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Episode 8

It took me two years to finally pay off the debt using manuscript fees and lecture fees, but it was a painful memory.

Bendt Winge
Easy Chair & Ottoman 1958 – 1959

Among the Nordic chairs in Oda Collection, this is a relatively rare Norwegian piece. It features an elbow design reminiscent of corners and the ability to change the angle of the back and seat by moving the metal fittings on the frame. However, due to problems with its structure, it was never mass-produced, and it is thought that this one set of prototypes, made in his own workshop, is probably the only one left in the world.

I found it at the “Norwegian Icons Exhibition”
held in Daikanyama, Tokyo.

I happened to hear from an acquaintance that I could see Norwegian furniture so I decided to go there. When I saw this easy chair at the exhibition, I immediately remembered that it had been featured on a full page in the 1950s furniture magazine Mobilia. It was a beautiful chair in the photo, but when I saw it in real, I was even more impressed by it, and I knew I had to preserve it for the future design museum. The exhibition was a traveling exhibition, and items were not sold here would be sent to New York, so I had to make my decision immediately.

However, the price card attached to the chair had the number “? million yen” written on it. At that time, I had retired from my position as a specially appointed professor at Tokai University and was living off of my writing, lectures, and TV appearances. My retirement allowance from the university had been cut in half due to the payment of a chair. So, I explained the situation to the person in charge and, as usual, asked for a reservation and came home. However, the next day I received a phone call from the person who said, “There is someone who wants to buy it right away with cash.” And seemed to be in trouble. In my case, it would be the end if I was told that (lol), so I answered, “I have no choice. I’m giving up.” I was disappointed, but a few days later I received a phot call again, this time saying, “I talked to the owner, and he said it would be better if Mr. Oda bought it. He said he wouldn’t mind splitting it up, so as he promised at the beginning. I’ll keep it for you.” While I was happy, the painful payments began. I had no choice but to pay it off with the money I worked for, and it took me two years to pay it off. This is the chair that I remember having the most trouble paying for in my purchase history.

Norwegian furniture has
a primitive uniqueness.

Most of the furniture in my collection comes from Scandinavia, with about 900 pieces from Denmark alone, but only about 30 pieces from Norway. One of the reasons may be that it is the only Nordic country that I have not actually visited. Norway is a geographically isolated country, where you have to take a boat from the depths of a fjord bay to the open ocean to reach the neighboring fjord, making it difficult to be influenced by European countries. I think that’s why primitive designs have been passed down for so long. Its unique traditional flavor is reflected in, for example, the Viking ship Oseberg, which is famous for its advanced wood technology, and the stave church, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a wooden structure that does not use nails. However, it seems that they were trying to follow Denmark when it came to chairs.

This chair also shows Danish influence. The structure and design are very similar to the “Hunting Chair” introduced by Børge Mogensen in 1950. Maybe the redesigned it based on that. Around this time, outstanding designers such as Alf Sture (if you have the 2023 Scandinavian Design Exhibition Catalog, p.43), Sigurd Lesser (p.44), and Adolf Löling & Rolf Rastad (p.45) appeared in Norway., which released beautiful chairs that were influenced by Danish design in a good way. This created a harmonious design throughout Scandinavia, which came to be known as “Scandinavian Harmony.”

Problems that could only understand from the real chair.
Perhaps that’s why it couldn’t be commercialized.

The seat angle of this chair can be adjusted depending on the position of the metal, and it is also removable. However, after actually using it at home, I realized that it was quite difficult to use. Although I thought it was dangerous to sit, I continued to use it for a while because I wouldn’t know until I actually tried it. You can only understand the appeal and problems when you see it in real. You can’t really understand it in virtual reality.

