and Seeing

By Eri Motohashi


Island Voices is a series of interviews with
people on Naoshima, giving “voice” to the
spectrum of creativity that exists here.

This time, we’re talking with Rie Yamanishi of Atelier Mitta.
Art Island Center and Atelier Mitta have partnered to run a shop on Naoshima, selling both handcrafted goods as well as books and art materials. Rie’s work includes fashioning recycled kimono and local botaori fabric into new products, as well as leading “color therapy” sessions that bridge color and the human condition.

What made you choose to live and work on Naoshima?
I had been coming to Naoshima for more than 10 years to see exhibitions and live performances or just to travel, but I never thought I would live here. I lived in Tokyo for many years and was looking for a place to relocate both my home and the shop I ran there, but I couldn't find anything. I wasn’t sure what to do next, but then I went back to my parents' house in Takamatsu and I stopped by Naoshima. An acquaintance showed me a place where I could live and run my shop. The moment I saw two old Daikokuten dolls in the building, I knew I was coming to the right place.
The looming Olympics also partly influenced my move away from Tokyo. Given recent events, I am working on Naoshima now with the strange feeling that something beyond my own will brought me here.

You have developed a particular style, which is a mix of remade kimono and botaori fabrics. How did you develop this style?
About 15 years ago, I started using old French fabrics and lace in my creations, and I began to receive many inquiries from customers asking if I could make something with their old kimono, so I began to explore remaking kimono. I like botaori fabric, which is a comfortable cotton fabric made in Kagawa. I’ve had botaori bed sheets for many years, but after coming to Naoshima, I wanted to make something using the traditional materials of Kagawa, so I started to create things with botaori.


I think you need to have a certain inner strength to make things. Is there anything that you are particular about in making things, or anything that has not changed since the past?
I can’t make even a single thread on my own, so I try to use materials thoughtfully. For both remade-kimono and botaori products, I make large items first and then use up the scraps in smaller items. I try to be as efficient as possible, out of respect for the materials.
One thing that has not changed is that I make each item differently. What has changed is that I no longer work to the point of exhaustion.

I think that avoiding waste is a big challenge for creators in the future. Can you talk a little about your influences as a creative person?
There are too many to list, but if I had to pick one mentor in life, it would be a man named Gilbert, who runs a Japanese antique store called Nippo in Paris. I have learned a lot from him in terms of beauty and lifestyle, and he has given me advice on my work over the years.

Do you think your sense of values has changed at all since coming to Naoshima?
I think my inner wildness has given way somewhat to a more practical life. Making plans according to the day’s weather, dressing comfortably, and learning to live without many things.

What did you learn from the people of Naoshima after opening your store here, and did it change your style of making things?
I don't think my style has changed per se, but I have started to receive more and more repair requests from my neighbors. Things like bags, pants, tents, and pottery. It makes me happy to know that people in the town are taking good care of their things.

Let’s talk about color therapy. When you gave me a color therapy session before, I thought it was very impressive, and I really enjoyed it. How did that start for you?
A friend of mine recommended a book by color consultant Miki Takasaka, and that's how I got started. Even before that, customers would often specify a color, saying, "I want something in this color," and I was curious as to what that meant for them. Since I was running a shop by myself, I also thought about how learning more about color as a therapeutic form could benefit my own health.

I'm sure there are people like that customer who have a favorite color with which they strongly identify. Do you think that a person's personality and character can be revealed through color?
A person's feelings and personality are expressed in the colors and clothes they like, and these colors affect their body and mind, resulting in this kind of personality, so colors and psychological states interact with each other. In most cases, the colors and personalities of characters in comic books and war heroes are the same.

How would you link color and human connection?
Color is deeply related to every aspect of human life, from the visible aspects such as clothing, interior design, and scenery to the psychological and health conditions. Colors are light and electromagnetic waves, so even if we don't see them with our eyes, we feel them with our bodies and they cause biological reactions. Unconsciously, people are greatly influenced by colors, so color and health have been intertwined for thousands of years.

In a few words: What have you personally gained from color?
Depth in daily life. Clues to healthy living. Revealing and seeing.

What are your plans for the next chapter?
I would like to help people live healthy lives, both physically and mentally, and use color to reveal solutions to their problems. I think there are a lot of things that can be done using the characteristics of color. Revitalizing towns with color as a theme, recruiting people with color, using color to convey messages. Flower bouquets, interior design to restore health, using color to boost immunity, and branding with color.


We thank Rie Yamanishi very much for this interesting talk.
Atelier Mitta's products are available at Art Island Center, with selected goods also available in our online shop, so be sure to check it out.

Stay tuned for more interviews in the Island Voices series!