The release of the NMG 001 Nata marks the start of a new chapter for Nicetime Mountain Gallery. Designer Wataru Kumano shares an insight into the process behind the product.
When it came to designing Nicetime Mountain Gallery’s first original product, Wataru Kumano cast his eye back to ancient times. Rather than simply delving into the history books, Kumano took a hands-on approach to exploring the origins of today’s tools. Through this process he worked with Nicetime to establish a shared awareness of different forms and functions, building the foundation for the development of a new line of outdoor products. “Nicetime is a new outdoor brand and so I decided to start from a really primitive perspective and return to the idea of what a tool actually is. The first human tools were stones, so I reconsidered the stone itself and thought about how a stone can become a tool,” he says.
Kumano began foraging for stones in the streams and rivers near his home in Miyota, Nagano prefecture. After assembling a range of typologies, the designer studied the stones with the project team, discussing how they could be used to perform certain functions. These enquiries led to deeper conversations about the essential elements that tools require, along with defining attributes such as comfort and ease of use. Reflecting on this process, Kumano highlights the value of incorporating various perspectives. “If you simply do everything on your own, there’s a chance that others will find your design hard to use or relate to, rendering it completely useless. When making a tool, it's important that it’s built on the shared knowledge of everyone involved.”
This series of dialogues and the common knowledge they provided led to the development of a product based on a traditional Japanese nata. Commonly used in the mountains and forests, nata possess a functional simplicity and are used for pruning and trimming trees, splitting small logs and cutting kindling. While the simple form has been refined through centuries of use, the structure of the tool itself has remained largely unchanged. For both Nicetime and Kumano alike, updating the tool to meet the demands of today's outdoor lifestyle provided the perfect challenge.
“One of the most important tasks of a designer is to update designs from the past. There's always so much to be learnt through the process of studying old things and developing them into products for our current way of life," explains Kumano. “As technology advances, our lifestyle continues to evolve on a daily basis. As a designer, I find joy in finding opportunities to use new technology to update old designs for a new way of life."
Kumano carefully studied the various elements of the nata. While staying true to its heritage and streamlined form, he explored how new materials, finishes and methods of production could be used to enhance the design. At the heart of his design is the blade itself, produced by longstanding tool maker Minagawa Agricultural Equipment Manufacturing in Sanjo, Niigata prefecture. Made from stainless steel with a blast finish, the double-edged blade is designed to cut and split kindling in one smooth motion. The traditional wood handle has been replaced with silicon to improve comfort and shock absorption, while the slip-on design allows for the handle to be removed and replaced with ease.
Whether you’re preparing kindling for the campfire or on the move in the mountains, the NMG 001 Nata combines function and comfort without compromise. Retaining the sheer simplicity of its traditional predecessor, the tool has also established a benchmark for Nicetime’s lineup of original products, capturing the spirit of enjoying life in the outdoors. Extending upon his role as product designer, Kumano will continue to work with the brand on future releases. "When it comes to Nicetime products, I want to make the kind of items that have been missing from the outdoor scene until now and that allow you to delve a little deeper,” says Kumano.
Born in Tokyo, in 1980. From 2001 moved to Finland, studied Furniture design at Lahti Polytechnic (2001–2004 BA), and University of Art and Design Helsinki (Aalto University) for Postgraduate studies (2005–2008 MA). Since 2008, back to Japan, and he has been a designer at Jasper Morrison Tokyo Studio. Beside of that, established own design studio "kumano" in 2011, and works for interior, furniture, product design and project management, internationally. In 2021, he was inaugurated associate professor for Musashino Art University.