The first problem was the joint between the leg and the pierce. Since the tenon is driven perpendicular to the wood grain of the frame, there is a possibility that it would crack if force is applied with a wedge. As a general rule, the tenon should be parallel to the wood grain. If the frame under the seat has only one through hole, its rigidity will be weak. For the diagonal parts that support the back, it is better to use the “Aigaki such as halving” method, in which the joints of both sides are cut out and fit together. Prototypes are usually made with 5 or 6 chairs, at least 2 chairs, but the owner said, “This is probably the only one in existence,” and the others probably broke for the reasons mentioned above.

The structure was found in more detail when a Norwegian furniture manufacturer asked if they could draw up a drawing for mass production. Because usually it has done it opposite. When they inserted a needle into the seat of the shearling and probed the base, we found a steel pipe with a belt wrapped around it. At the time it was created, there were probably no pipe bending machines in Norway yet, so it must have been painstakingly bent by a blacksmith. I checked its position and thickness and drew a drawing. Drafting drawings is a very meaningful task that allows us to obtain numerical values for things that were only vaguely visible. I drew the front view, back view, side view, and floor plan, and the more I drew them, the more I realized their beauty. By doing so, we will be able to understand in more detail what it has in common with “Hunting Chairs.”

This “having both types of chairs” is the important meaning of Oda Collection. Analogy (making analogies through morphological resemblance/comparison) is very important in research, as how originality is achieved within similar cultures can lead to the evolution of design. In the case of this chair, I tried redesigning it and changing the angle of the seat. That’s why I thought it was a chair that should be passed on to future generations.

Left: Mr. Oda explains about the joint by drawing a diagram in my notebook. / Right: Tenon’s parallel to the wood grain. This is the original connection.

My fate with Asahikawa Furniture began
at the first International Furniture Design Fair Asahikawa, IFDA.

Since the topic of Tokai University came up, I would like to talk a little about the time when I moved from Osaka to Asahikawa and started working at Tokai University. The impetus for moving here was an encounter with Mr. Minoru Nagahara, the founder of Conde House, who was a driving force behind Asahikawa Furniture. It was at the “180 Danish Chairs Exhibition” at the “World Design Expo” in Nagoya, which I introduced in the previous column. While I was not in the gallery for personal reasons, Mr. Nagahara visited and left a business card with a note that said, “If you ever come to Hokkaido, please come visit my office.” Coincidentally, three or four months later, I received a job in Hokkaido. After I finished reporting in Ashibetsu City, which is near Asahikawa, someone from the Interior Center came to pick me up and took me there to a conference for the International Furniture Design Fair Asahikawa, IFDA. It was held in a hotel.

This fair has been held every three years to date, and will be held for the 12th time in 2024, making it a global design event. The first event was planned to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Asahikawa City, and was very large-scale and spectacular. It is said that an exhibition of masterpiece chairs will be held at the event as part of the project. When I was shown the list of exhibitors, I saw that there were items that were difficult to obtain, such as those that were only available overseas. So, I suggested, “If it’s the 100th anniversary of our founding, why not collect 100 chars by 100 designers from the past 100 years?” I have 75 chairs, and the other 25 can be borrowed through from friends. This exhibition became the fate between me and Asahikawa Furniture.

The first International Furniture Design Fair Asahikawa was held in 1990 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Asahikawa City.

“100 Years, 100 Artists, 100 Pieces of Wooden Furniture Asahikawa”. This is where the fate between Mr. Oda and Asahikawa Furniture began.

Minoru Nagahara, who led the Oda Collection to Asahikawa. He was always thinking about the future of his hometown and young people.

I was accepted into a professorship at Tokai University’s Asahikawa Campus,
which made it possible to move to Hokkaido.

The Design Fair was a success, and Mr. Nagahara and I often talked after the fair. When Mr. Nagahara learned of my plight, I had reached my financial and physical limits due to the storage space for over 800 chairs and the filming work that cost 200,000 yen every week. He said, “Why don’t you come to Asahikawa with your chairs? And let’s make a design museum in Asahikawa”. However, there were too many challenges. I was 47 years old at that time, have a family, run a design office, and have some important clients. I have also served as a part-time lecturer at Osaka University of Arts, Saga Art University, and Kobe Gakuin Women’s Junior College, as well as at Osaka College of Art and NHK Cultural Center, so I had to retire from all of those positions. But I knew it was impossible to continue with colleges, and in the end, I made a big decision in my life.

The biggest driving force behind the move was, of course, the dream of “building Japan’s first design museum,” but in order to do that, I first had to be able to live there. At first, Mr. Nagahara didn’t think I would be able to leave Osaka, and apparently, he only intended to keep my chair in Asahikawa, but I’m a researcher. I can’t do research unless I’m with the chair. To do that, I needed a job in Asahikawa. It was Mr. Nagahara who heard my wish and invited me, “There seems to be a job in the Department of Design at Tokai University, so why don’t you become a professor?” I was afraid as to whether I could do it, but thanks to my experience teaching in Osaka, I received a heartfelt letter from Professor Jiro Oya, who was the head professor of the Department of Architecture at the time, saying, “I would love for you to come to Asahikawa.” That made me decide. That’s how I was hired as a full-time professor in the Department of Design at Tokai University’s Asahikawa Campus, where I worked for the next 21 years. (The last three years as a specially appointed professor).

I say this now, but at that time I didn’t even know where in Hokkaido the town of Asahikawa was (lol). When I decided to move here and went around to say goodbye to the people who had helped me, an elderly woman called out to me and said, “You are going to Hokkaido…I’m sorry for your loss…” (lol) That’s how Hokkaido was so far away for many people in Kansai.

In 1991, one year after the design fair, Mr. Nagahara’s ideas and leadership led to the establishment of the “Oda Collection Organization” centered on the Asahikawa Furniture Industry Cooperative. Thanks to many members, we were able to secure the transportation and storage costs for the chairs, and now we have a plan for photography and an exhibition, and we have opened an exhibition space called, “Chairs Gallery” at JR Asahikawa Station. However, at that time, the public’s awareness of design was not as high as it is now, and galleries were not open to visitors unless they pay a fee. Thirty years have passed since then, and this area has changed significantly. It feels like a world apart. Landscape conditions such as the design of the area around Asahikawa Station and the beauty of the town have been met. I think there are many ways to develop by taking advantage of this perfect size and ease of living.

The Tokai University Asahikawa Campus opened I 1972 as the Tokai University College of Technology and greatly contributed to the revitalization of local industry. The school closed in 2014 and was taken over by the Sapporo campus.

December 5th, 2023 Centpure (Higashikawa)
Interviewer: Kano Nishikawa

After the interview

Tokai University Asahikawa Campus is a very memorable university for me. My brother graduated from the Department of Architecture and became an architect, and I was introduced by Professor Oda and served as a part-time lecturer on advertising theory for 14 years. People who studied architecture and design at Tokai University are working out not only at the design offices we have relationships with, but also at furniture manufacturers and housing manufacturers. I think that the power of these young people is a big part of Mr. Oda’s “feeling that the last 30 years have been a lifetime apart”. The university’s closure in 2014 was a tremendous loss for the Asahikawa city. Minoru Nagahara was the leader of the citizen movement that arose immediately after the crisis. Supported by public opinion, Asahikawa City is finally making the private Asahikawa University a municipal institution and creating a new faculty, but the content is far from the manufacturing and design education that was originally aimed at. This is the biggest problem at the moment for Mr. Oda and everyone involved in furniture and design.

Copywriter Kano Nishikawa
After working at a design office in Tokyo and Sapporo, I started working as a freelancer in Asahikawa in 2001. Until now, I have been involved in the production of advertisements for local companies and organizations, including Asahikawa Furniture. I have known Mr. Oda for about 30 years through my work.


Episode 9: My only sad memory about Denmark. The cupboard I ended up bidding on twice.


Life at Oda’s Residence — 織田邸の暮らし



Copyright © Oda Collection Organization


Life at Oda’s Residence


A collection of memories by Mr. Noritsugu Oda 12

Copyright © Oda Collection Organization